Monday, July 27, 2009

Bonnaroo versus FloydFest, part two: myopic music

Even before I arrived at FloydFest this weekend, while I was preparing music-focused content filler, I noticed a significant difference between the acts I planned on seeing at FloydFest and the acts I saw at Bonnaroo: there were lady performers, and performers of color. Thinking back to my time at Bonnaroo, I didn't recall many performers who were either - Jenny Lewis, Neko Case, Galactic...Those Darlin's... hmm.

The observation returned to me a few times while at FloydFest - watching the Hot 8 Brass Band (right) after Grace Potter (left, below), seeing new acts like The Belleville Outfit. When I got home, I looked at the schedules to verify or reject this idea.

Looking at my personal schedule, I was definitely right. At Bonnaroo, an overwhelming 67% (12 out of 18) acts I saw were compromised entirely of white men. At FloydFest, only 45% (5 out of 11) of the acts I saw were similarly composed.

What led to this difference?

It might be a spurious connection; it very well could be my taste in music that's making the difference. But that wouldn't be a very interesting blog post, so let's continue on with the assumption that it's not just me.

FloydFest's strong social conscience is most likely a contributing factor. Throughout the festival, there was an emphasis on social action and movement, particularly with regard to the environment. This kind of context gives rise to different music - music with a greater consciousness by necessity. In a place where liberalism is strived for, perhaps the organizers were (explicitly or subconsciously) striving to have a less singularly kyriarchal set of performances.

On the flip side, Bonnaroo is much less emphatic about social consciousness. I didn't get the sense that any of the organizers cared anything about the larger implications of their production.

Or perhaps it's less about their social conscience and more about the music they put on. Bonnaroo has hip stuff, in both meaning of the word: indie, electronica, jam bands. FloydFest features roots, Americana, and bluegrass, and soul music. I'll refrain from commenting on this since I'm not an expert in this area, but I have a good amount of knowledge about jam bands and I know that they're fairly white and male (like Phish, right).

It could also be a reflection of the larger music culture in America. Floyd is local - it's a niche festival, meant to reflect country hippies. Bonnaroo is commercial - its bigness is meant to reflect all commercial music in America.

What do you see in this disparity? What do you know about the scenes I listed above? What could account for this? (Racism/sexism obviously accounts for this, but how, specifically?)

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