I am beyond excited to get started researching the American music festival. As a person who thoroughly enjoys outdoor concerts (no matter the music), the idea of a festival study immediately enticed me.
Whilst at my most recent festival experience, Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, I found myself doing a lot of people-watching. It was truly fascinating the way that patrons followed an unspoken code of conduct, in the form of widespread motto, “Radiate Positivity.”
From there I got to thinking about the reasons people go to festivals, along with the reasons I can deal with the smelly people, mud, and heat, while some other true music fans I know cannot. No matter what people try to say, it’s not just about the music. The only answer I could think of was about how the atmosphere plays a part.
The idea kept building as I processed the weeklong experience, compounded by a trip abroad in Spain, giving me the opportunity to listen to entirely different outdoor music. From street performers, to church festival music, to a flamenco show, the live music experiences I found while traveling in Spain differed dramatically from that in the U.S., so I didn’t connect the two until a peer of mine while abroad took an impromptu trip. She decided, completely last minute, to show up to a Spanish music festival in Granada with some local artisans she had met. Hearing her recap her trip, reveling in the experience despite distinctly not being the “festival type”, only served to confirm my thoughts that something about the atmosphere and collective act of watching a show is significant.
What to do with this information, or how to pursue it further, didn’t dawn on me for a while after returning home. In a very odd realization one night late last August, I realized that maybe the thesis topic I was already trying to come up with which synthesized my unconventional course of study at CMU, and the pet theory about group identity and music festivals I had been harboring could be one in the same project! And so the ‘venue’ appeared: I could explore festival culture, at once expounding upon my interest in the general culture of the 1960s and 70s, as applying that study to the modern day. I could combine my interests in music, group dynamics, and outdoor lifestyles with my experiences putting on shows, and cultural studies. I got to learn about the music industry as I prepare to hopefully enter it, while still using my talents as a writer and historian. This research endeavor is truly the culmination of my high school and college interests, coming together in a way I never would have predicted. I feel so lucky to have you along for the ride!