The once fertile scene of Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair, the HORDE and Furthur has dried up in recent years, leaving the U.S. summer tour circuit a less festive place for traveling rock music festivals.
So pop auteur Moby, in the wake of the success of his latest album, “Play,” has decided to do something about that.
“I’ve spent a long time playing European festivals and was impressed by how eclectic and open they were,” explains Moby, whose Area: One tour opened Wednesday in Atlanta.
“There was a period in the States where we had a few really interesting festivals…. When those ended, I just thought to myself, ‘Well, it seems like kind of a shame there isn’t a festival that is fairly eclectic and interesting and contemporary.’ So I figured I’d try to do one.”
Moby isn’t alone. Area: One – whose lineup includes rock, pop, hip-hop and electronic artists – is one of a number of new touring festivals that have popped up this summer to fill the void left by now-defunct enterprises, such as Lollapalooza, that became popular summer fixtures during the 1990s.
Those either ran out of steam or were plowed under by successful single-genre festivals such as hard-rock OZZFest, the alternative-rock Warped Tour and B.B. King’s Blues Music Festival, or by prolific radio station-sponsored concerts that lure artists with the promise of guaranteed airplay.
However, relaunching the concept of a more diverse festival in the United States has proven challenging. The pop-oriented MTV TRL tour and hard-rock group Pantera’s Extreme Steel package are selling tickets but don’t boast the Lollapalooza-style diversity of Area: One.
And the summer’s other multifaceted festival, the gay-themed Wotapalava, was recently canceled due to low ticket sales after Irish singer Sinead O’Connor bowed out.
So far, the 3 1/2-week Area: One tour is experiencing mixed box-office results.
“I think you’re seeing people experimenting with trying to create new productions to offer consumers. Whether they’re successful or not is a whole other question,” says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert trade magazine PollStar. “It’s difficult to put together festival tours because of the significant costs involved in putting reasonably (popular) entertainers on the same bill.”
ARTIST FRIENDLY ENTERPRISE
The most successful enterprises, Bongiovanni notes, have been “artist-driven” outings such as Lilith Fair, which Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan launched to promote female artists and shuttered after three years so she could take a break from performing.
“A lot of women artists rallied around Sarah McLachlan,” Bongiovanni explains. “They didn’t do it because they were offered a lot of money or even their normal pay; they did it because they wanted to, and what the public got was a better bill than was financially feasible.”
Thanks to Moby’s involvement, Area: One is certainly appealing to other performers.
“They invited me, and I said, ‘Hell yeah,”‘ says Canadian singer-songwriter Nelly Furtado, whose platinum debut album “Whoa, Nelly!” and its hit “I’m Like a Bird” have given her cachet with the pop, modern-rock and dance markets.
She’s being joined on Area: One by a wide-ranging corps of acts that includes hip-hop favorites Outkast and the Roots, rock outfits Incubus and New Order (with former Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan on guitar), and an electronic dance music tent that will showcase movers and shakers such as Paul Oakenfold, The Orb, Carl Cox and the Detroit techno trio The Innovators.
“(Moby) is right when he talks about all these European festivals that combine all these different genres,” Furtado says. “It’s a sign of the times in a way. I think nowadays kids do own an Outkast album, an Incubus album and, hopefully, a Nelly Furtado album.”
Kevin Saunderson, the Detroit techno pioneer who will be performing in the dance tent, says Area: One’s attention to electronic music is particularly appreciated.
“He’s trying to do something on a larger level to help give something back to the dance industry,” Saunderson explains. “I think he could do it. Kids can go see Moby and Outkast and can still grab part of the dance music, too.”
ONE MAN’S VISION
Moby – whose real name is Richard Melville Hall (he took his nom de rock from the classic novel by his great-great-grand uncle, Herman Melville) – says the Area: One artist selection was “purely subjective,” culled from a wish list that also included unavailable choices such as Radiohead and Bjork.
The criteria, he explains, were “bands who I liked and who I thought were interesting, and also who I thought would put on a good show. There are a lot of bands whose records I like, but watching them live is as dull as dishwater.
“For me the unifying theme is all the musicians and DJs involved are just really, really great at what they do. The fact that it happens to be eclectic is almost just a byproduct of the fact that these are the bands and musicians that I like.”
Indeed, Moby is not averse to a bit of competition between the artists, especially with the dance tent and main-stage performances running concurrently.
“It’s inevitable at a festival like this that people are gonna miss something,” says Moby, who will be employing a large band with a string section and vocal choir for his own performances. He also hopes Furtado will cover No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani’s part on their hit duet “South Side.”
“So if somebody’s having a wonderful time dancing to Paul Oakenfold and they don’t want to come over and see my set, certainly that’s their prerogative. But it’s nice to compete a little bit, and it’s up to me to do something that’s going to make them want to come see my set.”
Moby says it’s too early to confirm an Area: Two tour for next year, but he says he’s confident this year’s outing will stack up well next to its summer competition.
“I do like the fact that people of all different ages and genders and ethnicities and sexual orientations can come to our shows and feel comfortable,” he says. “As much as I like a good heavy metal show and a good punk rock show, if I were a 16-year-old young woman going to OZZFest, I think I’d be terrified.”