(Pictured: Gang of Four. Click the image for a full Download slideshow)
July 19, 2008
Notes by Jennifer Maerz
Photos by Christopher Victorio
If you wanted to see firsthand what a struggling music festival would look like, Saturday's Download Festival at the Shoreline gave a pretty clear example. Concert promotion giant Live Nation hosts the event in select U.S. cities (San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia) and the cheap ticket prices are comparable to a night out at the Fillmore ($20 a pop). But last Saturday's concert failed to bring out many of the music lovers -- I've never seen the Shoreline look like such a ghost town.
The first Download Festival I went to was in 2006, and I remember then they were giving away tickets at the door. It was a strange sight, but if you arrived in the afternoon that year you could grab a couple of those free tickets, call your friends back in the city, put their tickets at Will Call, and meet up with your buddies there later in the evening. Whether it was the giveaway or the lineup -- which included Beck and Muse as the big headliners -- the place got so crowded by the end of the night we spent a good half hour trying to leave the parking lot. Last night, the Safeway parking lot on Sundays at midnight has more cars than the Shoreline did.
Jesus and Mary Chain
The tanking attendance rate could be any number of factors (as Ezra Gale wrote this week, a glut of summer festivals are driving up the stakes for competition). For Download, I'd imagine one issue was the lineup.
Most of the bands on the bill there are on the smaller side, the level where they could play Bottom of the Hill; some could fill the Independent; but only a couple acts were really at the level where they could sell out San Francisco's bigger venues. I went to see Jesus and Mary Chain -- who were still great after all these years and under all those strobe lights, playing the hits in front of an impressive wall of Orange and Marshall amps. (The amps shorted a couple times, and produced the wrong kind of feedback at other times, but the show still smacked of the sexy, noise-addled shoegazer that got these guys the black-clad army of fans in the first place).
But as much as I love them, I wonder if JAMC is the kind of band that drags the caravans down to Mountain View. I'd peg the average age of the Download crowd around 20, and I'm not convinced that that generation loves an act that hasn't released a new record in 10 years.
The row of stoner dudes behind me couldn't wrap their head around JAMC or original post-punker headliners Gang of Four. ("Those dudes are old," they snickered loudly to one another, in their Bevis and Butthead best). The stoner dudes were there to see hip-hop collagist RJD2, who came on last, in a total pivot in musical styles.
Personally, as a concert-goer I'm not complaining about low attendance. Getting in and out of the Shoreline was easy. The bands I saw weren't griping, and the fact that there weren't enough people there to fill even the bottom seated area of the Shoreline meant you could take your pick of chairs (the lawn was downright empty). The lines for everything from ice cream to bathrooms to beer were short moving. For the comedy shows in the Lucky's bar, you could get close enough to one of my favorite comedians, Brian Posehn, to ask for his autograph (which two teenage boys sitting in the front row did, hilariously, in the middle of a set by Dragon Boy Suede, one of the worst comedians I've probably ever seen. The funniest part of Dragon Boy's unfunny gig was when he acknowledged that his demographic of "15 to 15-and-a-half year olds" had walked out on his performance). But you had to feel bad for the bands on the smaller stages, playing to scattered kids on the lawn, or the people behind the sponsor booths, staring out into space.
The turnout could've been based on a number of things -- the weather's been shit lately, for one. And for another, no matter how cheap you make admission to the Shoreline, nothing else about it is a bargain. There's the gas to get there, the parking ($12 for a $20 show? Luckily the attendants had disappeared by the time we got there), the price of food and drinks (it sucks paying $7 for a cup of Miller). And people just don't have a lot of cash to throw around these days. For a summer festival, though, Download felt a little apocalyptic. It also felt like a reality check -- that the music industry really is immersed in the same crappy economic conditions as the rest of the country.