[caption id="attachment_42059" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="A view of Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, which Eric Spitznagel wants no part of. Photo: Douglas Mason/Getty Images"][/caption]
Music is ubiquitous and confusing. Twice a month, Eric Spitznagel stares into the bottomless chasm of new (and old) songs, albums and musicians that permeate our lives, and tries to pretend he has any idea what it all means.
Are you thinking of attending one of the dozens of music festivals this summer? You do realize it requires leaving your house, don't you? And putting on pants (occasionally) and more often than not sleeping in the company of strangers. I know, awful, right? To help you navigate through the murky summer waters of music, porta-potties and sweaty strangers, I've put together this helpful guide of what festivals to avoid, and what festivals to avoid with extreme prejudice.
When: June 7-10
Where: Manchester, Tennessee
With over 100 acts performing, there's probably somebody on the schedule you'll want to see. And at least a few that you would never, ever, ever see otherwise. I can't imagine any situation in which I'd say "Hey, let's get tickets to the Kenny Rogers show!" Because it's never going to be as funny or ironic as it is in your imagination. He probably won't play "The Gambler" right away, or at all, and everybody in the audience will be at least twenty years older than you and smell like cologne and menthol cigarettes, and even if you walk out, you're in an Indian casino in the middle of northern Michigan, so what else are you going to do with your night? But at Bonnaroo, you're surrounded by options. Once Kenny starts in with songs from "the new album," you can slip out and go see Radiohead to cleanse your musical palate. But you're still kinda trapped. It's not like you can catch a cab and go home early. You're just another tent-dweller along with everybody else. Bonnaroo is like Burning Man, in that you're essentially paying to be homeless. But at least the real homeless didn't get that way because they wanted to see Kenny Rogers.
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Telluride Bluegrass Festival
When: June 21-24, 2012
Where: Telluride, Colorado
This is another one that involves camping. I don't understand why anybody would go to any concert in which they are required to bring a sleeping bag. I went to a Wilco show a few weeks ago, and it was a nightmare. My wife and I found our seats and arranged everything perfectly, with our recently purchased Wilco tote bag filled with our recently purchased Wilco t-shirts, which we tucked safely between our feet, and two beers per person balanced in our laps, because you don't want to take a beer run mid-concert if you can help it. So then the show starts, and everybody leaps to their feet, and my wife and I are like, "Oh come oooon!" We didn't come to a Wilco concert to stand! We were hoping that maybe after a few songs everybody would calm down and ease back into their seats -- because Jesus Christ, people, this isn't Ke$ha. That's Jeff Tweedy up there! If somebody brought him a chair, he'd be sitting too! -- but it never happened. What could've been a perfectly comfortable adult contemporary rock show turned into an unnecessarily knee-straining standing-fest. And my wife and I ended up stepping all over our tote bag and tearing one of the handles, so now we're like, "Can we even use it at the farmer's market? It looks like crap."
No, I am most definitely not going fucking camping.
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The Governors Ball
When: June 23-24
Where: Randall's Island, New York City
I swear I've seen this exact show before. Fiona Apple and Beck? Didn't they do a double bill at some point in 1996? I'm almost positive I was at that concert. Fiona Apple sang "Criminal" and then half the crowd left because, who are we kidding, that's the only song we wanted to hear. And then Beck did almost everything from Odelay and we didn't mind even though we only knew "Where It's At," because it's Beck and even pretending to like Beck is cool. I'm pretty sure Modest Mouse opened for them. I liked 1996 well enough, so I wouldn't mind reliving it. The only problem is, the festival's on an island, and you need to take a ferry to get there or a terrible bus line from Harlem. And any time you're on a small body of land surrounded by water with unsupervised kids, there's always a chance it'll become a Lord of the Flies situation. Somebody's going to ignore the conch rule -- probably Built to Spill -- and then it's just a matter of time before it devolves into full-blown chaos. No thank you!
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[caption id="attachment_42064" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="A scene from the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2007, which would utterly confuse Eric Spitznagel. Photo: Tom Burns/Getty Images"][/caption]
Pitchfork Music Festival
When: July 13-15
Where: Chicago, Illinois
Much like reading Pitchfork, I'm worried that this festival will make me feel stupid and out of touch. Looking at the schedule, I recognize maybe two or three acts. And I don't want to be the asshole who says, "I'm just here to see Vampire Weekend." Have you heard all the online bitching about how some Van Halen tribute band called Unchained got a prime Saturday night slot at Bonnaroo, and now there are theories that maybe it's just a front and the actual Van Halen is going to play a surprise gig? Either way, it's win-win. You either get the real Diamond Dave or, just as good, a middle-aged guy who looks nothing like David Lee Roth trying to do scissor-kicks while singing "Panama." But at Pitchfork, it's not like you'll go to the Hot Chip set and it's like, holy shit, it's actually a Def Leppard reunion! So you get drunk and sing along to every song, especially "Pour Some Sugar On Me," which you can't believe you still know all the lyrics to.
That would never, ever, ever, ever, ever happen at a Pitchfork Music Festival. Ever.
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When: August 3-5
Where: Chicago, Illinois
I'm reluctant for a couple of reasons. First of all, the co-headliners are Jack White and the Black Keys. I thought they hated each other. I'm pretty sure I read that somewhere. Didn't White almost get into a fistfight with Dan Auerbach outside his Nashville studio? And now they're doing the same festival? There's no way that's not ending in fisticuffs. It's the Lollapalooza way! Back in the day, Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro would punch each other on stage all the time. It was a regular thing. Either White or the Black Keys are going to start some shit, mark my words. And then there'll be hair-pulling and name-calling and guitar solo dueling. It'll be awesome but horrifying.
