The music festival season comes to an end and all you need is an Internet connection to experience it.

by Colin McGuire. 0 Comments

I typically do everything I can to not bring up music on this particular blog. Sure, there are the occasional VMA recaps and silly concert films/TV shows I have referenced in the past. And yes, there is a fair share of embedded videos of performances and passing references to closely located concerts (speaking of which, who else is excited to see Peter Gabriel this weekend in Fairfax?! No one? Oh. OK). But, for the most part, I try and veer as far away from electric guitars and overdubbed video recordings as I can whenever taking to this miniscule portion of the World Wide Internet. Why is that?

Well, it’s simple. I hate music.

Ok, I don’t really hate music. But for 28 years now, I’ve essentially centered my life around it, and maybe more applicable to this particular conversation, for the last decade, I’ve been professionally writing about it in one way or another. So, taking a few minutes to ramble about television and movies on this fantastically ignored blog isn’t just a breath of fresh air for me — it’s essential to my sanity. Thank you, TV Without A TV. The amount of distraction you provide me is invaluable. Without you, I’d be … well, I’d be … deaf?

Anyway, that in mind, let’s finally get around to talking about music festivals. The summer season (un)officially comes to an end this weekend when my favorite gathering of the bunch, the always-reliable Austin City Limits Music Festival, takes center stage in Austin, Texas. And, as you can see, Paul Weber of The Associated Press gave a whole lot of ink to the matter earlier today …

“This year might also go down as the year when live-streams started crossing into mainstream,” Weber wrote. “Take the year’s most talked-about performance: Tupac Shakur rising from the dead as a hologram at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in a resurrection that was live-streamed from the California desert and talked about around the world.

“… Promoters aren’t trying to sell live-streaming as a substitute for the you-had-to-be-there experience of concerts,” he continued. “Especially since, in many cases, you still very much have to be there to catch some of the biggest headliners: Neil Young & Crazy Horse and Weezer are among the performers in Austin this weekend whose sets won’t be broadcast on the Web. Nor do live-steams pose any threat to attendance or profits. Three-day passes for Austin City Limits this year ran for $200 and sold out within an hour of the day the full lineup was announced. But festival live-streaming has come a long way in a short time, even by technology standards. Organizers of the country’s biggest music festivals declined to reveal the size of their online audiences. But at C3 Presents, which puts on Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, the number of live-stream viewers has climbed into the ‘high millions,’ said Courtney Trucksess, director of sponsorship.”

Oh, and how it seems like just yesterday that I was coming into work on a Saturday with a set of headphones, waiting to listen to sets from Mayer Hawthorne, Bright Eyes or Fitz & The Tantrums during 2011’s Lollapalooza. Goodness, those were the days.

In any case, this trend has been bubbling for a little while now. It even extends into singular artists who have taken to the Web to stream live concerts around the world (what’s up, Coldplay). The technique is double-sided: While it’s nice to look in on a music festival billions of miles away, it’s also just a tad deflating to see how some — if not most — of the people you want to see won’t be part of the package. As Weber pointed out, while you can catch Gary Clark Jr. (who still owes me a CD), The Roots, Jack White, Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Black Keys online this weekend, you still won’t be able to find Weezer, Neil Young and M. Ward, among many others.

Still, the growth in popularity of such is nothing short of extraordinary. One has to think this goes hand in hand with the rise in summer music festivals as a whole, anyway, but it would be absurd to think that these live streams don’t play — at the very least — a minor role in the explosion of three-day concert gatherings around this country that has ballooned throughout the last five years. I mean, come on, now: As the live music landscape continues to expand, why wouldn’t the advances in an entire industry somehow play a role in the evolution of music and the web?

And maybe even more impressively … it works. Each time I’ve sat down to take in these live streaming events (we all remember the SXSW Jay-Z post, now don’t we?), I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how reliable these streams can be. It almost makes you wonder why they weren’t consistently broadcast on a pay-per-view basis before Al Gore invented the Internet. All told, this isn’t just a reward for fans of both live instrumentation and … say, Weezer (yuck) — this is a reward for an entire business model aimed at growing a loyal fan base.

Case in point: Let’s say you can’t make it to Austin City Limits this year, and, for that matter, you’ve never been able to make it to a single music festival in your life. But for the past few go-arounds, you’ve turned to YouTube to help satisfy that ACL craving by watching sets from some acts you may have never even heard of. It’s only a matter of time until you’re finally able to save up all your pennies to take in the festival atmosphere in person, anyway, and where do you think you’ll turn? Outside lands?

Nope. Why not? Because in an odd way, taking the time to view these events online adds a level of cyber comfort that one may accrue toward one festival in particular. If you’ve spent the last three years watching sets streamed from Austin, Texas, in the comfort of your own home, don’t you think you’d want to see what it’s like in the flesh, should you be given the opportunity to choose from the plethora of music festivals now offered to the everyday music fan? It’s a brand, friends. That’s what these guys are selling. A brand.

From here, the phenomenon can only increase in popularity. For as much as it’s grown over the last few years, the idea of streaming these things live still isn’t nearly as common as it could be. Yes, this may be the year it all crosses over into the mainstream. But maybe more importantly, this also might just be the beginning to a tactic that offers far more expansive ramifications to the way we take in live music as people, moving forward. This isn’t just an niche anymore. It’s a bona fide tool.

Oh, and for those of you who may be interested in checking out the action this weekend, First Aid Kit kicks it all off at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow right here.

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