Besides seeing actual bands play music, it’s also fun to complain loudly about the massive line-ups of generation defining music festivals. With the simple benefit of hindsight, it’s relatively easy to cherry pick the worst/most hilarious festival booking decisions that don’t come anywhere close to standing the test of time, even while the legacy of said festival still endures. A few choice selections of anomalous festival performances from the annals of pop history: mediocre R&B duo Ashford and Simpson sandwiched between Madonna, the Pretenders, Santana, and Tom Petty at Live Aid in 1985, Supertramp playing the same Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 as the Who’s epic and immortalized two hour set, and of course, ’50s doo-wop revivalists Sha Na Na playing a set moments before Jimi Hendrix’s iconic rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock.
In 2012, music festivals are more popular than ever (all of which feature lineups lousy with bands that are both world-renown and relatively unknown) but even these contemporary concert behemoths are not immune to the march of time. And now, as the 13th edition of Coachella kicks off today, signaling the start of the summer’s lucrative festival season, we couldn’t help but play the stuck-up music snob and look back at some of the shittiest bookings in the festival’s proud history.
1. Blue Man Group (2003)
While we understand the Blue Man Group doesn’t necessarily play music when they “perform,” it’s still insane to see them billed in the same breathe as the Beastie Boys, Queens of the Stone Age, Blur, and Groove Armada on the Coachella 2003 poster. Were organizers hoping to parlay that lucrative run off of midwestern families who didn’t get to see BMG during their residency at the Luxor in Las Vegas for the first half of the decade? Of course, a lot of festivals have some sort of multi-media component, but it just seems sort of ridiculous to have a weirdly successful, very ’90s-ish performance group (that pride themselves on getting good sounds out of PVC tubing) slapped down in the middle of a lineup that is already stacked to the gills with talent and music fan credibility.
2. James Blunt (2006)
As you can see, there is already a small pattern forming. Coachella festival organizers have a history of picking at least one, huge populist act to plop down in the midst of an already packed concert line-up, and James Blunt was arguably the most vanilla performer to be given prominent billing in the festival’s history. Quiet singer/songwriters with annoyingly ubiquitous hit songs aren’t exactly the folks you’d expect to get a listless daytime festival crowd going, but apparently the inherent power of the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer power ballad “You’re Beautiful” was just too irresistible to ignore. Regardless, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and the Mates of State were playing at the same time as Blunt’s set. That couldn’t have been a difficult decision.
3. Howie Day (2004)
While one could assume that we have an instant bias against sensitive singer/songwriter types, Howie Day makes this list simply because Coachella 2004 was the year the festival really became the living embodiment of a music nerd’s dream festival, and Day’s inclusion stuck out like a bruised and bloodied thumb. The Pixies and Kraftwerk both reunited to play triumphant sets on the festival’s first night, and the second night featured the Cure, the Flaming Lips, and Belle and Sebastian just to name a few. And even though Day, who currently holds the record for most appearances on 17-year-old girls’ AOL Instant Messanger profiles thanks to his song “Collide,” had his set buried deep in the first day’s schedule, the booking seemed like it was only a few ham-fisted decisions away from becoming Chris Carrabba playing deep cuts from Dashboard Confessional’s self-titled album to 4,000 people at 1:36 in the afternoon.
4. Slightly Stoopid (2008)
Besides having what has to be one of the dumbest band names in music, the fact that Slightly Stoopid, a group of Sublime-worshipping, watered down reggae-rockers, slipped on yet another abundantly healthy Coachella bill remains mystifying to this day. Not only that, they managed to play the main Coachella stage on the festival’s first day in front of the Breeders (!), the Raconteurs, and the recently reunited (and Richard Ashcroft-strong) Verve. But, we get the appeal. Slightly Stoopid are laid back stoners who routinely pass around joints on stage while peppering their sets of white-boy reggae with non-sequitur bursts of photocopied hardcore punk that in turn causes sporadic outbreaks of meat-headed moshing. Wait, actually, that sounds absolutely horrible.
5. Love & Rockets (2008)
Coachella’s booking philosophy, again, has always been in line with the dreams of music nerds around the world. The festival has managed to wrangle all kinds of reunion shows including the likes of Faith No More, Pavement, Public Image Ltd., Rage Against the Machine, and the Jesus and Mary Chain (along with those already named in this list), or special performances like Roger Waters playing the entirety of Dark Side of The Moon. With that said, was the music community at large really clamoring for a Love & Rockets reunion? Did we really need to hear a bored rendering of the group’s neo-psychedelica/goth rock/dance pop? Was Earth, Sun, Moon really worth revisiting moments before Roger f*cking Waters was about to play Dark Side of the Moon in its goddamn entirety? No. It was definitely not.