Music/City: American Festivals and Placemaking in Austin, Nashville, and Newport

Music/City: American Festivals and Placemaking in Austin, Nashville, and Newport

by Jonathan R. Wynn

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Austin’s famed South by Southwest is far more than a festival celebrating indie music. It’s also a big networking party that sparks the imagination of hip, creative types and galvanizes countless pilgrimages to the city. Festivals like SXSW are a lot of fun, but for city halls, media corporations, cultural institutions, and community groups, they’re also a vital part of a complex growth strategy. In Music/City, Jonathan R. Wynn immerses us in the world of festivals, giving readers a unique perspective on contemporary urban and cultural life.

Wynn tracks the history of festivals in Newport, Nashville, and Austin, taking readers on-site to consider different festival agendas and styles of organization. It’s all here: from the musician looking to build her career to the mayor who wants to exploit a local cultural scene, from a resident’s frustration over corporate branding of his city to the music executive hoping to sell records. Music/City offers a sharp perspective on cities and cultural institutions in action and analyzes how governments mobilize massive organizational resources to become promotional machines. Wynn’s analysis culminates with an impassioned argument for temporary events, claiming that when done right, temporary occasions like festivals can serve as responsive, flexible, and adaptable products attuned to local places and communities.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226305660
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 12/08/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Jonathan R. Wynn is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is the author of The Tour Guide: Walking and Talking New York, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Music City

American Festivals and Placemaking in Austin, Nashville, and Newport

By Jonathan R. Wynn

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-30566-0


The Unlikely Rise in Importance of American Music Festivals

City, Song, and Symbol

Most of the early American music festivals were, ironically, showplaces for European music. There were classical music festivals highlighting Haydn, Handel, and the like in the late 1800s in places as scattered as Buffalo, Los Angeles, and Springfield, Massachusetts; perhaps the most successful was Aaron Copland's Yaddo Music Festival in upstate New York, a critical location for "serious" music from 1932 to 1952.

The start of popular music festivals in the United States, however, could be traced to two people: Louis and Elaine Lorillard. The couple met in Italy during World War Two, fell in love, learned about jazz, and returned to their summer resort home in Newport, Rhode Island, resolute in their desire to add to the cultural fabric of their community. Rather than creating yet another festival in the European classical tradition, however, they decided to structure it around what is arguably the most distinctive of American cultural contributions: in 1954, they offered $20,000 to fund a jazz event. They reached out to George Wein, owner of the Boston jazz club Storyville, to manage and book acts. Five years later, with folksingers Pete Seeger, Oscar Brand, and Theodore Bikel and manager Albert Grossman, Wein cofounded the Newport Folk Festival to ride the growth of another distinctive American musical amalgamation: the mixture of blues, country, and pop that fueled the folk revival of the '50s and early '60s. Newport's twin events ushered in what music critic Leonard Feather called the festival era of large-scale, annual, outdoor events in the United States. Wein, who continued running the festivals for decades, came to be considered the patriarch of the American music festival.

There followed a series of festivals that served as gatherings for, and the generators of, the American counterculture: the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1962, the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in 1967, the Miami Pop Festival in 1968, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in August 1969, and the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in December of that same year. Highlights from these events — the performances of Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, and Jimi Hendrix at Monterey; Richie Havens's improvised version of "Freedom" at Woodstock; and the descent into violence at Altamont — all serve as touchstones for a generation. These festivals served not just to promote particular artists and make money, but also to legitimate the countercultural music genres themselves.

Although the late 1960s and early '70s saw the founding of innumerable popular music festivals throughout the country, only a handful of them weathered the dramatic drop in attendance that took place in the 1980s and '90s: Milwaukee's Summerfest (established in 1968, a year before Woodstock), New Orleans's Jazz and Heritage Festival (1970), Seattle's Bumbershoot (1971), and Nashville's Fan Fair (1972). Austin's South by Southwest was founded during the dry spell in 1987, as was Chicago's Lollapalooza (1991–97, 2003, and 2005–present). By the 2000s, music festivals had started cropping up again, including the massive Coachella and Bonnaroo festivals (established in rural eastern California in 2001 and rural southern Tennessee in 2002, respectively), and bands themselves started organizing their own, smaller events. Phish periodically holds its own festival around the Northeast; Wilco runs the Solid Sound Festival in North Adams, Massachusetts; and Metallica briefly ran the Orion Music + More in Atlantic City in 2012 and in Detroit in 2013. And it's not only the number of festivals that is increasing — their attendance is growing as well. In 2012, 80,000 to 85,000 people attended each day of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival; Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Las Vegas's Electric Daisy Carnival all reached 100,000 attendees; 160,000 people attended Miami's Ultra electronic music festival; and even more attended Milwaukee's forty-fifth annual Summerfest. All were bigger than in years prior.

