When It Comes to Music Festivals, Nostalgia Is in Vogue

Whether or not that's a good thing remains to be seen

Music festival crowd
Are music festivals becoming nostalgia factories?
Getty Images

Ever since the pandemic, touring has become that much more challenging for countless working musicians. The Black Keys recently announced that they would be shifting the focus of their next U.S. tour from arenas to smaller venues, and a recent NBC News report noted that they’re far from the only artist to encounter existential challenges to the touring life. NBC cited a few possible reasons for this, from economic anxiety among ticket buyers to the largest tours taking up an even larger share of the proverbial pie.

Still, there is one sector of live music that seems to be thriving: festivals that tap into audiences’ nostalgia for a bygone musical era, be it the 1980s or early 2000s. As The Guardian‘s David Renshaw observed, festivals like Just Like Heaven and Lovers & Friends are arguably looking like safer bets than Coachella. Renshaw wrote that some of these festivals appeal to older Millennials, aka “people with disposable income who find themselves ageing out of the reflex of keeping up with new music.”

That said, it isn’t quite an either/or situation here; Goldenvoice, the company behind Coachella and Stagecoach, is also responsible for feativals like Cruel World (headlined this year by Duran Duran). the aforementioned Just Like Heaven (headlined by the Postal Service) and the punk-focused No Values.

The last of those is potentially the most interesting in its blend of old and new. The first three artists on the festival’s poster — Misfits, Social Distortion and Iggy Pop — have all been doing their thing for decades. The fourth-billed Turnstile are relative newcomers, and they aren’t the only relatively contemporary acts on the bill — see also, Soul Glo and Viagra Boys.

Whether large or small, it’s a challenging landscape for countless musicians out there right now. And it’s not like the emphasis on nostalgia started in 2021; well over a decade ago, the sorely missed All Tomorrow’s Parties often featured artists performing albums in their entirety — though that was far from the only draw there. But if the future of live music involves revisiting the same artists over and over, it begs the question of if or when up-and-coming artists will find their moment to break through and find an audience.

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