So Far, Europe is Winning the Music Festival Bidding War

Rob Slater on November 29, 2016


We’re somehow in the midst of the 2017 festival season already, with still a month to go in 2016. Lineup announcements, rumors and soft-confirmations are coming down just about every day and one thing is abundantly clear: Europe is stacking the deck with some of the best lineups of the year so far. 

After touring most of 2016 around A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead acted quickly, lining up numerous festival gigs in Europe, everywhere from Denmark to Italy and France, including the big one at Glastonbury in the UK. The two other massive headliners out there, Arcade Fire and Foo Fighters, also have June and July booked with festivals across the continent. The Foos even set up a “passport” feature on their website, with clear plans to expand their current holdings throughout the world. As for the lucky winner to snatch all three? Belgium’s Rock Werchter.

It’s not just the top line that makes these festivals eye-catching, the undercards include artists like Aphex Twin, who will play his first UK show in five years at London’s Field Day. Frank Ocean also signed on at Northside in Denmark (Ocean will also make his U.S. return at the recently announced Hangout as well as Sasquatch and Panorama). Hard rock supergroup Prophets of Rage plotted a European festival summer stint (including Open’er in Poland where they will join Foo Fighters and Radiohead) and British Summer Time reeled in Phil Collins and Pixies for their early lineup. Not to be forgotten are rare gigs from Fleet Foxes, who will return at the Vida Festival in Spain, and Two Door Cinema Club who also have a few European festivals lined up. 

This all may not seem concerning, but Tour Routing 101 would suggest that none of these bands will be jumping the pond for a one-off weekend at your favorite festival. Radiohead may fall to Coachella and more mainstream rock acts like Kings of Leon have already committed to Okeechobee, which returns for its sophomore year with Usher & The Roots, Bassnectar, The Lumineers, Wiz Khalifa and others, but the scale is tipping towards many of Europe’s festivals garnering the best acts. 

Sure, we’re still awaiting stateside heavyweights like Bonnaroo, Coachella, Governors Ball, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, Austin City Limits and many others, but the question of just who they will be able to pull continues to grow. As we’ve already seen in the first wave of announcements on this side of the pond, Mountain Jam tweaked their approach by stacking the top of the lineup with an older bunch of mainstream Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, veering from the Mule/Allman/Dead model of year’s past. 

One of the festivals who took a step forward is clearly Atlanta’s Sweetwater 420 Fest, taking place in a city that is rapidly becoming a hotbed for major music festivals. Not only boasting two nights of local favorite Widespread Panic, Sweetwater will also welcome two sets of Trey Anastasio Band and Ween and an appealing undercard of Trombone Shorty, Anders Osborne, Sister Sparrow and others. We’ve also seen Shovels & Rope put together an eclectic lineup in their hometown of Charleston, SC as the inaugural High Water Fest will bring The Shins, Avett Brothers, Charles Bradley, Deer Tick, Lucius, Matthew Logan Vasquez, among others to the fold. 

While the U.S. has some early bright spots and certainly some stumbles out of the gate, the fact remains there is a serious European surge taking place across the festival landscape and it may leave some of America’s top festivals (ranked by Festival 250 as Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, Coachella, Firefly and Governors Ball) grasping at straws to fill their lineups and distinguish themselves in a time where lineups all seem to run together. Forbes published an analysis of the Festival 250 rankings, including a comparison of the overlap between the five previously mentioned and found that up to 51% of acts at Governors Ball performed elsewhere (including Firefly which resides in nearby Delaware), 39% of Bonnaroo’s lineup could be found at four others, Firefly came in at 34% while Coachella and ACL proved to be more diverse with just 24% and 22% of the lineup at the other four festivals. 

Essentially, the challenge facing promoters around the country at the moment is how to distinguish themselves from one another with the shrinking pool of artists to pull from. No disrespect to them, but the Red Hot Chili Peppers topping every lineup isn’t going to get people filling those large, empty fields in Tennessee, California and Chicago. With no big reunion news for 2017 as of yet, it will take some serious creativity to sort through what the European festivals have left behind. Who can do it? Time will tell. 


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