The Rise of the Artist-Curated Music Festival
There’s a Ferris Wheel in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers themselves are nowhere to be found. Baseball season is in the books. But that hasn’t stopped artists like Thundercat, Yasiin Bey and Omar Apollo, along with 50,000 or so revelers, from gathering in Chavez Ravine in the early-November sunshine.
Must be Camp Flog Gnaw, the alt-festival first envisioned by Tyler, the Creator and the hip-hop collective Odd Future in 2012.
Tyler’s imprint is all over this one, from the carnival vibe to the preponderance of Golf Wang duds to the skate-punk, Loiter Squad devotees, right on down to the lineup. Tyler, whose fifth full-length studio release, Igor, dropped in May, has hand-picked the performers for this two-day extravaganza, which has bounced around his hometown of Los Angeles over the years. Friends/collaborators Earl Sweatshirt, ASAP Rocky and Brockhampton are among the regulars who’ve joined the fun.
Tyler, 28, isn’t the only artist curating his own festival. In fact, more and more singers and musicians are doing the same, often in their hometowns.
“I think that what we’re realizing now is that the artists have all the power,” said ScoreMore’s Sascha Stone Guttfreund, who helped orchestrate the launch of rapper J. Cole’s inaugural Dreamville Festival in Raleigh, NC. “The fact is, the fans invest in the artist. As promoters, it’s our job to promote what they already have going on. So, if you’re a fan of J. Cole or you’re a fan of Travis Scott, you want to go and experience what it is to be in a place that they design and create and curate.”
Guttfreund was speaking at the Billboard Live Music Summit in Beverly Hills, where industry leaders addressed a growing trend that has seen many a performer, in effect, slide into the role of promoter. And why not? Who could blame them for wanting to create something unique, something that speaks directly to their fanbase, something that has instant credibility and purpose?
Some of these festivals have come together all but overnight. Singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams’ Something in the Water outing was dreamed up in January 2019. Less than four months later, a full lineup of acts — from Anderson .Paak to Dave Matthews to Williams himself — was taking the stage in Virginia Beach, Va., Pharrell’s birthplace. It was an ambitious undertaking, to say the least. Most festivals require a year or two of lead time to pull off. But Pharrell’s standing in the music industry, along with his deep connections within it, made it possible to pull off on the fly.
Similarly, rapper Post Malone returned to his home turf of Dallas in 2018 to launch Posty Fest, pulling together a blockbuster lineup that included Travis Scott and Tyler, the Creator. This year, he brought the event to the colossal AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. In just its second year, Posty Fest — with Doja Cat, Meek Mill, etc. — was a sellout: 45,000 tickets.
“You really can’t underestimate an artist’s value in their hometown,” said Cheryl Paglierani, an agent with the United Talent Agency. “It’s where they’re going to be the strongest. For Post, we had no doubts about him going into the stadium, but it wasn’t just a homecoming or playing in your hometown, AT&T Stadium, your favorite football team, but his dad actually worked at the stadium for 14 years.”
Gabriella Wilson, the Grammy-winning R&B singer better known as H.E.R., created a festival of her own in her native Northern California (Concord Pavilion) in 2019, gathering the likes of Ari Lennox, Jhene Aiko and Daniel Caesar for the Lights On Festival. The event proved an instant success, striking a chord with a new generation of music lovers who are looking for something different.
“We had never put on a festival before,” said Jeanine McLean of MBK Entertainment. “We thought that it was something important to be done. Being the first woman of color to have her own festival, and to have it sell out in 10 minutes, to have an incredible lineup — we opened the Rolodex and we had all the artists that she has relationships with.”
“From now on, you’re going to see more females stepping up, not being afraid to accept this challenge,” McLean added. “Hopefully, you’ll see more African American females being willing to accept the challenge.”
A glance at the concert calendar shows that this phenomenon isn’t limited to a single genre. You’ll see rock, indie pop, alt-country and EDM getting in on the action, too, thanks to Drake, Bon Iver, The Roots, The National, Jeff Tweedy, Travis Scott and others.
Back in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, Tyler, the Creator is capping an hour-long set with his hit “See You Again.” The crowd, singing along in unison, is clearly digging the moment.
Can I get a kiss?
And can you make it last forever?
I said I’m ‘bout to go to war
I don’t know if I’ma see you again
Afterward, Tyler reminds his fans of the do-it-yourself nature of Camp Flog Gnaw, now in its eighth year.
“I built this from the ground up,” he shouts.
As if that were ever in doubt.
A Sampling of Artist Curated Festivals in North America
FESTIVAL: Deja Voom
SITE: Mexico (March)
FESTIVAL: Something in the Water
SITE: Virginia Beach, Va. (April)
FESTIVAL: Dreamville Festival
CURATOR: J. Cole
SITE: Raleigh, NC (April)
FESTIVAL: High Water Festival
CURATOR: Shovels & Rope
SITE: North Charleston, SC (April)
FESTIVAL: FORM Arcosanti
CURATOR: Hundred Waters
SITE: Arcosanti, Ariz. (May)
CURATOR: The National
SITE: Cincinnati (May)
FESTIVAL: Roots Picnic
CURATOR: The Roots
SITE: Philadelphia (June)
FESTIVAL: Solid Sound
CURATOR: Jeff Tweedy
SITE: North Adams, Mass. (June)
FESTIVAL: Blue Ox Music Festival
CURATOR: Pert Near Sandstone
SITE: Eau Claire, Wisc. (June)
FESTIVAL: Second Sky Festival
CURATOR: Porter Robinson
SITE: Oakland (June)
FESTIVAL: Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival
CURATOR: Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner
SITE: Eau Claire, Wisc. (July)
FESTIVAL: OVO Fest
SITE: Toronto (Aug.)
FESTIVAL: Pasadena Daydream Festival
CURATOR: The Cure
SITE: The Rose Bowl (Aug.)
FESTIVAL: Lights On Festival
SITE: Concord, Calif. (Sept.)
FESTIVAL: Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival
CURATOR: Tyler, The Creator
SITE: Los Angeles (Nov.)
CURATOR: Travis Scott
SITE: Houston (Nov.)
FESTIVAL: Posty Fest
CURATOR: Post Malone
SITE: Dallas (Nov.)