Social Update: Coachella and Counter Culture

A girl walks towards a crowd gathering at the front of the stage; she is wearing zebra print leggings with a bright orange top and John Lennon style glasses. Next to her is a man wearing board shorts with pineapples on them, a Hawaiian shirt and aviators. Music begins to play from the stage and a cheer erupts from those within hearing distance. 

This is just one stage of many and these two people are two of many, many people who choose to spend a weekend in April of each year in the hot, California desert at Coachella. 

Music festivals can be found in every corner of the globe these days, with locations ranging from Sasquatch at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington State, to IceStock, a yearly festival in Antarctica. The difference between these festivals and the ones that the first hippy generation attended, like Woodstock, comes back to the ever-expanding music industry, commercialization of music festivals, and the lifestyle attached to them. 

The lifestyle of attending a festival like Coachella isn’t necessarily uniform throughout the attendees, but there is a general stereotype for the normal festival-goer. In 2015, 14.7 million millennials attended at least one U.S. music festival, in addition to the roughly 32 million people in total who attend at least one a year. 

These festivals not only offer a unique opportunity to the millennial generation, but also to any attendee of any age - an escape from almost all rules that would normally apply in nearly any other societal situation. An event like Coachella allows the opportunity to leave burdens like school, work, or other pressing aspects of life and listen to an incredibly broad array of music for a weekend with little to no restriction on decision-making.  

While the stigma of drug use and alcohol consumption is often tied to the lifestyle of music festivals, the general word that would describe these music events is freedom. With that freedom, many people near to college-age find that while festivals have been commercialized, there is still an air of the original hippy culture that sparked the music festival craze. 

The original intent (or at least one of them) for festivals like Woodstock was to get away from media influences and the “corporations” that would in time fund over a billion dollars into their attempted retreats from society. Still though, these festivals continue to exist as a different world from normal life and a form of escapism for many. Even with the commercialization and advertisements that fund these enormous events, aspects of the hippy movement’s lifestyle have persisted. Attendees are interested in the experience with the magnitude of a weekend at Coachella, Sasquatch, or Bonaroo. The music acts may have changed over time, from Rock n’ Roll to more EDM and hip-hop acts, but the intent for attending has remained the same. Festivals allow for culture to be redefined in a way; groups of people with similar ideas can come together, not only over the shared experience of the music they hear, but to also find escape from all the other influences that are constant in society. 

Festivals, along with this idea of retreating from the problems of society, also allow for a focus on some of the best art and culture to be offered. This celebration of acts both massive, like Kendrick Lamar, a headliner at Coachella this year, to small, little-known bands, gives musical talents all around the United States and the world the opportunity to share their music with audiences each year. 

The second weekend of Coachella just finished up, but there are numerous music festivals slated for the rest of the year that appeal to any and all music listeners. 

The Austin City Limits Music Festival, a two-week event in Austin, Texas in October, features headliners like Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar, and Mumford & Sons. The festival features an art market, food options and family areas in addition to the eight stages for music performances. Festivals like these have also grown to feature art from the surrounding area, other activities like yoga and meditation for attendees to join in on, and delicious food and drink options. 

One of the most unique festivals coming up, beginning in late August and running into early September, is Burning Man. The yearly gathering in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada obviously includes the annual tradition of the burning of the large idol-esque man built, but the lifestyle represents much more for goers of the festival. The event moves beyond the normal music and attendees in Black Rock City; a temporary metropolis is steadily built during their time there. The community and culture aspect of the event is one of the focal points for attendees, and this highlights how the counter-culture movement is still present in music festivals, even as they become increasingly mainstream. 

An opportunity still exists for festival-goers to experience an escape from society and day-to-day issues that burden people; it’s why many attend in the first place. While Coachella and Bonaroo have become some of the most attended music events in the world, there are still festivals taking place that offer more than a weekend with some of your favorite music. The community building and personal growth that is worked for at Burning Man shows that these festivals can still help foster new cultural ideas and values, even as many of the attendees fight back against the ideals that are pushed on them by the media and government in their normal lives.