British singer Lily Allen has never played the main stage at a summer music festival, but that’s all about to change.
Allen, whose debut album “Alright, Still” brought her critical acclaim in the United States year, will join the main stage ranks at England’s Glastonbury Festival June 23.
Is she excited? Sure. But does stage size truly matter to her? Not really, and she’s not alone.
Smaller stages “bring the buzz bands, where there’s this excitement about witnessing something before it explodes. I just think it’s really fun,” Allen, 21, told The Associated Press recently at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif.
For many bands, playing a main stage means they’ve “made it,” their music reaching thousands of ears.
To others, like Allen, smaller means better: an intimate setting flush with creative opportunity.
The pop-reggae chanteuse’s performance at Coachella drew thousands of sweaty fans spilling outside the confines of the smaller Mojave tent. She is used to smaller stages, and has preferred them.
“By the time you’re seeing the shows on main stages or arenas, the audience is less excited about seeing those songs,” said Allen.
More intimate setting
Los Angeles rapper Regan Farquhar, aka Busdriver, also like his stages intimate.
“I wouldn’t want to play on the main stage in any shape or form. It just doesn’t lend itself to what I do,” Farquhar said.
Onstage, the normally serious, nerd-chic musician thrashes around, dripping sweat, spitting out bullet-fast lyrics with only a DJ accompanying him.
“I’m not Radiohead with extravagant lights. There’s only two of us,” he told The AP.
“But also, a lot of bands step up when they’re playing in front of a lot of people,” he added.
Reverb-drenched quintet My Morning Jacket, for instance, is set to play this year’s Lollapalooza on the main stage with the Chicago Youth Symphony.
The music festival, Aug. 3 to 5 in Chicago, will showcase nine stages and 130 bands, including main stage headliners Pearl Jam and Daft Punk.
“Some up-and-coming bands are very concerned with what stage they’re playing. Some don’t care,” Powell said.
“To be honest, at the end of the day, it doesn’t make that big of a difference” what stage bands play, he said. “I think it has more to do with a band’s individual performance. ... You never really can tell where the magic can happen.”
Putting together a puzzle
Paul Tollett, who books Coachella and the Stagecoach country music festival, emphasized that scheduling a music festival is “like a puzzle.”
Sure, more well known, bigger bands tend to be booked on the main stage, but variable factors go into the booking process. About 35 to 40 artists a day need to be fitted into the schedule.
“Sometimes it just comes down to just production value — if there’s a light show that needs to be done. Some people like the big stages, some people like the small, more intimate, indoor stages,” he said. “Each has its own vibe.”
Madonna, for instance, performed a brief but feisty disco-tinged set at last year’s Coachella festival.
On the main stage? Nope.
The world renown Material Girl played to tens of thousands of fans at the festival’s compact dance tent. Most audience members were so far away from the stage they could only see her moves on a screen.
“We already had big bands on the main stage. It was kind of fun to put her on in the dance tent,” Tollett said. “She kind of already had that vibe going.”
For Klaxons and the Noisettes, two up-and-coming British rock bands with hipster-ready debut albums, the main stage/secondary stages debate is a double-edged sword.
Fledgling bands have to put in their dues, said the Noisettes’ soul-punk singer Shingai Shoniwa.
“We’re on the path now. You can’t go to the main stage unless you’ve played the smaller stages. So by then, you know how to give more,” she said.
Klaxons guitarist Simon Taylor, 24, acknowledged that playing a summer main stage is a ways off for his group, even with the band’s rowdy, synth-driven debut album “Myths of the Near Future” gaining attention.
“We can’t rush it. It’s a bit too early. Where do you go from there?” he asked.
New York rockers the Strokes, Taylor noted, headlined England’s summer Reading Festival main stage in 2001 and 2002 with only one album out.
“That’s kind of bizarre,” said Taylor, his eyes wide.
New York-based trio Blonde Redhead has taken a leisurely route to its cemented status as a respected indie band, sticking mainly to smaller festival stages.
The experimentally minded group is now touring behind “23,” its seventh full-length album.
“I do prefer intimate,” said Blonde Redhead’s Amadeo Pace.
Like other bands, though, Blonde Redhead does “aspire to do bigger things,” Pace said.
“But I don’t think the fact that we’re playing a smaller stage makes us any less of a band.”