The following is a story-pitch I sent to Rolling Stone about a month ago:
In a time of societal unrest, social progress, and an unpopular war, the counterculture of the United States once found its headquarters in a muddy field in upstate New York. Now, in a similar situation forty years later, those of us looking for something more (a meaningful connection in a time of Facebook, Tweeting, and texting; something of value that does not fluctuate with the whims of bears or bulls) still head to isolated fields to seek solidarity. These retreats provide bankable experiences, from which people can withdraw inspiration later in the year when they are about to default on the hottest of commodities: hope. Even the down-and-out can put stock in The American Music Festival.
Rolling Stone has built its reputation on always having a stiff little finger on the nation’s zeitgeist. While it pays its standard journalistic respects to the politics of the recent economic downturn, the publication could benefit from exploring the fallout on the average music fan. The general feeling from my peers these days is that it might make as much sense to devote oneself to something equally as intangible and volatile as the stock market. Travel and music are chief among these pursuits, and their lovechild is the music festival. People are passionate about music festivals, and Rolling Stone can honor this with deeper coverage.
I want to explore, in an 1800 word article, the reasons why we shell out hundreds of dollars for tickets, service charges, facility fees, and camping passes, even when our bank accounts are terrifyingly empty-bellied. I want to figure out why people drive hours across state lines in cars with strangers; why they buy plane tickets; why people actually ask their bosses for time off in this world of layoffs and cost-cutting…all to see a couple bands play. In 2008, there were dozens of major North American music festivals. Thousands of people attended each of them, and intend to in 2009 as well. These festivals save the concert industry every summer.
More importantly, they save people every summer who hear the music; who suffer heat stroke; who fall in love; who navigate their way back to a tent solely via pirate or state flag; who eat nothing but elephant ears and curly fries for four straight days; who take days off from work and save their precious paychecks for weekend passes. In addition to the In-Depth Coverage on Coachella and Bonnaroo that RS provides, there are stories to be told that don't involve the bands themselves, but rather the people who pay to see them.
I am 22, and fresh out of college. I work a soul-sucking desk job and even though I can’t really afford it, I’ll be attending Coachella this year in Indio. Honestly, I can't afford not to. I would sincerely love the opportunity to explore what about the festival draws fresh faces and veterans to the event from a human-interest perspective. I want to understand this demographic of people who pay for an experience wherein the only souvenirs are a sunburn and a hangover… and then come back for more a year later. My piece will draw on my weekend at Coachella specifically, as well as my past experiences at Austin City Limits and Sasquatch. It will focus on the attendees, and not the bands.
The American Music Festival doesn't need a bail-out, but rather, bails us out from our boring jobs, and the disappointment that we won't ever be rockstars after all. One weekend at a time, we get to invest in something honest again.
Thing is, I never heard from the editors, and you know what? It's just as well, because I don't have anything particularly insightful to say about my experience.
It was an honor and a pleasure to see Sir Paul McCartney perform, I will say that much.
Other live music highlights for me:
- Ghostland Observatory (my favorite set of the weekend, after Sir Paul of course)
- Antony & the Johnsons
- Okkervil River
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Karen O deserves the hype)
- The Bloody Beetroots
- MSTRKRFT's set with a live surprise John Legend guest spot was unreal
- The Kills (the first few songs anyway- it all started to sound the same, as hot as Alison Mosshart is)
- Throbbing Gristle (I only caught 2 songs. That was plenty)
And other than that, it was just a weekend of camping, hot sun, good friends, and a lot of driving. It was good to see You.
Lykke Li's lackluster set: