On May 8th, American music festivals returned. After a year-long hiatus the need for profit and glory, and no doubt escapism on partons’ part, saw Flordia’s Rolling Loud push ahead. It cast a bleak outlook on things to come.
The death of the modern music festival
With the COVID cases surging in Miami, locals expressed concern. 75,000 people from across the country converging in one place did not seem like a sensible idea. Lured by a star-studded lineup thousands indulged their passions without restraint.
They did so in an environment devoid of social distancing. Masks were not mandatory. Nor were other common COVID safety precautions taken. Most controversially, proof of vaccination was not required for entry. The best Rolling Loud did to address the issue was state hand sanitizer was provided onsite.
Blame it on Baby
Catching the ugly feeling gathering in the air, headliner DaBaby flipped a switch on the festival’s final day. After a shoe was flung at him from the audience one of the most successful rappers in the world unleashed a vicious homophobic tirade. “Who the fuck threw that motherfucking… busted ass, god-damn Adida?” he first demanded. Later he removed his own shoes and threw them into the crowd.
“It immediately,” one writer from LGBT nation comments, “earned him comparisons to former President George W. Bush, who had two shoes flung at him at a press conference in Iraq in 2008, toward the end of his presidency.”
Agitated, DaBaby proceeded to hype the audience for a new song. “If you didn’t show up today with HIV, AIDS, or any of them deadly sexually transmitted diseases,” he stated, “that’ll make you die in two to three weeks, then put your cellphone lighter up.”
Then adding, “Ladies, if your pussy smell like water, put your cellphone lighter up. Fellas, if you ain’t sucking dick in the parking lot, put your cellphone lighter up.” Following this invited controversial rapper Tory Lanez, who allegedly shot Megan Thee Stallion in the foot, onstage. This questionably breached a restraining order Megan, also performing at Rolling Loud, had lodged against Lanez until their legal battle was resolved.
DaBaby was set to attend Lollapalooza the following weekend. On August 1st, he was removed from the lineup of an event expected to draw crowds of 100,000 people each of the four days it runs. Unlike Rolling Loud, Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test is required for Lollapalooza entry. (A certification one Twitter user claims can be counterfeited.) Masks are required in indoor spaces.
This has done little to displace concern. Neither have official statements by Chicago’s Department of Public Health. Those made by department commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. read like jumbled rhetoric. Could Lollapalooza be a superspreader event? She was hopeful it will not be.
Others disagree. Talking to Time Chicago epidemiologist Theresa Chapple-McGruder expresses a clearer view. “I think it has the makings [of a superspreader event],” she argues. “When we’re in a place where rates are rising, we need to put prevention strategies in place. I don’t see how a large festival like this could meet that criterion of slowing the spread.”
Music festivals place profit over human lives
It is easy to point a finger at the event organizers. The issue may not be with individuals as an entire system of thinking which spurs them to action. Over the past year, the US has placed economic recovery over the well-being of individuals. Those in doubt need only look at the promising figures of America’s financial recovery next to the 600,000 death toll.
One of the world’s wealthiest nations reports more official COVID deaths than any other country. This, in combination with a media narrative regularly glamorizing the idea of the post-vaccination lifestyle, has allowed a flight into the fantasy known as “the return to live music.” This semi-mystical summer promises to be the moment music fans have spent 18 months dreaming about. Starved for joy, many have been all too willing to believe.
America’s huddled masses are yearning to breathe free
“Give me your tired, your poor,” reads one of the most iconic lines in American poetry, “your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Compare this noble sentiment to the grotesque ego trips of Lollapalooza and Rolling Loud. With money and a lack of concern for humanity driving the modern American music festival, their spirit of goodwill is extinguished. Even the patrons and artists, who seem to reject any responsibility toward others due to the fact they are vaccinated, are not above reproach.
Whether by deception or willfully turning a blind eye, all involved have fallen out of touch with reality. Central to this disconnect with the truth is one very obvious fact. The world is not in a state where music festivals can flourish.
The sound of the world ending
History’s greatest musical mass gatherings are celebrated for their diversity, inclusivity, and respect. In 2021 the personal pleasure to be had in attending one of these events negates a shared love for humanity. Pick any patron from the Lollapalooza and Rolling Loud crowd. They are no longer caricatures of the Coachella influencer, glittering figures to be envied. Instead, they look like a mob unwittingly led into self-delusion.
