From Brass Bands to Steely Dan – The Modern Music Festival

Recently, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was broadcast on one of the cable stations. The concert was held on two consecutive weekends in April and ran for three days each weekend. The concert featured some vintage acts such as AC/DC and Steely Dan, as well as more modern groups like Tame Impala, Kimba, and Florence and the Machine. In 2014, Coachella brought in almost 600,000 people and more than $70+ million in revenue.

The festival’s origin’s go back to 1993 when the band Pearl Jam performed at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. Pearl Jam was protesting against Ticketmaster by refusing to play any location where Ticketmaster was involved. This show demonstrated that the Coachella venue could successfully draw a crowd.

The first Coachella festival, in 1999, was held over a two day period. It was held 3 months after Woodstock ’99, a disastrous attempt to recreate the original 1969 Three Days of Peace and Love. Evidently, the peace and love crowd had been replaced by violence, sexual assault, and arson. Woodstock ’99 tolled the death knell for those who still believed in the “Summer of Love.” At Coachella, however, the crowds were peaceful. Approximately 37,000 tickets were sold at $50 a piece. The organizers had hoped to sell 70,000 tickets and ended up losing $800,000. Many of the 75 acts agreed to wait for their payment as not enough money was generated to pay everyone.

The next show was not until 2001 and lasted only one day. In 2002, the festival went back to a two day format and was then increased to three days in 2007. In 2012, concert planners decided to run the entire three day show twice on consecutive weekends in the month of April. Today, the festival runs for three days and then repeats for three days, giving ample time for everyone to spend tons of money and listen to multiple acts across a large concert area with four different stages.

Coachella has become one of the biggest “must-be-seen-at” rock extravaganzas in the country for both artists and audience. Competing with many other yearly concert festivals, Coachella has taken its place among the premier music festivals such as South by Southwest, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Firefly, and the XPoNential Music Festival in Philadelphia. In 2014, Coachella, with seventy five acts, brought in almost $80 million in revenues just in ticket sales. Total revenues brought into the Indio, CA, and surrounding areas are estimated to be in excess of $250 million.

General admission tickets for Coachella 2015 were $375 at face value. VIP tickets were going for $800. Of course, that’s face value without going through a scalper – I meant ticket reseller. It’s a bit more than what Bruce Springsteen brought in at Burlington Country College the first time I saw him in the early ‘70’s when it cost me $8 for four tickets.

The cable channel showing the Coachella concert was AXS which is owned, in part, by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), one of the largest entertainment companies in the world. AEG is also the company that owns Coachella and has taken it from a small 25,000 person Pearl Jam concert to one of the largest moneymaking musical monsters in the world. As I watch the replay of The War On Drugs, Jack White, and the Alabama Shakes in the comfort of my living room on my flat panel TV and surround sound audio, I know I’m not getting the “feel, sights, and sounds” of being at the concert. But I’m sure I probably had a better seat than 99% of the more than half a million people that shelled out a small fortune to see the artists from a distance of two or three football fields away. My beers were cold out of the fridge and didn’t cost me $12 each. The bathroom breaks consisted of a thirty foot walk down the hallway instead of a twenty minute hike through hundreds of thousands of people. And let’s not forget the zero minute wait time at the bathroom door itself.

Ok. So maybe I’m getting a little older and just don’t want to deal with the heat, crowds, traffic, and long beer lines which lead to long bathroom lines. I don’t need binoculars to enlarge the lead singer to the size of a small animal instead of an ant. I don’t have to strain to hear the music through loud crowds, fuzzy speakers, and feedback.

Cantankerous and cranky? Maybe, but I’ve reached a certain comfort requirement that has moved far away from what the “peace and love” crowd of my generation tolerated at the first Woodstock.  Hell, not having room service is roughing it for me these days. Why subject myself to the “hordes” when I can sit in the comfort of my own home, enjoying a great concert on my TV and sound system, and stay cool, comfortable and well fed.

To move from the ridiculous to the sublime, the day after watching Coachella on TV, I attended a concert by the Territorial Brass Band at Sharlot Hall, a local historical museum. During the course of the concert, one of the band members gave a running narration on the history of brass bands in Prescott. Brass bands at one time were the rock bands of America. The superstars of those days were people like John Philip Sousa and Robert Elgar, both of whom wrote their own music and toured extensively. Fiorello LaGuardia, one of New York City’s most renowned mayors, was born in Prescott. His father was the conductor of the local military brass band stationed at Fort Whipple, a US Army Cavalry base located in Prescott. Young Fiorello was known to play a mean coronet solo with the military band on occasion. Another of the more interesting anecdotes concerned the local brass band and the first telephone installed in Prescott. To demonstrate the extensive capabilities of the new invention, a brass band was asked to play into a telephone while people on the other end of the line listened.

And there you have it – one of the earliest examples of a concert being broadcast live on an electronic instrument to a remote audience. It might not be AXS, but it worked.

Recently, the simulcasting of live performances in local auditoriums and movie theaters of classical music and opera performances may be the beginning of a new trend – remote broadcast of live performances. Can live rock concerts be far behind?

From early telephone technology to modern high definition electronic home delivery, the decades have proven that when it comes to comfort, pricing, and bathroom accessibility for large music festivals, there’s still no place like home.