Why I Will Not Be Attending When We Were Young Music Festival

There is much talk on the internet and among the people around me about the emo pop punk revival music festival that was recently assembled by LiveNation. It features a lot of bands that were popular amongst teenage millennials in the 2000’s who felt rejected by mainstream culture and thought that being with the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend was the key to happinesss. The festival lineup is notably getting a lot more attention than the recent Coachella lineup which features a much more chart relevant lineup of commercial artists.

Much of the attention that the festival is receiving is in the form of backlash as well. Livenation is currently under a lot of duress due to the recent catastrophe that happened at their recent Astroworld festival in Texas. People are still upset about the fact that ten people were trampled to death at that event due to how poorly planned it was combined with the nature of the music that was being played. Cramming dozens of artists into a single day of concert is a poor way of communicating to fans that you are working hard to address safety issues that have erupted around these types of events in our post pandemic world.

To amend for this oversight, Livenation has added an additional day to the event, something I am sure they believe will rectify any potential overcrowding issues. Fans seem to be convinced enough as well. Or they have elected to bypass the warning flags in favor of attending something of such enormous nostalgia value and a potentially very fun time. All reports indicate that tickets sold out within a day. At the time of writing this, I was able to find tickets online for twice as much as they were originally going for. We are talking over 400 dollars. It would not surprise me if they were as high as a thousand dollars as the date in October approaches.

As a thirty year old millennial who had an ipod filled with songs by many of these artists which soundtracked much of the make out sessions I had with my first girlfriend, the temptation to do everything I can to make sure I get to this is strong. It is even set just a few days away from my birthday in a city that I have been meaning to visit my entire life. Considering none of these artists have lyrical content that involve lots of drug abuse and violence such as the music of Travis Scott does, it is fairly safe to assume that anything similar to what happened at Astroworld will be avoided by what we can only hope will be a different crowd and vibe.

One of the things I have forced myself to do before hitting that purchase button is to consider why I have never bothered to see any of these artists in the first place. The sound that these artists represent is a very fatalistic romantic one that I was only into for 3 years at the most. As previously alluded to, the only time I ever listened to any of it other than by myself was when I was with my first girlfriend. She was a girl I was head over heels for. My first everything. All of our time hanging out was with only each other. We did not hang out with other people who were into the emo scene, nor did we attend shows, including the infamous Warped Tour, a retired festival which any emo millennial worth his salt made sure to go to at least once.

There will never be another relationship like your first love, if only because your understanding of what love is evolves a lot after experiencing heartbreak. It did not take me very long as a teenager after we broke up to realize that what I felt for this girl was infatuation- that I was in love with the idea of her being the perfect girlfriend I had been waiting for all my short 16 years of life. All of this music that we listened to perfectly captures that heightened hysteria of being in a hyper exaggerated emotional drama with a girl — as if your very life force was invested in making something completely irrational work.

Returning to the oxymoronic simplicity of that time era is bound have many people my age feeling wistful. How complicated things have become in our adulthood, especially in the post covid world where we are forced to politicize literally every decision we make. Many millennials such as myself still find ourselves struggling to make ends meet and also find time for love too. We might be wondering what happened to those old high school loves — and whether they might be buying tickets to this show.

Even our taste in music can be a complicated thing that polarizes us sometimes. Consider the following lineup to the formerly mentioned Coachella, for instance, the largest and oldest known ongoing festival in America that is an interesting glimpse into what is popular music today.

The festival is famous for introducing many people in my generation to what is generally referred to as indie music. As the years have passed and its popularity has grown though, more mainstream acts have been incorporated. What Coachella is an entirely different product than what it started as, or even what it would have been 10 years ago when I first got into indie music.

It is clear that the target audience is no longer my millennial generation. Headliners Billie Eilish and Harry Styles are extremely popular artists that I might even describe as post indie — whose sounds are the product of a mainstream music culture that has already absorbed the effects of cultural phenomenon like Coachella and has since churned out algorithm ready artists who can cater to all kinds of listeners in the streaming era. Most of the indie and hip hop acts are ones that have emerged in the past 5 years. Gen Z is the obvious target audience here.

The only relic of old that is most immediately recognizable here is laughably the headliner billed as ‘Ye’. You all know him as Kanye West — the backpack rapper put on by Jay-Z who has become iconicly divisive with his well publicized media stunts, especially during the chaotic Trump era. Even that is a stretch, considering his old aesthetic has changed so much as to almost be completely unrecognizable from the artist he started as, hence the name change. I imagine many millennials refusing to listen to his new stuff for political reasons.

It could humorously be argued that Ye is the only Christian artist that has ever played Coachella. How that will effect the vibe of the overall festival is hard to say. I have never been to Coachella nor do I imagine at this point that I ever will. His Sunday Service at the last Coachella in 2019 was a hit though by all accounts. Who knows? Maybe more Christian vibes is what we need to save the festival scene.

There is absolutely no crossover from a festival like When We Were Young and Coachella in terms of the artists being billed. Yet in other ways there is a lot of crossover. Indie music is what I upgraded to after leaving the emo scene. Much of the music found in that genre was a more mature take on love and offered a healthier outlook on what relationships can be. It is safe to assume that many other millennials made that transition as well — the ones that did not get consumed by the hard-core scene, that is.

It is ironic to me that instead of moving forward with the newer sounds of music, millennials are more excited about going back in time to revisit old favorites than they are about what the latest in music is. We have gotten old without even realizing it. Many of the people I have reached out to have complained about even the original 225 dollar price tag being too high to pay.

The When We Were Young festival represents a time when, for at least a certain demographic, we emo millennials shared a collective consensus on what good music was. There are a lot of people who look at its lineup and are nodding their heads in approval with a youthful glint in their eyes. I doubt a single person is as excited about the entirety of the Coachella lineup. It would be impressive to me if I met someone who could truthfully claim to even recognize half of the artists billed. The music scene has become incredibly spread out in the streaming era, with their being more new music than any one can possibly keep up with. The emo scene had a lot of bands, but never so many that there were dozens you did not recognize, especially if you were into the scene.

For that reason alone, for the mere feeling of sharing a collective culture with your peers, When We Were Young offers something incredibly valuable to the people who will be going to it. In the era of “I like all kinds of music”, it is rare to encounter even one person who shares 50 percent of your taste in music, especially if you are as much of a lone wanderer as I am. Never in my life have I or do I ever expect to encounter many peoples in close vicinity to each other that all listen to similar music artists as myself.

With my own argument I am retempted into trying to attend this festival again. There is just something about reminiscing about teenage heartbreak that fails to promise a good time for me though. It almost seems like the whole affair might be an awkward experience, glancing at all the other standoffish millennials around you who shelled out a lot of money for what surely will be an underwhelming show. How can you possibly rage to any of this music after all the shit our hearts have been through in the past decade? After everything we have been through in this past 2 years? The more I think about it, the more of a joke going to this thing feels. It is like the system is almost mocking us with the suggestion that my whole generation never really grew up in the first place. Maybe we never did.

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Shawn Mason

Shawn Mason

front desk clerk at the Ridgeline Hotel in Gardiner, Montana next to the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park.