Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Festivals - EMP Pop Conference Highlights Part Six

I think this will be my final post about the 2008 Experience Music Project Pop Conference, held in Seattle April 10th-13th. There were tons of great presentations, including many that I missed...but that's always the case.

The "Festivals" panel on April 11th was one of the most cohesive panels that I saw, with presentations that played off of each other beautifully. First up was Regina Arnold (who you may remember from her Gina Arnold rock critic days), now a Stanford grad student working on her dissertation about rock crowds and power, from which we heard a tidbit, "Rock Crowds and Power: The Early Years." She focused her paper on a May 1969 festival at San Jose State called the Aquarian Family Festival (aka Aquarium Be-In or Aquarium Fair) and both the difficulty is researching such a festival from that era and the tensions related to it (free vs. paid festivals, licensing issues, crowd behavior, etc.). Posters from the event feature bands that never played and attendees looking back on it often misremember details as well. Some things that did happen were Jimi Hendrix being flown in on a Lear Jet, lawsuits, and Hells Angels being hired as security.

Next up, John Street from University of East Anglia presented "Performing Politics: From Rock Against Racism to Live 8." In discussing the history of Rock against Racism (founded in 1976) and Live 8 (2005), he looks at the role of musicians and music at these festivals. In some respects, organizers like Bob Geldof were up-front about hiring musicians who would draw the largest audiences in order to expose the causes to the greatest number of people.

Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman from SUNY-Binghamton gave her paper, "'Lollapalooza Every Day, Every Year': Music, Multiculturalism, and Whiteness in the 1990s," which seemed to evoke nostalgia from many of the GenXers in the audience (myself included) who had attended early Lollapalooza shows. She talked about the marketing of multiculturalism at early Lollapaloozas and argued that the lineups didn't live up to the multi-culti buzz and press hype. The audience was largely white and middle class and acts became increasingly less diverse from year to year. Yet, despite this, she claims the "dominant memory of Lollapalooza" is "multicultural." This was interesting for me to hear, as my memory of those early shows was more that the festival was attempting to present bands from a variety of genres that aren't typically on the same bill (metal, alternative rock, rap, and indie). To me, some of the most interesting bands were on the "second stage," where the lineup was definitely more diverse and at least featured some female artists.

Finally, Laurel Westrup discussed the UK Glastonbury Festival in her paper "When Subcultures Collide: The New Travellers at Glastonbury 1978-2005." She talked about the tensions between the a hippie subculture called the New Age Travellers and the festival organizers and mainstream concert-goers. She described the New Age Travellers (aka Crusties) as a diverse subculture that began in the 1960s with hippie sensibilities that now embraces elements of punk and rave culture. In 1992 a New Travellers band The Levellers played the main stage of the festival after concert organizers banned the "travellers" from the festival. This incident highlighted several tensions, including subcultural assertions that they were selling out, yet also a strange twist in that they were playing a festival that banned people from the scene that they came from.

Previous EMP Pop Conference posts:

EMP Pop Conference Highlights Part One

Strippers, Retro Divas, and Yoko Ono - EMP Conference Highlights Part Two

Music and the War in Iraq - EMP Conference Highlights Part Three

Sublime Frequencies' Experimental World Music - EMP Conference Highlights Part Four

Politicians Don't Know Pop Music - EMP Conference Highlights Part Five

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