Graphics courtesy of Kate Glassmeyer.
For many music fans, the summer festival season trumps even the most fruitful of Christmases or birthdays. It’s a holiday season all to its own. Even the merciless heat that often hangs over these events can’t squelch the fun. But these festivals aren’t just about the event itself. They’re about the excitement of the day tickets go on sale, the release of the line-ups, the slow filtering in of new additions, the soul-crushing scheduling conflicts, and the many miles of excitement that precede the moment where you finally walk through those gates and immerse yourself in the music and atmosphere.
Of course, glorious as it all may be, rarely do even the best festival line-ups grant our every wish. Just read some of the backlash from fans on forums and social networking sites when they realize their favorite band hasn’t been booked or, worse, when they flip out because someone they don’t care much for is going to make an appearance (just don’t go see them, buddy!). Even the less vocal festival-goers find their inner-dialogue instinctively repeating, “man, I really wish so-and-so were going to be there.”
But what if the perfect festival were attainable? What if all of the biggest, most acclaimed acts in the world were accepting bookings? These are some of the questions we asked ourselves in curating The Fantasy Festival, a dreamer’s festival season highlighted by three separate events each with their own exclusive line-up of artists.
The premise here is simple: think fantasy sports (complete with a 60-round draft!) with bands instead of athletes. Then apply these basic rules:
01. Only bands active within the last five years were eligible to be picked.
02. One “wildcard” was given to each curator to choose a currently split-up band and reunite them.
03. In the final 10 rounds, only bands with less than one million plays per last.fm were eligible.
And with that, we introduce you to our three perfect-world festivals and pose the question: if you could attend just one of these events, which one would you choose?
I was lucky to go first, because I knew I would have the best shot at taking the biggest artists for my show before my two opposing curators could snatch them away from me. The plan for my fantasy festival was to try to make the best possible show not just for myself, but for fans of all types of music styles who would want to go see it. This also meant to get artists ranging from the biggest summer acts to upcoming artists that deserve the attention to completely unknown acts I feel need to make their first big break. Essentially, I wanted it to be the best experience for the broadest audience possible, meaning not just hipsters or Pitchfork fans that might flock to these kinds of festivals. My first pick was Kanye West, because he is an artist that, for most festival goers, is a huge selling-point and does appeal to a lot of people. Not just that, but we originally made this list the night after his Coachella performance. After watching it online, it only further confirmed the impact this artist had on so many people. From there, I did what I could to pick the best in indie, dance, electro, hip hop, rock, and everything in-between, making my show the place to be this summer.
I really wanted my first day to start out with a huge bang. I felt like I had enough strong headliners throughout the rest of the weekend to use my Wildcard pick for the first day: The Fugees. The hip hop trio, who made two fantastic albums before they split apart to pursue solo careers, had a short-lived reunion in 2004, which was showcased in the fantastic Dave Chapelle’s Block Party concert doc. Ever since then, fans have been waiting for another sign of hope that Lauryn, Wyclef, and Pras would reunite long enough to at least put a new record out, or maybe just playing their greatest hits at the very least. Although there have been plenty of interviews pretty much denying a chance for this to happen, for my fantasy festival, we’re going to assume both have come true! It’s apparent in any video of their live performances that their stage presence is strong whenever they play together, and their strong night set at my fantasy festival will keep the crowd pumped to be given possibly one last chance at seeing such a great hip hop group perform live.
Supporting the Fugees and the rest of the Friday shows are two of the biggest forces in hip hop today: Outkast and The Roots. Under the “active within five years” rule, Outkast was an important pick and a great opener that Friday night right before The Fugees show. The legendary Roots Crew will play an nice afternoon set, as if to simulate their Roots Picnic, a great Philadelphia festival they’ve held for the past four years. One last rap star, the mysterious and Jay-Z-approved Jay Electronica, is also here to round out the hip hop acts for the day.
