If you’re a music fan who lives in the Northeast, a common complaint is the lack of festivals that make their way to our neck of the woods. For several summers, New Jersey hosted All Points West, an East-coast version of Lollapalooza, and for the past two Septembers, the folks at Life is Good have thrown together stellar end-of-summer festivals with the likes of Dr. Dog, Jason Mraz, and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. Something seems to be holding concert promoters back, however, when it comes to truly large-scale festivals-at least, ones with attendance on par with the most popular events. What is it, then, about the Northeast that keeps festivals away?
It’s hard to imagine placing the blame on the actual fans, but that’s just what organizers at the now-cancelled SnowMont Music Festival did after shutting down their event just weeks before its execution. Deep in the heart of Vermont, a mountain meant for skiing planned to transform its snowcapped slopes into “a home for world class music.” A three-day event held in Killington, Va. (easily accessible from Boston by bus or car, so pretending like that market wasn’t biting wasn’t Boston’s fault), SnowMont was to be the third in a series of countrywide festivals that sought to integrate high-energy winter sports like skiing and snowboarding with music that brings just as much energy to the table.
Following extremely successful events in Lake Tahoe (December’s SnowGlobe featured huge acts like Pretty Lights and Childish Gambino) and Vail (SnowBall, with Major Lazer, TV on the Radio, and Bassnectar), SnowMont was planned as a one-of-a-kind experience that proposed the ultimate marriage of music and the mountains. Huge artists like Snoop Dogg, the Flaming Lips, Big Boi (of Outkast), and Diplo (of Major Lazer) promised a stellar weekend of skiing and raving.
More so than other festivals, perhaps, organizers had to be vigilant about keeping concertgoers in check, if only to avoid any drunken attempts at skiing following a set. To do so, SnowMont planned to kick off its performances in the early afternoon, a sage decision that showed a glimpse of promise for crowd management in huge, unstable venues. Organizers offered a projected attendance of 45,000, a seemingly huge number that still paled in comparison to that of more well-known festivals like Coachella (so big it had to expand to two weekends in 2012) and Bonnaroo. The mere fact that they were unable to pull it together is a disappointment.
Just days ago, SnowMont fell apart “due to the event’s lack of demand.” While the subtext of this explanation offers the picture of low ticket sales, promoters must also marry these figures with poor PR planning and ineffective use of social media. This may be the first anyone has heard of SnowMont, which is a major fault on the part of its organizers, and its failure to drum up interest should certainly not deter future trailblazers from trying to set up camp in the region.
Though also a sufferer of low attendance, this weekend’s LIFT Festival took place as planned at Whaleback Mountain, Vt., a two-hour drive from Boston that certainly deterred thousands of potential buyers from going. Producers of the event described it as a “first taste of a brand new, two-day, elevated music experience in the heart of New Hampshire Ski Country,” but the only elevated thing about the weekend was its literal setting. The only mildly recognizable band on the event’s lineup was Ghostland Observatory, an electronic act that has trouble selling out small clubs in New York City-a sign that more of a draw was needed. If not held in a major city, a festival needs a headliner that will draw people in who might not normally make the trek, and LIFT Festival offered only niche electronic and dance acts like Alpha Data, Conspirator, and Business Casual Disco.
Going forward, those interested in bringing festivals to the Northeast should heed the varying failures of the aforementioned events in attracting large-scale audiences. Though locations like Prowse Farm in nearby Canton may be hard to come by, it’s obvious that Life is Good’s planners took their time to both scout out an enjoyable, accessible location while also carefully selecting a roster of artists that not only fit their message, but lured huge crowds. If the Life is Good Festival is any indication, the Northeast has festival lifeblood flowing through it that simply needs to be harnessed.