Though official final audience numbers have yet to be released, estimations of the attendance at this past weekend’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival indicate that this year’s festival was a success despite the continuing collapse of the music industry and the generally dire state of the economy. Only the first day of this year’s festival, with headliner Paul McCartney, managed to sell out, but the remaining days, featuring big draws such as Morrissey, M.I.A., the Cure, and Franz Ferdinand, pulled in very respectable business, likely ranking as the third biggest turnout in the decade-long history of the event. So, yes — this is great for Coachella and all the artists involved. But what does it mean for the rest of the concert industry?
As far as canaries in coal mines go, Coachella may be a bad indicator of the health of the overall festival market in the United States, which has become rather glutted over the course of the past several years. Though many of these festivals are geared toward a particular geographic region, Coachella has the advantage not only of servicing Southern California, one of the most populous areas of the United States, but of having enough glamour to be something of a tourist destination.
In a best-case scenario, Coachella may represent a countrywide desire for fans to pay one lump sum to see as much music as possible in one weekend rather than blow money on a number of individual concerts, sort of the cultural equivalent of buying economy-size packages of household goods at Costco. (This is not exactly a good situation for the overall concert market, but it would at least be positive for the festivals.) The worst case, however, is that Coachella may have already scratched the festival itch for a great many fans willing to travel cross-country for a big concert, and the smaller, less prestigious festivals may be at the mercy of local economics. For the sake of the music economy, let’s all just hope that there are a lot of people out there eager to pay big money to watch truncated midday sets by bands they only kind of like from a half-mile away, wait on interminable porta-john lines, and pay top dollar for bottles of water in the intense summer sun.