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Nirvana At SXSW? Police At Bonnaroo? Behind The Bogus Festival Lineups

Are the re-formed Smashing Pumpkins set to rock Lollapalooza? Will the long-dormant Police return at Bonnaroo? How about a reunited Nirvana taking the stage at South by Southwest, only with Ben Kweller playing guitar and singing Kurt’s vocals?

All three sound too good to be true, little more than the pipe dreams of manic music buffs with way too much free time. But incredibly, they’re all “100 percent confirmed” by sources with intimate knowledge about such things.

But don’t go crazy just yet. It’s entirely possible that absolutely none of the above information is true. After all, we’re smack-dab in the middle of speculation season – a magical time of year when blogs and ‘boards spring to life with posts about rumored festival lineups, each more obscure and seemingly detached from reality as the last.

It’s a time when “truth” is a relative term, one in which any dream list of reunited acts and up-and-coming buzz bands can be bolstered by shadowy “insider sources,” hung on wobbly nails of deductive reasoning – “Hey, the Pumpkins are working on a new album, and they’re from Chicago, so naturally, they must be headlining Lolla this year!”

Topping the slate of speculation this year are the aforementioned Police – who have performed in public together exactly once since they quietly disbanded in 1986 – and (depending on whom you ask) are a lock to appear at either Bonnaroo or Coachella. It’s a rumor that has been picking up steam thanks to bloggers and message-boarders who cite an “insider” source at The Manchester Times – the newspaper in the tiny Tennessee town Bonnaroo takes over each June – and the fact that Coachella organizers chose the word “Roxanne” (the name of a Police song) as a presale password.

Whether those rumors pan out remains to be seen. After all, that’s part of the fun of speculation season. The fact that a re-formed Rage Against the Machine are actually headlining Coachella only adds credence to the rumors. More often than not, the countless postings promising Smiths reunions carry about as much weight as a pile of daffodils.

And all of this begs a couple of questions: What drives these faceless music mavens to continually post these rumors in the face of cold, hard facts? And what do the festival organizers themselves think of all the rampant rumor-mongering? To find the answers, we delved deep into the void, speaking with bloggers and festival organizers, who – not surprisingly – tend to see the issue a bit differently.

On one hand, denizens of the ‘Net view speculation season as a time to truly flex their inner-geek muscles and, as full-time pharmaceutical designer/ part-time blogger Cary Whitt puts it, “to play concert promoter without having to gamble any of your own money.”

“I’m the typical music nerd … so for me, every year as Coachella gets closer, you can feel the buzz forming. And trying to predict which bands the festival is going to try to surprise you with is part of the fun,” Whitt said. “So I’ll look at artist’s pages, check Pollstar, listen to what people on Coachella message boards are saying, and then make a list of artists that I think are going to appear. And, of course, being first is important. … You want to be the cool kid who’s telling everyone else who’s going to be appearing.”

“I think as music fans, we just get excited when we find out the possibilities, and so the sooner we can get excited the better. … It’s also exciting to figure things out and talk about the possibilities,” blogger (and fan of secret identities) the Brooklyn Vegan said. “So essentially, [my blog] does the grunt work for other music fans. It’s more practical to know sooner when trying to figure out if you really want to travel to a festival. For instance, a band like the Jesus and Mary Chain reuniting is enough for some people to buy their plane tickets months and months in advance.”

And while ego or altruism are enough to drive some bloggers to scour bands’ MySpace pages for hours on end, there are still others who see their work as, well, something more: a certifiably punk-rock way of sticking it to the man.

Earlier this month, the Austin Chronicle reported that South by Southwest organizers were delaying the release of the festival’s “confirmed band list” in order to make the planning of the many gigs that take place during SXSW but are not sanctioned by the festival near impossible. Responding to the report, writers for local site Austinist.com decided to take matters in their own hands by compiling a massive list of “confirmed” acts without the blessing of SXSW.

“We read the article, and we thought, ‘Now, come on. That’s just silly.’ And we realized that lots of bands would just confirm that they were playing through their MySpace pages or their official Web sites, and so we figured that with a few phone calls and some digging that we could put together a pretty good list,” Tom Thornton, a writer for the site, explained. “And though SXSW hasn’t announced most of these bands, we feel pretty confident that they’re all going to be here. Of course, there are some pretty ridiculous rumors out there; I heard there was going to be a Nirvana reunion, with Ben Kweller playing guitar, and there were some rumors that David Hasselhoff is going to be here. But, like I said, we’re not about to include anything like that on our list.”

It probably wouldn’t matter if Thornton posted that the Beatles – with Yoko Ono on one guitar and George Harrison’s son, Dhani, on the other – were set to appear at the festival, because his list would still be treated with the same sort of bemused disdain that it currently receives from SXSW organizers.

“The Internet makes this sort of information and disinformation rampant, a fact which is both annoying and humorous to me,” SXSW creative director Brent Grulke told MTV News. “On one hand, it’s very flattering that there’s this level of interest in what we do, but on the other, I look at some of [the rumored lineups] and think, ‘Where are these people getting these ideas? They have no basis in reality at all!’

“It all makes me wonder what sort of people have the time to speculate on something that – frankly – is trivial outside of the industry. At times I feel like people make those things up, just to see the reaction they would get. Because they’re so absurd that it blows my mind,” he continued. “Ultimately, it doesn’t bother me … but I wish that people wouldn’t be so gullible. It’s real simple: Everybody is trying to be first. And the sort of people who are already in awe of pop-stardom – as evidenced by them tracking this sort of thing – are the sort of people that would like that for themselves.”

Grulke’s attitude is not uncommon among festival organizers, many of whom seem to view the whole phenomenon of the rumored lineup as rather funny but find dealing with the subsequent phone calls from gullible reporters to be, well, decidedly less humorous.

“We pay attention to what’s going on out there, but we’ve been through this a lot, so we’re sort of used to it. It’s sort of humorous, a little frustrating, but we understand that it’s part of the world we live in and the way we do our business,” said Rick Farman, co-founder of Superfly Presents, which organizes Bonnaroo. “I mean, it’s not like most of the stuff out there is accurate. Every year, there’s always some e-mail that makes the rounds, and every year people believe it. You start to hope that people are smart enough to realize that unless the information is posted on our Web site, it’s meaningless.”

Meaningless or not, it doesn’t look like the rumor mill will be slowing down any time soon – not with Superfly promising to release the lineup for Bonnaroo 2007 sometime over the next few weeks, and with SXSW and Lollapalooza still on the horizon. After all, there really is no off-season when it comes to speculation, for better or worse.

“Everybody pays attention to those fake lineups, even though they’re usually wrong. And if there’s a lot of chatter about a smaller band, we take note of them,” laughed Charles Attal, the booker of Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits festival. “The bloggers, most of the time they’re putting on there what they want and wish for, and they’re never ridiculous, unless people don’t realize that the artists they’re saying are appearing are actually dead. And to be honest, some of them get it right some of the time. And, of course, some of them get it really wrong.”

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