These alliances between art and commerce are reminders that the contemporary American music festival sits at the intersection of two major shifts in the broader cultural and economic context, a junction that serves as the core of this chapter. The first is the evolution of cities from being centers of production to centers of consumption. The second is the parallel change in the economics of music industry from the sale of durable products (records, cassettes, CDs) to the marketing of live music. Together, these trends further explain the relationship between these cultural events and the contemporary city.

Coketown to Circus City

In Hard Times, Charles Dickens describes the fictitious industrial city of Coketown in shades of black and gray, and fills his characters' ears with the shriek of the train and the wheeze of the steam engine. The book served as a critique of the rise of the modern city, as its characters struggled in the grip of a cold and practical world. Novelists weren't alone in criticizing the industrial city. Early sociologists matched Dickens's fears of the modern city as a center for factory and marketplace, increasingly dominated by bureaucracies and rationalization.

This understanding presents the industrial city as a center for political and economic forces colluding for their growth-focused agendas, and envisions manufacturing as promoting development in other sectors, such as housing, retail, and public infrastructure. These coalitions of real estate investors, financial institutions, government agencies, civic institutions, and the media — what Harvey Molotch called a city's growth machines — shaped urban life by increasing land values. This led to an increased privatization of public assets (mass transit systems, public utilities, etc.), which has placed limits on civic life. Although there are some differences of opinion on the relevance of the growth-machine theory, such mixtures of public and private holding of assets deeply affect the public culture found on the streets, parks, and sidewalks.

Although this stage of urban development still exists within the United States and in many places around the world, new forces emerged toward the end of the last century. Trends in technology and communication led to increased globalization of banking, manufacturing, and management, while at the same time, US cities in the Midwest, Northeast, and Great Lakes regions were hit by deindustrialization, disinvestment, and capital flight. Jobs moved to suburbs or "Edge Cities," to the Sunbelt or out of the country altogether, deserting labor markets and emptying onetime bustling factories and mills. In a few other places, however, cultural activities have moved into that vacuum.

New York City's Soho district often serves as a kind of classic case for understanding the shift from production to consumption. Light manufacturing abandoned the neighborhood in the 1960s, leaving behind large, empty, cheap spatial resources. Politicians developed a zoning plan in 1961 to deindustrialize Manhattan as a whole, and banks disinvested in the area by not offering mortgages. Artists — often poor, young, and happy to occupy the big raw spaces for little to no rent — moved in, sometimes squatting. Instead of textiles, they made art. Sensing a scene developing, more artists relocated, and other institutions came along to cater to the burgeoning community that included artists whose work expanded to fill those big empty spaces, such as Donald Judd, Walter De Maria, and Gordon Matta-Clark; these spaces also influenced minimalist composers like Philip Glass. In the 1970s, there were first the bars, cafés, bodegas, and art galleries — not to mention the nearby music venues like CBGB's (founded to the east, on Bowery) and the Mudd Club (to the west, in Tribeca) that launched New Wave bands like Television, the Talking Heads, Blondie, and the Velvet Underground — then more stores and restaurants (even one, Food, that was operated by Matta-Clark). And soon, building off the hipness of the neighborhood, luxury lofts and higher-end boutiques arrived. The Guggenheim Museum opened a branch at Broadway and Prince Streets in 1992. Rather than growing up around traditional production and manufacturing, the neighborhood redeveloped through culture and consumption.

In the 1990s, scholars and municipal organizations alike learned the lesson that local art, music, and history can be valuable assets in other cities too, leading Richard Lloyd and Terry Nichols Clark to critique and amend Molotch's theory to suggest that "entertainment machines" — coalitions of finance, technology, and media workers — now excavate the more ephemeral element of culture as a resource. In the face of suburbanization and disinvestment, the contemporary city-as-entertainment-machine attempts to churn out places for exciting consumption rather than material production. Luring corporate relocations, new residents, and tourists requires refashioning cities as appealing locales that can be marketed via strategic planning by additional quasi-governmental agencies like chambers of commerce (concentrating on promoting growth) and convention and visitors bureaus (focusing on enticing out-of-town visitors). Together, these efforts aim at packaging and selling an attention-grabbing set of amenities, services, and experiences.

The continued privatization of urban spaces and the rise of the city-as-entertainment-machine led to clusters of eateries, theaters, and bars as the new cauldrons of urban development. Gentrified neighborhoods like Chicago's Wicker Park, Brooklyn's Williamsburg, and East Nashville became home for new gentrifiers and businesses. Dormant manufacturing zones ("brownfields" like Pittsburgh's SouthSide Works and parts of Glasgow and Manchester, England) and even unique and unused places (like the spaces left over after the Berlin Wall or Manhattan's defunct elevated train trellis) are transformed into entertainment zones. Where cities once used big industry and big projects to generate growth within those inner rings, they now looked for ways to utilize those same spatial resources of vacant mills and factories by combining them with the social + cultural resources of clusters of cultural activity. Under this new regime of cultural revitalization, this story played out in deindustrialized cities like London, Dublin, Newark, Boston, and San Francisco, where dormant smokestacks and mills became ironic symbols of industriousness rather than decaying reminders of a bygone production era.

