Should Live Music Be Epic or Should it Be Accessible?

Emotions are flying high in my little corner of the music community. The cause? A brand new, Pretty Lights-curated festival called Island of Light.

Island of Light is an all-inclusive, 4-day music-and-sun-and-luxury experience taking place this December in Puerto Rico. In addition to 3 sets of Pretty Lights with a live band, it boasts a lineup that is, for lack of a better word, incredible. It features a main stage on a private island that one can access only by boat. Poolside sets. Buffets. Drinks. Imagine going to a beautiful island resort and hearing your favorite music while catching some sun with thousands of people who either are, or could be, your close friends. People are pumped. Nay, ecstatic.

Yet Island of Light has made many hearts sink.  The reason being, of course, that when you factor in a flight on top of the ticket price (the all-inclusive part is not optional), it’s going to run attendees a minimum of $2,000.

Another recent Pretty Lights announcement has also led to some disappointment, albeit less. This summer, for the first time ever, PL will play at the astoundingly beautiful Gorge Amphitheater in Washington. This breathtaking yet somewhat inaccessible venue is a mere $500+ flight from New York City, so it took me (and others) just a few short minutes to go from “errr I probably can’t make this but let me at least think about it” to “WOMP.”

The Gorge

If you’re familiar with Pretty Lights, you know that over the last few years he has forgone the traditional multi-city tour in favor of fewer, yet more finely produced and curated weekend-long events, in addition to the standard annual slew of festival sets. While this is a huge bonus for those who live closer to the action – Colorado in particular is lucky enough to always have a Red Rocks show, and in both 2015 and 2016 had an additional weekend in Telluride just a few weeks later. Prior to the Gorge and Puerto Rico announcements, Telluride was unofficially considered the “premiere” Pretty Lights event. I was sadly never able to attend.

I was, however, fortunate to see Pretty Lights 3 times in 2016:

  • Night 2 of his weekend in New Hampshire (a 5 hour drive away, the closest of his weekend-long stops)
  • Meadows Festival in the Citi Field parking lot
  • New Year’s Eve 2-night run in New Orleans

Ask most PL fans to rank those and while you may have some debate between New Hampshire and New Orleans at the top, Meadows would almost certainly consistently come in third.

If I had to repeat any of those experiences, though, I would choose Meadows. There would not even be a close second. It’s not because I didn’t love NH or NOLA (I did). It’s not because the music was so much better at Meadows (it wasn’t, though it certainly wasn’t worse either). It’s because going to New Hampshire and New Orleans involved stressing over who my crew was, where I was sleeping, how much things cost, how I would get there, and a host of other stressful and expensive details.

When my friend and I went to Meadows back in October, we took ourselves out to a delicious brunch, hopped on the subway for the festival, danced all day, and hopped on the subway home.

There was no stress. I did not have to pack a suitcase or get on a plane. If my friend had dropped out of our plans, I would have gone anyway and had a great time without having to scramble for a replacement.

Such is the benefit of seeing live music in your own city. It’s easy. What you get out of it is lightyears beyond what you put into it.

Was Meadows an “epic” Pretty Lights set? I suppose not, compared with Telluride or New Orleans (where there was a WATERFALL on stage). But it was one of my favorite PL sets ever. I was in a great mood because I saw so much other fantastic music that day and the rain that was forecast for the day had magically held off. I was with one of my closest friends seeing one of our favorite artists and while it may not have been EPIC it was still incredible. No waterfall needed.

I love memorable experiences, I truly do. My one trip to the Red Rocks to see PL 2 summers ago is a life highlight for me. I crave the rush that comes with unique outings, which is why I’m excited to return to Electric Forest this year and which is why I chase every weird or fun event that exists here in New York. But there comes a time when I have to draw the line, when I have to say that something, even the most potentially thrilling event of them all, may very well not be worth the time and money that has to go into it. In this regard, I’m almost lucky. Because I can afford Island of Light – it would sting pretty badly, sure, but I could do it. I’m just opting not to because I know it’s not the wisest of decisions. Many other fans aren’t as lucky. They can’t even entertain the idea of going.

For me, this raises a question – to an artist, what is the value gained in creating memorable, unique experiences for fans at the expense of alienating so many others? If The Gorge or Island of Light were one option amidst other opportunities to see Pretty Lights at smaller shows with a lower production value, I think a lot of people would feel less upset at not being able to go. Because when it comes down to it, seeing an “average” (yet still awesome) set from your favorite artist is better than not seeing him at all. But with fewer, more expensive shows, many fans are precluded from being able to attend any shows at all.

Perhaps living in New York has spoiled me in that I’m so used to every artist stopping through here on their tours. Not only that, but they’re excited about it, because it’s NEW YORK. Sure, I choose to travel for music all the time, but until now I’ve never been forced to. If I want to see Pretty Lights this year, I have to leave the state. If I want to see Pretty Lights in an event that is not just any ol’ festival set, that is the result of an outpouring of creative energy and hard work and that Derek would probably look at it and say, “this is my baby,” I have to travel over 1,000 miles and spend over $1,000.

I would never want an artist to do anything other than express what’s in their soul. I firmly believe that you have to follow the path of your creativity, and I know this is something that music fans – or film fans – or whatever fans – don’t always like. When someone you admire takes their art in a new direction that you no longer enjoy, it sucks. But you must allow them to do what they want to do. Or need to do.

But you know what else sucks? Feeling excluded from something that once felt universal and open. No one should consider putting themselves into major credit card debt just to see live music (I have seen this). No one should consider skipping a friend’s wedding so they’d have more vacation time to allot to Pretty Lights shows (I have seen this too). Live music is a joyful experience that should be available to anyone who wants it. Luxury experiences – the EPIC ones to write home about – those can stay too. But there should be options at a variety of price points and locations.

Music can – and should – be both epic and accessible. Even if it’s not always at the same time.

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One thought on “Should Live Music Be Epic or Should it Be Accessible?

  1. Pingback: Recent posts on Mix 247 EDM | Not My Forte

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