I was camping in a field at a Danish music festival when Music Festival Wizard celebrated its 10th anniversary. A few weeks later, while taking photos of Rob Zombie at Nova Rock in Austria, I realized that it 10 years to the day since I unofficially covered my first festival at Bonnaroo in Tennessee. And a few months after that, at a tiny boutique fest in Lisbon, I would complete my 100th review of a music festival.
A common joke between festival reporters is that nobody actually gives a shit what we write about and that most festival recaps essentially boil down to “the music was good and the people were cool.” How do you even review a festival? Your bucket-list festival may be dancing all night to phenomenal electronic music on the postcard-perfect beaches of Croatia. Or your festival nightmare may be camping in crippling heat while cocaine fueled fist-pumping house music fans scream until dawn. Who am I to make that call?
In 2009, there were few reports or recaps from music festivals. I eventually settled on writing about the atmospheric vibe, intriguing artists, and anything else that caught my attention. We called this “The Scene” to give readers a glimpse of the vibe and let them decide if this was the type of the festival they wanted to attend.
From the beginning, I took photos to go along with the words, in the hopes that my limited writing skills would be enhanced by my limited photography skills. There seems to be a brief period in 2013 when my recaps only seem to consist of blurry photos, so apologies to any PR managers.
Starting in 2015, I attempted to attend to 15 music festivals in a 15 countries in 15 weekends while at the same time writing about the experience for the website and taking photos. I did this while working out of trains, hostels, and campgrounds. It was both the best and worst idea that I’ve ever dreamed up. I repeated it four more times.
I was on my way to Estonia to cover my 101st music festival when COVID-19 trapped me in Spain for six months. For the first time in a decade, I (and almost everyone else on the planet) won’t be attending a music festival this year. It’s a strange time. The festival industry will be changed, but I also know it will be back. I know this because if covering festivals for the past ten years has taught me anything, it’s that people will always want to gather and celebrate and dance.
How will the future of festivals look? I can’t say for sure, but this is an industry of creative dreamers so I’m pretty damn excited to see what they come up with next. No matter what form they take, I can guarantee that that music will still be very good and that people will still remain very cool.
In the meantime, if you want a snapshot of what music festivals used to look like from 2009-2019, here’s a 100 recaps from 80 different festivals across 35 countries.