Social Media is Ruining Music Festivals

I had been waiting more than twenty years to see Pearl Jam live, and last fall, the time had finally come: I was going to see Seattle's finest at the final weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

It was worth the wait. Eddie Vedder drank a bottle of wine onstage and sang his heart out. Mike McCreedy played the guitar solo for "Even Flow" behind his head. The crowd sang "Alive" in perfect unison.

It was an amazing experience -- right up until the moment a short middle-aged woman in front of me stuck her hands up to record the band's rendition of "Jeremy" for her Instagram account. Every fifteen seconds she'd hold up her phone, not only blocking my view but ensuring that she experienced what was obviously a favorite song, one she'd presumably paid a lot of money to see live, through the screen of her phone.

This experience is the obnoxious side effect of the connected world that we live in and one that frequent concert-goers have become accustomed to. What makes this instance different from the thousands that have come before it is that it was motivated by the organizers of the festival.

The push began as soon as I purchased my three-day passes. I was supposed to brag to my friends on Facebook and Twitter that I had made my ticket purchase, which seemed like a rather pretentious thing to do. Did people really need to know where I was going to be that particular weekend in October? It just seems like an invitation to plan to rob my apartment. I even downloaded an app to my phone called #aclfest so I could prepare for the weekend by planning out the schedule of who I want to see.

At the festival, I was bombarded with alerts making sure I didn't forget to use my free ride from Uber or stream the fest on my cell phone (did they not know where I was?) They gave out the printed copy of the schedule as soon as we walked through the gate, but that didn't stop the plethora of attendees of all ages from keeping their heads down as they looked at their phones to see where Capitol Cities was playing. If they had looked up, they would have seen the stage right in front of them marked with the logo of the aptly named sponsor. When they finally realized where they were, they turned the phone toward themselves, snapped some selfies, and moved on.

As we anxiously waited for St. Vincent to take the stage, the video board ran through a slideshow of hashtagged photos of festival attendees, encouraging anyone with a smartphone and an Instagram account to use #aclfest on all their pictures so they could see themselves on the screen. Then, like an all-knowing voice of reason, an announcement bellowed through the loudspeaker explaining that our enjoyment would be enhanced greatly by putting away our electronic devices. This is the underlying theme of St. Vincent's latest album, and I mostly complied with her wishes. Weeks later, it's her performance I'm still raving about.

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Jason Keil
Contact: Jason Keil

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