We’ve got a year’s worth of indie and underground music festivals ahead, which always means we’ll be seeing some new or little-known acts. Levitation will be one of the first such events, coming up in April, and the lineup has already been announced. It will feature some long-established groups like the English rockers Slowdive and some newer pop groups like Golden Dawn Arkestra. Other events like Afropunk Fest and Burger Boogaloo will follow. The festival circuit is always fun no matter what kind of music you like. The question we’re asking here, however, is whether any of these festivals have the power to truly launch an artist.
It’s almost difficult to determine if any of these kinds of so-called underground festivals have done it before. But looking at some larger festivals, there actually are a few instances of very big artists getting very big boosts.
One that comes to mind given that it concerns one of the single biggest artists in the world is Lady Gaga’s famous performance at Lollapalooza in 2007. Most music fans think of Lolla as being as big and established a festival as there is in the U.S., and to be sure the pictures out of Grant Park, Chicago year in and year out give out the vibe that it’s an iconic event. But Lolla has actually had its ups and downs through the years, and in 2007 it was just getting on track to become the gigantic musical party it is every year nowadays.
Lady Gaga took the stage alongside Lady Starlight in 2007 and made waves, receiving rave reviews and a citation for indecent exposure. She was up against some of the biggest acts of the time and became one of the real stories coming out of the festival – ultimately helping her rise to superstardom. Later that same year, record executive Vincent Herbert signed the pop star to Streamline Records; Gaga has since called him the man who discovered her.
More recently we’ve also seen that a major festival can revive a band, in addition, to launch a star. Guns N’ Roses had hinted at a comeback before actually making one. They were attached to a slot game released back in 2016 to Canadian and other international casino platforms, which could easily have been random but now seems like a strategic marketing ploy. They also put out a vague trailer for forthcoming material in movie theaters at the end of 2015. This too could have passed by without much notice; Guns N’ Roses was at the time far past its heyday.
Then came the spring of 2016, however, when the band took the stage at Coachella, Axl Rose and Slash playing together for the first time in years. The show didn’t even get particularly great reviews, but it was still the story of the festival, and as we later found out, the launch pad for a multi-year tour that has returned the hard rockers to the top of the charts. There are enough GNR loyalists out there to have supported a tour anyway – but who’s to say it would have generated so much attention had it not started at Coachella?
Again, these are larger festivals, and thus better equipped to put artists in front of huge crowds that might generate some news stories. Still, the idea of an artist getting a major boost from a festival stage clearly has some legs to it. It’s something to keep in mind as you plan your year in festival attendance, and whenever you see a new and exciting act on stage.