Also, the last time I went to a Lollapalooza was in 1992, when the headliners were Red Hot Chili Peppers. I'd taken acid before the show, and it didn't work. I bought it from some greasy man-weasel who creeped me out. He kept quoting Joy Division lyrics and telling me that his belt was made from rattlesnake. But his acid was cheap, so I tolerated him long enough to make the sale. It was somewhere around the middle of the Chili Pepper's set that I realized I'd been duped. When they came out in silver jumpsuits and fire helmets, my first thought was "Well this is lame." If I'd been tripping balls, seeing flames shoot out of Flea's head would've been the most awesome moment of my life. But it wasn't. It was the moment I realized I hadn't seen my ride in hours, and I'd spent the last of my money on an LSD-free scrap of wax paper with the Led Zeppelin IV hermit drawn badly on the front.
So I guess my concern is, what if I show up for this Lollapalooza, my second Lollapalooza in exactly 20 years, which also coincidentally features the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and while they're performing "Give It Away" or another song I haven't listened to in 20 years, some part of my brain gets confused and thinks, "Hey, didn't we take acid? We should be tripping now, right?" And then I start hallucinating, just out of Pavlovian reflex. I'm too old for a psychosomatic acid experience. Especially if Jack White is going to get into a slap-fight with the Black Keys. I need to be straight for something like that.
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Liss Ard Festival
When: August 4-5
Where: Skibbereen, Ireland
There are a bunch of reasons not to go to this. The most glaring is that it's in fucking Ireland! And not even a part of Ireland you'd want to visit, like Dublin or Belfast. It's in a town called Skibbereen, which sounds like the name of an adorable magical creature from a Harry Potter book. Also, have you heard who the headliner is? Chic. As in, the Chic who did "Everybody Dance" and "Le Freak" and other songs you only hear at wedding receptions. Who in the world says "I'm going to drop several grand so I can fly to Ireland to sing "Le freak, c'est chic" with the 60-year-old guy who wrote it?" Who does that? Whoever they are, they shouldn't be allowed to have money. They clearly don't know how to spend it responsibly.
Also, the Liss Ard Festival -- and what the hell is a "liss ard" anyway? Are they trying to say "lizard" but make it sound fancy? They're not fooling anybody. What was I saying? Oh yeah, the Liss Ard Festival, it's happening at almost exactly the same time as Lollapalooza. Not that I plan to be at that either, but do you really want to be in Ireland for a music festival and get a Google alert that Jack White died in a murder-suicide after stabbing both of the Black Keys with Patrick Carney's gigantic glasses? And you're like, "Oh yeah? Well I did Jameson shots with that guy from Chic. You know, the one who isn't dead. He told me how he came up with the idea for 'Dance, Dance, Dance.' Apparently it came to him while dancing. And ... who else is playing in the festival again? Rhob Cunningham? Seriously? Rhob with an H? Who the fuck is that? Oh Jesus, I've wasted my summer!"
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When: September 1-3
Where: Seattle, Washington
Are you really thinking about going to this? No, really? The thought has crossed your mind, "We should go to Bumbershoot because it'll be totally different from all the other music festivals?" I know Bumbershoot has been around since the early '70s and deserves more respect. But honestly, how do any of you find the energy? You know you're just going to drive all the way to Seattle and spend hours in gridlock and finally set up your camping site and take a shower with $8 bottles of Smart Water and then get to the show and it's like, "Skrillex again? Hey, Win Butler called. He wants his Trent Reznor haircut back. Well this should be a surprising set of music. I'll bet he drops the beat at some point. Wait for it, wait for it, aaaaand ... there it is!"
Bumbershoot may be the granddaddy of music fests, but they're doing a pretty good job of following the blueprint. It's got the '90s alternative nostalgia acts (Jane's Addiction, Mudhoney), the old-timer appreciated ironically (Tony Bennett), the "I hear that song all the time on satellite radio" one-hit wonder (Gotye), the band with members from former bands you actually wanted to see but now they're in this different band that probably won't play anything you recognize (Eight and a Half) and of course, the alterna-comics (Aziz Ansari? Maybe, I don't know.)
Did you see Kathy Griffith's new talk show? I watched it, it was funny. But it was basically just Chelsea Handler's show with different people and no midget. Do we need two talk shows with barb-tongued hosts and their trash-talking friends? Obviously not, but that doesn't mean the time-tested formula isn't going to be repeated as many times as it works. If television followed the lead of music festivals, there'd be hundreds of these shows. Every channel would be another middle-aged female comic getting saucy about celebrities and sex, and her panel of comedian best friends saying "Oh snap, you went there!"
You know what would make me go to Bumbershoot? If there was even a slim possibility that the Skrillex show was a front for Van Halen. Or better still, Unchained, the Van Halen tribute band that's already the most loathed band at Bonnaroo. And the entire crowd was like, "What the fuck is this shit? Where's Skrillex?" And then Unchained drops the beat, but it's "Hot For Teacher," so all the Skrillex fans are confused and disoriented, and they try crushing their PBRs in protest, but they can't because they have the core muscle strength of infants, so it just sounds like nails grinding against aluminum.
That would be amazing. I'd even stand up for that show. I'd trample all over my Wilco tote bag. No regrets.