Now that the dust has settled and Desert Trip’s second weekend is officially in the books, we can take a step back from the massive festival and muse on what—if anything—it means for the industry as a whole.
The lineup obviously targeted Baby Boomers, but can the general concept of Desert Trip (whittle down the bill to six huge acts and spend your entire budget on them—in other words, quality over quantity) be applied to other music festivals? Are high-end, event festivals where fans shell out large sums of money for luxuries like seating, gourmet food and sets from two legendary artists a day the way of the future? Goldenvoice reportedly drew 75,000 people each night and grossed $160 million—nearly double what they made last year at Coachella—over the festival’s two weekends, making it the most lucrative music festival of all time. (Word on the street is each band took home $14 million for the gig.)
So yes, of course, it was a success. But is it one that should be imitated or replicated?
Part of what made Desert Trip unique was its ability to appeal to a demographic that doesn’t regularly attend music festivals. The same formula probably has less appeal for younger audiences who are used to all-day festivals that offer a variety of artists—buzz bands and up-and-comers on the same bill as the same type of legacy acts that headlined Desert Trip (indeed, McCartney headlined Bonnaroo in 2014, The Rolling Stones played Summerfest and Le Festival D’Été de Québec in 2015, Neil Young headlined Outside Lands in 2012). What sets Desert Trip apart isn’t that it got these bands; it’s that it got them all and brought them together, in the same place, for two historic weekends.
Would the same concept work with six huge contemporary acts? Do we need it too, when we’re already at peak music festival? After all, isn’t Oldchella for the kids just…a smaller Coachella?
If Desert Trip is returning in 2017 (Goldenvoice has still not commented on whether or not they have plans to bring the festival back next year), it’ll be tough to top this year’s lineup, but there are plenty of iconic acts of a certain age to choose from for a follow-up, particularly if the festival opens itself up to including some women and/or minorities on the bill or expands beyond the rock genre. Joan Jett? Fleetwood Mac? Bruce Springsteen? Elton John? Stevie Wonder? Dolly Parton? Tina Turner? A reunited Kinks? A reunited Led Zeppelin? (Robert Plant has repeatedly shot this idea down and was rumored to have turned down $14 million to play this year’s Desert Trip, so this one feels like a bit of a long-shot.)
Nostalgia’s a powerful thing, and Desert Trip’s success is proof, but that classic rock nostalgia isn’t just something you’re capable of feeling if you have an AARP card. There are generations and generations of fans whose childhoods were soundtracked by these bands. For many young kids just beginning to really dive into music geekery, their work is a gateway drug, an introduction to half a century of music and the realization that a song or album can literally take your breath away or make those little hairs on the back of your neck stick up. So yes, we’ve all made the Oldchella jokes, but the truth is, this music is timeless.
Just like the music that inspired it, Desert Trip is big, weird and complex—and if it comes back next year, that’s what it should bank on. Forget “Oldchella”—it’s a nostalgia trip that spans generations, or a victory lap for artists of a certain age, one more shot to deliver a mind-blowingly great set and leave us all wondering if it wasn’t just an epic mirage. Whether or not it’s the future of the music festival remains to be seen, but for now, it’s the way of the desert, and that’s certainly worth revisiting in 2017.