Why You Should Skip Your Favorite Artist’s Set at Your Next Festival
Fact: The best parts of the festival experience are usually the unexpected ones. The new friend you made when you lost your crew. The parade of roaming performers you got caught in accidentally. That set you stumbled upon that turned out to be full of the bangers you needed. Those are the times that make the best memories.
From my experience, that last one isn’t uncommon. Personally, I’ve found many of my favorite artists by walking, sans expectations, into their live sets—and I know many of my fellow ravers feel the same. In fact, I’d argue it’s almost always easier to like an artist’s sound when you hear it live first. Listening through a device—whether it’s your crappy laptop speakers, your car’s multi-hundred-dollar, tricked-out stereo, or a slick pair of wireless headphones—just can’t compare to the more visceral, more immersive, and just plain better setting of a festival.
If you take that mindset, then there are two places you should absolutely make time to go to at any festival: 1) the stages you’d planned on skipping because you don’t like X or Y genre, and 2) the smaller, wackier stages where you don’t recognize a single name on the lineup.
Oftentimes, we don’t get to these areas because, well, why would we? There are already a dozen set time conflicts to contend with for the artists on our must-see wish lists. But what about the set time conflicts you don’t yet know exist?
For those who skip out on the set of an artist they love in favor of wandering into a set by someone they’ve either never heard or never liked, the reward can be enormous. But it’s no easy decision: Making time for this wandering requires a sacrifice and a risk.
Forfeiting the set of one of your favorite artists with the goal of experiencing something new—something you might not even like—is sacrificing a guaranteed good time and risking a straight-up bad one. That gamble may make it seem like a better idea to hold off on wandering until you have a break between the sets you want to see, but it’s easy to find yourself instead using that time to take a break, grab some water, hit the bathrooms… the list goes on. When you take the gamble, you’re more likely to consciously seek out something that will make missing one of your favorite artists worth it—and you’ll more often be rewarded for it.
“There are already a dozen set time conflicts to contend with for the artists on our must-see wish lists. But what about the set time conflicts you don’t yet know exist?”
Trust me when I say you should, at least sometimes, take that risk. I would never have grown to love artists like Zomboy, Rudimental, or J. Phlip had I not chosen to forgo catching a live version of “Sun and Moon” for the third time and hit the pavement with no real direction in mind.
And okay, this kind of thinking isn’t for everyone. I’ll admit, I’m a bit spoiled. Living in or near a major city—especially if that city is L.A.—means you know your favorite artist will probably pass through again on another local festival lineup, or at a local venue with their own tour, sometime very soon.
But if you’ve seen that artist a few times already, and you’re reasonably sure you’ll get to see them again in the future, what do you have to lose from going to another set? And the music you end up hearing instead—well, that could be life-changing.
Here’s the thing: Seeing an artist live is (almost) always going to be better than listening to their tracks outside of the festival setting. In a festival setting, you’re primed with the energy of everyone around you, of earlier sets, of later sets you’re stoked for, of just generally being there and being free. That energy puts you in a great mental space to be open to new types of music, or old types of music you thought you’d sworn off.
Maybe you think you hate hip-hop. But then your friend drags you to Atmosphere (and you want to get a good spot for Flume, and the other stage, though tantalizing, isn’t quite your jam either), and you end up loving it. Loving it. How is that not life-changing? It’s a change in the trajectory of your tastes, at least. In the future, you’re more likely to listen to hip-hop again, by another artist, both onstage and on stereo.
Now think about what you would’ve missed out on if the other stage was poppin’ off with a set you did want to see, and you missed Atmosphere altogether. Totally different trajectory.
I’ll give you an example from my own life. At EDC Las Vegas last year, I ducked away from my friends, who were running to catch Seven Lions’ set, to wander the festival grounds. I love Seven Lions, but I was itching for something new. It was almost 9:30 pm, and I found myself drawn to cosmicMEADOW, where Jersey-club-with-a-twist DJ 4B was dropping a mega-gnarly set for hundreds of headbanging Headliners. 4B hadn’t been on my radar at all—to be honest, I didn’t even remember that he was on the lineup—but that set turned out to be my favorite of the entire weekend. My lack of expectations, combined with my desire to explore and lose myself at a random stage, was just the lubrication my mind needed to fully accept—and way more than fully go apeshit for—his sound. (As for Seven Lions, well, I got to see him just six months later in San Bernardino at Countdown NYE.)
When you listen to music on the fly not in a festival setting, things get complicated. Maybe I’d love that Zomboy track if I heard it live first, but instead I was driving in high-stress traffic to LAX, or winding down for the evening, or having a bad day. All those emotions I was feeling before I heard the song closed me off to it in ways that I wouldn’t be closed off if I were in a festival setting.
I’ll be real: This strategy doesn’t always work out. Sometimes, I skip a set I know I’d love in favor of seeing someone new, and I don’t vibe with it. It happens. But far more often, I fall in love with whomever I see instead. I can say for certain that I’d never be as into many of the artists I listen to on a regular basis today had I not let the festival tides gently push me in the direction of their stages.
Your favorite artist will always be there. But your new favorite artist needs to be discovered, and there’s only one ideal setting to do it. Isn’t it worth it to try?
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