Private Viewing: Summer music festivals not dead... but they are evolving

Warning over legal highs

Warning over legal highs - Credit: James Bass

Have summer rock music festivals had their day? Arts editor Andrew Clarke says that change is a-comin’

Florence Welch of the band Florence + the Machine performing at this year's Glastonbury Festival. Ro

Florence Welch of the band Florence + the Machine performing at this year's Glastonbury Festival. Rock promoter Harvey Goldsmith says the current festival set-up has 10 years life left in it. - Credit: PA

With the success of this year’s Glastonbury Festival still fresh in our minds, it seems strange to recall that it was only last week that legendary rock promoter Harvey Goldsmith was busily warning of the demise of the rock festival.

The man who has toured The Rolling Stones, Queen, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, David Bowie, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Muse, U2, Coldplay and The Arctic Monkeys said last week at The Hay Literary Festival that the British festival circuit had peaked and was now in inevitable decline.

With the sounds and images of Glastonbury’s headline acts: Florence and the Machine, Kanye West, Mark Ronson, Mary J Blige and Pharrell Williams still providing a mental soundtrack to the working week, you could be forgiven for thinking that Mr Goldsmith’s doom-laden predictions could easily be dismissed as being from a man who belongs to a bygone age. But, if you look beyond the sensational headline there is an element of truth in what he is saying.

Britain’s Mr Rock’n’Roll says that Glastonbury and its fellow music events have about 10 years life left in them before they go the way of the dinosaurs.

He believes that the age of the rock band is no more and no-one wants to wade through eight inches of mud to see bands that their parents could have seen when they were something more than a nostalgia act.

The Who’s appearance at this year’s Glastonbury was cited as a timely example. However, headlines can be misleading. They are attention-grabbers. They can only deliver the news in bold strokes. Headlines are never good for delivering subtlety and detail. If you looked at the text of Harvey Goldsmith’s speech to the Hay Festival then it revealed itself to be an insightful examination into the way the music industry has changed over the past 20 years.

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In effect all Harvey Goldsmith was saying was that the music industry in 2015 is very different to how it was in 1995. Record sales are down but income from touring is up but, sadly, Goldsmith says this won’t help save the big summer rock festival.

He says that big summer extravaganzas require headline acts that can fill vast outdoor arenas. Acts like The Rolling Stones, Queen, The Who, Madonna or Bruce Springsteen: larger-than-life acts with a huge body of work and a cross-generational appeal. Acts that can put on a show.

He says that with the exception of Coldplay he can’t think of any modern act who can fulfil all those requirements. Another important factor which also needs to be taken into consideration is the way that people consume music has changed. Music has become much more fractured. Popular music exists in a series of niche genres. Not many new bands have the widespread, cross-generational support necessary to fill a park the size of Glastonbury or Reading.

Younger music fans have drifted away from religiously collecting entire albums of recorded music. Last year, downloading individual tracks was the favoured route to listen to music – today internet streaming has started to make significant inroads into youngsters’ listening habits. In this scenario they don’t even own the music they are listening to. It’s the equivalent of programmable internet radio.

With music fans interested in individual tracks rather than entire albums it’s easy to see why fan followings have become smaller. Maybe it’s considered cool not to care if McBusted has a new album out or not? But, it’s not just the followers of traditional guitar bands that have a more laissez faire attitude to their music these days. Dance music has completely changed the way that music is regarded. Everything has become much more ephemeral. Music is more disposable now than it’s ever been. You can’t imagine fans collecting rare bonus tracks or limited edition albums in the way we used to. This is why Harvey Goldsmith said the rock music festival has become an endangered species.

Music is changing but the summer extravaganza will continue. The rock music festival has already begun to change. Look at Latitude. It’s been a sold-out success for ten years and obviously music plays a major part in that success but it’s not just about music. It’s about top-notch theatre, comedy, dance, literature, crafts and classical music as well. This is the future. Music festivals will become arts festivals and as Latitude has proved will become much more family friendly as a result.