06/14/2007 10:28 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Get Festive?

I was perusing the dog-eared copy of Spin in our living room the other
day when I happened upon a pretty interesting oral history of the href="">Us Festival, that
orgy of prog rock and new wave engineered by Apple's Steve Wozniak in
a sleepy California town back in 1982. It got me to thinking, what
exactly is the appeal of attending summer music festivals?

It could be the disparate nature of the line-ups (Us sported The
Ramones and Jimmy Buffett on the same stage, and modern fests
routinely pair up such odd couples as Ghostface Killah and Belle And
Sebastian) or maybe the communal spirit that otherwise draws people to
space-intruding, hellish locales such as New Year's Eve in Times
Square or the Fairway supermarket on the Upper West Side. Maybe being
surrounded by a teeming mass of humanity just inspires a certain
comfort among some. (This always reminds me of when I was in India, my
torso painfully sandwiched between an armpit and a sweaty back on the
Bombay local trains--"can you sense the community?" someone had

For me, the cons far outweigh the pros. There's the sub-par sound
quality, which any hip-hop fan can tell you comes shining through once
a rapper and his entourage of a dozen hype men hit the stage. There's
the $4.00 bottled water and the Holocaust-like lines for the portable
toilets. There are the drunken brawls that inevitably erupt as
muscle-bound concertgoers attempt to mosh to Bjork. Add it all up and
I'll admit I'm pretty loath to travel any distance only to see my
favorite bands rendered into subtly vibrating dots on the horizon.

Case in point; the last outing I made was a few years back to "see"
Sonic Youth in Central Park. To be fair, I caught a glimpse of Kim
Gordon while peeking around a giant rock; the police had kept hundreds
of us just outside of the perimeter due to overcrowding.

It's a tough decision to make, though, staying home when the summer is
so ripe with outdoor events. In New York alone we've got href="">Summerstage, href="">River To River and the href="">McCarren Park performances,
just a few of the dozens of offerings (some free, others not) that
crop up during the lazy weekday evenings and blazing weekend
afternoons until late August. Washington, D.C. has the venerable href="">Fort Reno concert series (although
tempered now by the absence of the late, great Fugazi) and Chicago's
Pitchfork curates a pretty href=" ">impressive
weekend lineup.

On the other hand, I feel guilty, knowing how smaller cities have a
dearth of quality concerts, gratis or otherwise. Most mid-range burgs
now have concerts set up in their downtown areas, usually as part of
an effort to "bring families out" and revitalize the sagging urban
economies. These events are usually sponsored by giant alcohol
companies, and I understand now that it makes sense. I'd probably have
to drink about two dozen Bud Lights before I could stand through an
entire set by Marcy Playground or the Gin Blossoms or any of the 90s
one-hit wonder groups that populate the billings for these shows.

So perhaps it's my duty to slog it out this summer. I'll drink plenty
of water, dust off my cargo shorts and trek to Coney Island or the
Meadowlands or wherever I'm beckoned. I'll stand amidst the thousands
of others, try my best to keep the beach ball afloat as it bounces
around, strain my eyes to see the latest indie favorite leap about on
stage and soak in the atmosphere. It could be worse. It could be
winter still, when nothing moves and live music is confined to
cramped, overpriced indoor venues. It's all about perspective.

What are your plans for summer, music-wise? Any concerts one mustn't
miss? Any festivals that should truly be avoided? Do tell in the
comments section.