If this writer can be honest they seem closer to the misinformed mass which stormed US Congress than the flower children of Woodstock or Monterey Pop Festival. The rabble-rousers here were not rightwing political groups. They were concert promoters and government officials armed with the honeyed lie everything is going to be okay.
People are desperate to escape the magnitude of the pandemic. They want to believe getting their vaccine is the end of COVID. It is not. Vaccination is not immunity. Three out of every 100 Covid cases hospitalized in Florida have been vaccinated. What is more, those who have taken preventative measures can still transmit the disease to others.
The COVID crisis is ongoing. It still requires all of our strength and compassion to overcome. In this regard, there is a deafening silence. Even leading music publications fail to seriously address the problematic nature of these events.
The music media refuses to take a firm position. Noting the risks they then join in this exercise of apocalyptic narcissism. Look no further than Rolling Stone‘s ‘Megan Thee Stallion Finally Got Her ‘Hot Girl Summer’ at Lollapalooza 2021.’ This is a far cry from the magazine which once risked its reputation, and its relationship with its musical hero Mick Jagger, to expose the naked cruelty of 1969’s Altamont Free Festival.
Concealed truths and exhausted institutions
Besides Fyre Festival, the last two decades have offered few major American music festival disasters. This makes it easy to forget events such as Altamont. Where, in 1969, 300,000 young people gathered for a concert so disastrous it brought an end to the optimism of a generation.
At the climax of this ill-fated concert 18-year-old Black American Meredith Hunter was beaten to death at the hands of Hell’s Angels bikers. Who, with no small hint of irony, had been hired to provide security. Twenty feet away The Rolling Stones played ‘Under My Thumb.’
Three others died at Altamont. If an event such as Rolling Loud has a death toll it will be more complex. COVID does not simply discriminate along racial lines. (Although Black Americans and other marginal communities have suffered greatly.) Instead, it falls heavily along lines of age and socio-economic class. It is poor and infirm a youth and beauty-obsessed media ignore who suffer most. The loss here will not be as visible, immediate, or easy to assign blame for.
The more immediate damage is this. Fear and greed strip these cultural institutions of their myth of innocence. Rolling Loud and Lollapalooza shatter the illusion youth are united and on the side of change. Many young people are now driving the COVID surge. The poor, the sick, and the elderly pay the cost. Though the young too may suffer consequences. The long-term effects of the coronavirus are not known. A months-long “brain fog” and lingering respiratory problems also give cause for concern.
What it all means
The world is rapidly changing. Many hoped 2021 would be a return to the life we enjoyed before the pandemic. Rolling Loud and Lollapalooza have seduced thousands with the promise of transporting them back to a time when the music festival carried with it the energy and imagination of a generation. But what worked in the past, is no longer suited to our times. As movie theatres now return with diminishing cultural influence, music festivals face a crisis of their own. The Money and numbers are still with them. The spirit is not.
Music festivals are about feeling good, coming together changing the world for the better. These recent events have been the opposite. 2021’s music festivals are no longer a celebrated part of life. They are a cheap thrill. Something people, worn down by a difficult year, are grabbing while they can. Which places them at odds with what made these events so appealing in the first place.
Promoters, their backers, and even many artists will forge ahead no matter what. Their identity and bank balance depend on it. This is a matter of survival. Love and kindness are no longer part of this equation. If things do not change, the music festival will fast find itself lumped in with the other tired old institutions the young are forever fighting to overthrow.
These music festivals are a grim omen of things to come
The American music festival has become the vehicle of mass hypocrisy. 11 more well-known musical mass gatherings will roll out in the next three months. If things do not change, they will continue to develop into space where patrons deny and disown the burden the pandemic places on them in exchange for money. They will allow the prosperous to ignore the lives of the poor which, to a large extent, their property and quality of life depend on.
At the time of writing, Flordia COVID cases have jumped by 50% to a startling 110,000 infections. With the full impact of Lollapalooza yet to be felt, Illinois reports more than 11,000 new cases. As it stands, the future of the music festival looks grim.