Shortly after he left office in 2010, Austin Mayor Will Wynn provided a more detailed account of his view of the relationship between cities and culture — one that was grounded in exactly this historical context. In his words, the urban development model in the United States for the past century was to "build big stuff" — industries would colocate and construct harbors and airports and industrial parks, hoping employees and smaller businesses would follow. Manufacturing industries settled in cities in the Northeast and the Great Lakes area and exploited local resources, both physical and social. Chicago's iron deposits along Lake Superior and its large immigrant worker population, for example, gave it a competitive advantage against the steel companies in Pittsburgh.

Stating that people used to follow jobs, Wynn explained, "I'm proud of myself, that pretty early on I realized in this current century it's just the opposite: the jobs follow the people." Put another way, although using existing resources and attracting new ones remains at the heart of all city growth, today's cities draw as much — if not more — from their cultural resources as from their natural ones. Just as they once competed for heavy industries like automobile and steel manufacturing, US cities are now in a fierce contest for tourists, technology jobs, and service-industry businesses. Chicago today crafts its development strategy with a different ore, mining the rich historical and cultural traditions of the blues, signified by the Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events' free annual Blues Festival. As cities transform into postindustrial centers, this view contends that culture can crystallize city identity and, conversely, a city's identity can crystallize its culture. This posits that municipalities like Austin need to develop their cultural assets: the physical resources (or amenities) of clubs and venues in close proximity, the social + cultural resources of local musicians (provided they are supported), and the economic resources of money spent by locals and visitors all reinforce the city's symbolic brand as the "Live Music Capital of the World." Having worked with dozens of colleagues through the US Conference of Mayors, Wynn is quick to legitimize his belief in the importance of creating an exciting city to attract the mobile social + cultural resources of young, educated people. Although this had always been, in his words, an "organic" and "imperfectly crafted process" in Austin, it grew into a more intentional policy over his time in office.

Wynn was not alone in this perspective. The mayor of Nashville, Karl Dean, echoed these positions on how he seeks to harness Nashville's creative community as part of his agenda. Only a few hours before he hit the stage to welcome tens of thousands of fans to his town's country music festival, Dean spoke happily about urban culture in his Nashville City Hall office, flanked by a large signed poster of Neil Young on the wall and a crisp copy of Harvard economist Edward Glaeser's Triumph of the City on the coffee table. With the classic politician's combination of formality and warmth, Dean laid out his plan for Nashville in the coming decades, a vision that manages to combine the input of both the musician and the urbanist.

That mayors Dean and Wynn reached similar conclusions is no coincidence. Both have been energized by the thought of exploiting their cities' musical communities. While campaigning for mayor, Dean said he felt Nashville "really needed to do more to emphasize the city's music industry and to make sure they understood we want [businesses and musicians] to flourish here." Like Wynn, Dean felt that continuing to attract talent is crucial to Nashville's success. "Songwriters and musicians come in droves," Dean told me, "and their capital is their ability to write a song, their ability to play a song, their ability to produce a song." Perhaps thinking of his hero, Neil Young, he summed up his goals for Nashville by saying: "Artists and musicians. Those are the types of people we want to attract."

Both Wynn and Dean relied on this "jobs follow people" argument to explain why some places, like Detroit, fail, as others, like San Francisco, succeed: jobs in the new mobile age follow where people want to go. Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class (and the battery of articles that followed) advanced the theory that urban growth in the postindustrial age requires attracting creative types and a professional managerial class. Dean's coffee-table book, Glaeser's Triumph of the City, follows the lead, in part, by championing the immense power of cities in their ability to foster growth and entrepreneurialism through face-to-face interactions and increasing density, something urbanists have embraced since Jane Jacobs's tribute to Lower Manhattan's neighborhoods, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Glaeser calls cities our "greatest invention" for the job they do in improving social + cultural resources by providing good schools and then nurturing rich entertainment. People, in other words, go to interesting places.


Excerpted from Music City by Jonathan R. Wynn. Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: City and Stage

1. The Unlikely Rise in Importance of American Music Festivals
2. Music in Ruins: The Newport Folk Festival
3. “When Country Comes to Town”: Nashville’s Country Music Festival
4. Part-Time Indie Music Club: Austin’s South by Southwest
5. The Long-Term Effects of Fleeting Moments: Part One
6. The Long-Term Effects of Fleeting Moments: Part Two

Conclusions: Festivalization as Good Policy

Encore: Toward a Sociology of Occasions
Appendix A: The Lineup (Methodological Note and List of Interviewees)
Appendix B: Music City Set List

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