Music festivals are big business, and they do a lot more than simply sell tickets and rake in money for the organizers. They generate huge revenues for a large range of local and national stakeholders: bars, restaurants, hotels, and vendors, not to mention the newly created beneficiary class of ordinary people who drive for Uber and rent rooms on AirBnB. For many music lovers, festivals are a great opportunity to see several beloved acts and explore the work of new artists in a single weekend.
Nevertheless, a central cultural challenge to festivals, corporatization, is driving significant change in the business, as a growing segment of disenchanted festival-goers develops new preferences. Festivals like Bonnaroo, Coachella as well as other well-established, music-oriented events like SXSW and WMC are increasingly attended by people outside the local area, exploding into highly populated, consumption-driven affairs with larger and larger revenues.
The result is a big boom in smaller festivals that differ from their mega-festival counterparts focus on bringing in the big acts and the big bucks. Because smaller festivals tend to be organized by community entrepreneurs in less expensive venues and focus on local talent, mixed in with a few big headliners driving ticket sales, they have more room to play around with preserving the local flavor. They can curate the experience in a way that challenges the industry norm of corporatization while still benefiting from corporate sponsorship. The balancing act is a little less challenging, but the challenge is still there.
Music lovers are seeking a more intimate, and yet still substantive festival experience. The delicate balance of profit and passion, corporate sponsorship and community, as well as a love of good local music and a love of money is a challenge, to be sure. Smaller festivals are still a business and they need to be in the black to survive, regardless of their size and scope. The challenge is to preserve the aesthetic values and elements that make festivals enjoyable to begin with.
The third annual III Points Festival in Wynwood, Miami’s Art District, is one such festival among many worthy peers: Hopscotch (Raleigh), Decibel (Seattle), BEMF (Brooklyn), Desert Hearts (Los Coyotes), and nearby neighbor Big Guava (Tampa). In its third iteration, III Points proved that Miamians (and our neighbors across South Florida) want and will attend a music festival that draws together well-established local talents with a careful selection of national headliners. It also proved that local festivals can better navigate with caution, as opposed to their national counterparts, the delicate balance of local culture versus that of national corporate influence.
Miami was on scene at III Points, evidenced in stylistic choices – only Miami girls will wear six inch stilletos to a three day music festival – installations by local artists, and festival food. But national corporate influences – in the form of Becks and BMW – were also clearly hanging around.
III Points gets a lot right. The mix of national acts of varying degrees of notoriety with well-established local acts is one of my favorite aspects of the line-up strategy. Last year, a long list of recognizable locals, including Benton and Patrick Walsh, played on the stage leading up to Hercules and Love Affair. This year was no different. Anyone who has spent more than ten minutes hanging out in Miami’s favorite venues would recognize names like Chris Video, Gooddroid, and Otto von Schirach, who played the Sector 3 stage in a series on Sunday evening. The previous evening, national act Toro Y Moi took over the outdoor Mindmelt stage, just after Run the Jewels and Ghostface Killah worked the crowd indoors. An ace appearance by Doom via Skype speaks to the technology aspect of the festivals three points: art, music, and technology.
Also admirable was the emphasis on local food, from vendors known to those of us who live in Wynwood and surrounding areas. Last year, nutrition came in the form of one (admittedly much-beloved) national chain, Shake Shack, alongside La Latina, a well-known local favorite. This year, the food line up added Coyo, a recent and much praised addition to Wynwood’s food and dance scene; pop-up Phuc Yea, which will be opening a permanent restaurant soon in downtown, among a couple other local eateries. After dancing for hours, the salty, greasy, carby goodness of Phuc Yea’s garlicky noodles was just what I needed. I imagine them becoming a late-night crowd’s fave when the restaurant opens.
Unlike the food focus, which was incontrovertibly local, the beer selection left something to be desired. For a Wynwood-centric festival to completely leave out the growing local craft beer scene felt disappointing. Presumably, Beck’s sponsorship of the festival required excluding the competition, as is often the case at these events. It’s a tit-for-tat arrangement that is not uncommon in nightlife, and it is not always a problem. Again, balance is a delicate act. The absence of local breweries that are becoming a defining aspect of local flavor, like Wynwood Brewing Company and Jonathan Wakefield was a notable one, especially since WBC was literally just down the street from the main entrance. An alternative to pure non-competition might involve complicated negotiations by the organizers, but include community stakeholders who brew some damn fine beer, right around the corner.
My final note is on festival fashion. As people watching is one of my favorite hobbies, I couldn’t help but notice some interesting trends and patterns. A central and fun theme was a wide variety of cool prints and patterns, on both men and women. Kudos, guys of III Points, gay/straight/otherwise, for giving up the standard nightlife attire and getting loud. And ladies were rocking some seriously cool print-driven outfits. I’m a lover of prints of all kinds, wild, loud, quiet, demure.
Lastly, my fellow women, I love a high heel as much as the next Miami girl, and literally have a closet full; but, watching so many women hobble around, hour after hour, from stage to stage, was so hard for me. My Achilles’ ached for you.
WORDS BY: Sabrina Bano Jamil
Sabrina Bano Jamil is an associate professor of philosophy at Miami Dade College, with a fondness for early mornings and late nights. You can find her online on Instagram @instabrina305, Twitter @sabritweeted, and her website theshessayist.com