For a big alternative rock group, The Killers seemed like a necessary act to grab. Brandan Flowers and crew are known for drawing a large, varying crowd and creating just as big of a presence on-stage for their live shows. Wanting to start the first day strong meant I needed a band of their caliber to draw in excitement and notoriety to my festival. Those same Killers fans might want to also check out great indie rock favorites Silversun Pickups, Two Door Cinema Club, and Destroyer, as they will definitely be great shows throughout the day. Groups like Matt & Kim, Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, and The Thermals will also be there to provide a poppier environment for those looking to pull out a good time dancing to some great songs. Acts finishing out the day also include noise rockers Japandroids and Sleigh Bells, acoustic sets by duo Rodrigo y Gabriela and Citizen Cope, and dubstep crooner Jamie Woon.
Kanye West. Man, where do I begin here? The biggest name in hip-hop today. One Thirty’s Single and Album of the Year recipient last year, as well as my personal favorite album of 2010. Did anyone see the Coachella performance a month ago? I mean, a stage full of dancing ballerinas and a mechanical lift for him to rap over the crowd? Ye’s gotten to the point where his stage performances are as big as his ego. If there’s one show you need to see this Saturday night, it’s Kanye West, playing all his hits from The College Dropout to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasty, and let’s even say tracks from his unknown LP6 and possible Jay-Z cameo.
Saturday’s sub-headliners consist of the best of indie rock and pop rock bands from the 2000s and the 2010s. Indie rock vets Spoon and pop rockers Jimmy Eat World will definitely draw in the crowds, while Vampire Weekend and The xx will satisfy the wishes of indie rock fans everywhere. But really, festival bills are always strong at the top. Where Saturday strives is in its afternoon undercard performances. Odd Future brings an unmatched live performance, full of near-violent energy and crowd participation. Even if you were one to write this collective off as another hype group, you’d be remiss this show live.
Saturday’s lower bill goes well beyond that though. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart bring modern shoegaze to life, Girl Talk ignites the late night dance floor unlike any other DJ in the world right now, and Friendly Fires play some of the best feel-good live music out there. For fans interested in discovering new music, the line-up is highlighted by The Electric Soft Parade and Mother Hips: some of my personal favorites. Even acts like The Dø and Emeralds, while well-received in the indie community, represent high-powered line-up additions that not many folks have heard about but should come to appreciate.
As strong as the first two days of my fantasy festival are, it all comes down to Sunday’s go-home line-up. At the top you’ll find Paul McCartney who, frankly, needs no introduction. Thanks to his lineage to the most popular band in the history of the world, Sir Paul brings with him one of the strongest arsenals in the entire world. That goes without saying. But there’s something more to McCartney’s presence here, something that often goes understated when it comes to festivals. One big perk of purchasing a festival ticket is value. McCartney tickets, even at face value, can run you well over a hundred bucks a pop just to see the Beatles legend alone. On a festival slate, you get Sir Paul plus a wide assortment of other talent. There’s not a headliner on the globe that can cover as many bases as McCartney can.
The lead up to McCartney’s closing set is brimming with indie rock mainstays: The Strokes, TV on the Radio, Broken Bells, Ratatat, and She & Him are obvious highlights. But it doesn’t stop there. Bat for Lashes is one of the truly brilliant female performers going toward and Battles offer a high octane stage show with the ability to please fans who favor a number of different musical persuasions. But for me, one of the most exciting acts of this day is Frightened Rabbit, the Scottish outfit led by Scott Hutchison who have written three of the most formidable indie rock records of the past decade.
The undercard here is pretty exciting too. Led by recent favorites Yuck, Girls, and Tennis, there are some personal favorites here that I viewed as must-haves. That includes The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger and Amusement Parks on Fire, largely unheralded bands with fantastic catalogs that deserved to be played for larger audiences. If indie rock isn’t your thing though, Sunday’s line-up still offers some variety. Recent hip-hop favorites Das Racist and Canada’s own k-os bring a little bit of flavor to a line-up that otherwise reads like a rock fan’s dream card.
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