Don’t despair. It happens to every festival. Artistic invention meets fan base and devolves into a money grab for organizers and just another stop on the circuit for crusty rockers. Here are a few other examples.
Lollapalooza (1991-1997; Sort of revived in 2003)
Reason To Be: When Perry Farrell launched Lollapalooza, he basically invented the traveling festival. The 1995 lineup — including Pavement, Beck, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Moby, and Superchunk — offered a Mount Rushmore of alternative rockers.
The End: Enlisting Metallica in 1996 seemed to annoy Farrell, who quit and founded ENIT, an electronic festival you’ve never heard of. Alternative rock’s rapid demise didn’t help.
Vans Warped Tour (1995-present)
Reason To Be: Skate kids you don’t want to let in the house need somewhere to go.
The End: Never! Why anyone would pay to stand in a sweaty parking lot to see Blink 182 defies logic. But they do. And give founder Kevin Lyman credit. His innovative ideas (parents come for free) spawned a business model with an atomic half-life of a Twinkie at Chernobyl.
Reason To Be: Jam-bandy, environmentally conscious (compostable plates at the food stands!) and named after a Dr. John record, the festival drew tens of thousands to Tennessee from the start.
The End: Named “best festival” by Rolling Stone in 2008. That’s also when Les Claypool led the Bonnaroo “super jam” and Kanye didn’t go on until 4 a.m.
Lilith Fair (1997-1999, 2010)
Reason To Be: Frustrated with the male-dominated everything, Sarah McLachlan founded an all-female festival with a killer opening year lineup, including Fiona Apple, Emmylou Harris, Suzanne Vega, Beth Orton and Pat Benatar. “Girlapalooza” became the top grossing touring fest of 1997.
The End: Went out strong in 1999, but then McLachlan tried to revive Lilith a decade later. Didn’t she realize we’re all old now? Poor ticket sales and a series of odd injuries led to Rihanna, the Go-Gos, Carly Simon, and Norah Jones abandoning ship. “It lived in a time and place and probably should have stayed there,” McLachlan finally admitted.
Boston Early Music Festival (1980-present)
Reason To Be: Who else is going to give “Boris Godunov” a proper staging?
The End: No end in sight, which is the point. Instead of scrambling today when tickets go on sale for Coachella, look to other, less flashy festivals. MerleFest, in North Carolina, offers country, bluegrass and old time music with an occasional Dolly Parton cameo. Riot Fest, in Chicago, had the reformed Replacements in 2013 and Cheap Trick doing “Heaven Tonight” last year. The French Quarter Festival, in New Orleans, is free every April and you can always stick around for the Jazz & Heritage Festival later that month.