Every summer, Lollapalooza brings some of the biggest names in music to Chicago for four days of fun.
On March 21, the festival announced its 2018 lineup, highlighting acts like The Weeknd, Bruno Mars, Jack White, Arctic Monkeys, Travis Scott, and dozens of other bands. Almost immediately, people noticed a trend: The headliners were almost entirely made up of guys.
Just 13 of the 85 bands showcased on the festival's announcement tweet were fronted by women. The big name headliners are totally worth the price of admission and are worthy of that sort of top billing. It's just a little frustrating to see some of the country's largest music festivals (like Lollapalooza and Tennessee's Bonnaroo) skip out on booking women in prominent slots.
In recent years, people have become more vocal about underrepresentation at festivals. And yes, it matters.
According to Nielsen Music, 32 million people attended at least one music festival in 2014, with those numbers pretty evenly split between men and women. California's Coachella — which, to its credit, does include acts like Beyoncé, SZA, St. Vincent, HAIM, and Cardi B in prominent spots in the lineup — has struggled to shake its "Brochella" stereotype.
When the 2018 Bonnaroo lineup was released, writer Trish Bendix commented that it was "such a bummer to see so few women on the lineup," and she was right — less than one in five Bonnaroo artists included women. Tegan and Sara, who have performed at the festival in the past, replied, calling for "a movement within the fan world and the press" to challenge gendered imbalances.
Writing at Into, Bendix slammed the imbalance, saying that it contributes to a culture where a festival can become "a very unfriendly place for women and LGBTQs to be as participants or attendees."
Are music festivals "unfriendly places" for women and LGBTQ people? They certainly can be, and some are fighting to change it.
The issue isn't the performers or the bookers, but the crowds. In a May 2017 Los Angeles Times article, music promoter Sara St. Hilaire discussed the time she was harassed at Bonnaroo, saying that a man followed her through the crowd, groping her.
"One time a guy even lifted up my shirt in the crowd," she said. "There's a sense of community and 'we're all in this together' that gets misconstrued at festivals. I remember being younger and not understanding that kind of thing as sexual assault. Society raises everyone to think 'boys will be boys' and it gets excused."
The full Lollapalooza poster.
You may be wondering what this has to do with who gets booked — and that's totally understandable.
The answer lies in a festival culture that promotes a free-for-all with a dangerously loose interpretation of consent.
The Pitchfork Music Festival, also based in Chicago, listed a "zero-tolerance harassment policy" on its 2017 festival website: "The Festival believes everyone should feel safe during the event and works to ensure this. We will help maintain this by not tolerating harmful behaviors, which may include non-consensual touching or verbal harassment. If a participant chooses to break these policies they may be removed from the fest." Lollapalooza's website contains a "Safety" page with a copy of its own harassment policy.
While these are good, important steps towards improving festival culture, change can't truly happen until the most visible women there — the performers — are treated as more than a mere afterthought.
A photo from Lollapalooza 2006. Photo by Roger Kisby/Getty Images.