Ah, the end of the summer means the wrapping-up of summer festivals. This weekend’s Electric Zoo in NYC is one of the last major festivals, and it’s surprisingly popular – probably due to the widespread appeal of DJs and dance music, coupled with the fact that All Points West (another major festival in the New York area) has been discontinued as of this year.
It’s easy to see the appeal of music festivals. After all, with so many bands playing, it’s like attending numerous concerts in one weekend. Festivals are great if there are bands that you haven’t seen before that you’ve always wanted to see, but they’re even better if 1) there is a band featured that you’ve heard of, but that you would never pay to see alone, or 2) there’s a band that you’ve already seen, and you would like to see them again, but you would not pay to see them again alone.
And let’s not forget the human obsession with options. When looking at the calendar for upcoming shows in your area (with your bank account balance in another window) you have to choose between going to see one band for $50, or two other artists for $20 each…or this band in November, or that group in October. What a headache! Meanwhile, if you get a 3-day pass to a festival, you can delight in the fact that you have so many bands that you can see! yay!
But then you arrive at the festival, and you realize that you have not escaped the painful decision making process. A recent article in the Times dealt with the topic of decision fatigue – the idea that effort goes into the relinquishing of options. We all have an ingrained fear of loss, and that fear extends to our loss of options. Decision making isn’t easy, simply because you can’t have it both ways. At festivals, there are often multiple stages, with bands playing at the same time. For example, at Lollapalooza this year, Coldplay and Muse played simultaneous sets. The stages were far enough away from each other so that one performance didn’t interfere with the other, but that also meant that you had to choose between the two bands. For die-hard fans of Coldplay or Muse, this choice was a trivial one, but for most attendants of the festival, it was tough. Along with these kinds of trade-offs, people often also ask themselves the question, “Do I miss a band at Stage 1 in order to get a better spot at Stage 2 for the band that I really want to see later?” Finally, at day-long festivals, you need to go use the bathroom, and you need to eat (and, well, drink), so you have to be strategic in when you decide to leave the stage area.
Phew. This plethora of decisions can lead, first of all, to fatigue. When your brain is tired of making decisions, it begins to go for the easier, more impulsive choice. When it comes to alcohol consumption, for example, this can be quite dangerous. Secondly, decision overload can lead to regret; instead of enjoying Coldplay, you may end up asking yourself persistently, “Would Muse have been better?”.
So, festivals can be both fun and stressful. My advice to festival-goers is: forget about seeing every artist that you came to see. Enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy discovering new bands, and don’t worry – you will get your money’s worth.