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Nostalgia festivals rule the post-COVID era

Music festivals // Illustration by Kate Walker

Nostalgia festivals rule the post-COVID era


Future. Music festivals are getting niche, nostalgic, and flexible in an effort to craft an identity distinct from the big long-weekend extravaganzas like Coachella and Bonnaroo. The new era of hyper-narrowly themed festivals could bring out the force that makes any cultural moment break through the noise these days — the stans.

When we were all young
With events finally coming back, music festival organizers are focusing on nostalgia for a simpler, very pre-COVID time… and audiences are all about it.

  • These include When We Were Young (emo/alternative of the Myspace era), Cruel World (80s-focused goth rock), and Smokin Grooves (old-school hip hop).
  • Many of these fests, which fans thought at first were Fyre Fest-level scams, quickly sold out all their dates.
  • And these fests aren’t bootstrapped indie productions — they’re organized by the likes of Goldenvoice and Live Nation.

Stan bands
These festivals are meant to capture a very specific sound or era that can drum up a lot of passion, whether it be just for a single day or weekend. And they don’t even occur annually or in the same location. These fests are meant to be the antithesis of blockbuster events like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza that are focused on getting all the biggest acts that money can buy — a strategy that has left them feeling a bit too similar.

Dave Brooks, the senior director of live music and touring at Billboard, said that these niche events represent a “second stage of the festival experience,” moving past those other behemoths to “find what draws people.” He continues that “While the value isn’t as much in terms of a brand as a Coachella, there’s less risk as well, so they can be more flexible.”

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