In the past 24 hours, the Coachella and Governors Ball festivals both announced their lineups, which means summer-festival lineup-unveiling season is in full swing. For those of us who dork out way too hard over music — even those of us who don’t intend to hit up any of the festivals in question — this makes for a fascinating time. Last year, I had way too much fun writing about the Coachella poster font sizes and the hierarchies that they reveal. This year, let’s do the same thing, and let’s also look at the differences between the two lineups and what, exactly, they might mean. Some takeaways:
Coachella wins. If you’re, say, in some Midwestern state that’s roughly equal distances between Indio and New York, you may be trying to choose which of these festivals is worth your piles of money. Coachella is in a desert, in the middle of nowhere, but it’s still the first and biggest and most important of America’s summer festivals. Governors Ball, meanwhile, is in New York, a great place to visit even if it’s summertime and spending 10 minutes in a subway station will get the stench of death deep into your pores. But it’s at Randall’s Island, which is a little slice of hell on earth. So as far as the extra-musical stuff goes, call that one a wash. Fortunately, the lineups makes this thing easy.
Both bills, of course, have plenty of artists in common: Headliner Drake, as well as upper-carders Florence & The Machine, Ryan Adams, Tame Impala, St. Vincent, and a whole mess of smaller font-size names. But other than Drake, the Gov. Ball headliners are pretty sorry. Was the Black Keys and Deadmau5 the best they could do? Coachella went with one left-field choice in AC/DC, a fucking awesome live band who should make for a ferocious party at this festival. (If you’re skeptical, watch some AC/DC festival footage.) They’ve also got Jack White, a reliable festival warhorse who headlined Gov. Ball last year and who has way more good songs than the Black Keys. Further down the bill, they’ve got the Weeknd, Ride, Belle And Sebastian, FKA twigs, Lykke Li, Caribou, Father John Misty, and a ton of other great bands who won’t be playing Gov. Ball. Meanwhile, some of the most intriguing Governors Ball-only acts are ones who played Coachella last year: Lana Del Rey, Future Islands. Governors Ball also has some good gets of its own: Björk, presumably doing one of her first non-Biophilia shows in forever, and “Weird Al” Yankovic, whose live show is presumably a fuckton of fun. But they’ve also got middle-of-the-road indie bands like My Morning Jacket and the Decemberists doing way too much of the heavy lifting on their lineup. Of course, Coachella has the benefit of having more stages, and Gov. Ball sometimes waits until later to reveal a bigger name or two, but Coachella wins this thing running away right now.
The summer of Drake. Last year, OutKast showed up on the Governors Ball lineup immediately after announcing their Coachella reunion, and they went on to play practically every festival on the face of the earth over the summer. This year, Drake could be planning something similar. Drake’s never been a presence on the summer-festival circuit, for whatever reason, and I’m surprised nobody tapped him to headline one of these joints before this summer. He’s got too many hits to count, and he’s also one of the most forward-thinking artists occupying his cultural strata. In some ways, he’ll probably make for a better festival headliner than Kanye West, his closest peer. Kanye is an amazing performer, but he tends to go deep into his artist zone. Drake can put on his serious-artist pants when he wants, but he’s also an unabashed cornball who wants to send people home happy. And there are really unlimited possibilities for surprise guests during Drake shows. He’s made songs with virtually everyone in commercial rap, and he’s been known to bring out of-the-moment guests to do songs that don’t even feature him. Also, he’s spent the past five years touring the rap-fan circuit, which means he’s been in front of audiences way more demanding than the affluent, white, extremely drunk summer-festival types. He’s ready, and it’s his moment.
A whole lot of people will probably have as-yet-unannounced new albums out this spring. Drake, Tame Impala, Florence & The Machine, and Action Bronson have all been working on new things, but they probably wouldn’t be showing up on these bills if their new things weren’t loaded up and ready to drop sometime in the next few months. That’s good! I can’t wait to hear those new things! The Weeknd might have a new album on the way, too, though he can probably hold down that Coachella spot just based on his past music and mystique, as well as the occasional songs he throws out when he’s in the mood. Björk’s dark-as-fuck new music might be ready to go in time for Gov. Ball, too. And maybe Hot Chip? By that same token, we should maybe not hold our collective breath for these new Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar albums. Kendrick would probably be a no-brainer for Coachella if he knew he’d be ready to drop by then.
Some people are way more popular than I thought. As ever, the Coachella font sizes throw the live-music economy in cruel, visible-to-all relief. And while Gov. Ball might keep all the font sizes the same, they aren’t fooling anyone into thinking they’re an egalitarian festival; there’s a reason the Picturebooks, whoever they are, are not anywhere near Drake on that poster. And as ever, some of those names are way higher on the bill than you might expect. For instance: People are really still feeling Ratatat like that? It’s been a while since I’ve seen them, but I remember them being wild boring live, and they’re near the top of both of these bills. Interpol gets the second-from-top spot at Coachella despite being similarly boring live and not exactly capturing the world’s attention with their last few records. Azealia Banks is higher on the Coachella poster than any other non-Drake rapper, which is surprising, and she’s probably laughing at recent Twitter foe Action Bronson as he sits a line and a half lower on the same day. FKA twigs and Caribou and Father John Misty all have some pretty prominent spots on the bill, and good for them.
There are no ladies anywhere. Among the headlining acts at both festivals, there are exactly zero female musicians, unless we’re counting Jack White’s backing band. Governors Ball, at least, has Lana Del Rey and Björk in semi-headliner positions. Almost all of the Coachella bill is a titanic sausage party. (Big question: Where are Sleater-Kinney? Are they just not playing festivals?) There is no reason for this to still be a thing, but it’s apparently still a thing.
Some people are way less popular than I thought. Run The Jewels! Swans! The War On Drugs! Action Bronson! Jenny Lewis! Death From Above 1979! Lil B! Parquet Courts! Built To Spill! Angel Olsen! Charli XCX! White Lung! You guys should be higher on these bills! And Sturgill Simpson may be just starting out, but he’s already selling out some pretty big venues, at least in my corner of the country. You’d think the poster designers would show him some more respect.
Nobody can decide how popular Tame Impala or St. Vincent are. They both have super-prominent Coachella poster placement, but they’re very much on the Governors Ball midcard. What does that mean? I don’t know.
I have no idea what’s happening in dance music. There are so many names I either barely recognize or don’t recognize at all on both of these posters, especially Coachella. For instance: What is an Axwell ^ Ingrosso, and why is it higher on the bill than Steely Dan?
Not that many old people. Other than the young-at-heart AC/DC and the deeply confusing Steely Dan inclusion, Coachella is light on senior citizens. The bill has a decent complement of old-man types (Bad Religion, Rae and Ghost, Rev. Horton Heat, Swans, Carl Craig, Built to Spill, OFF!), but none of them gun for the the boomer-nostalgia market the way, say, Paul McCartney or Roger Waters would.
Not that many reunions. Coachella has Ride and Drive Like Jehu, and the latter is real get, since their one reunion show last year was supposed to be the only one. But there are no real blockbuster “holy shit, they’re back” names. Governors Ball, meanwhile, does not have a single reunited band. Is the air going out of that craze, finally? Or has everyone who wants to reunite already reunited?
New York hates rap music. Coachella’s rap lineup is strong and fascinating and all-over-the-place: Drake, Azealia Banks, Rae and Ghost, Tyler, The Creator, Run The Jewels, Action Bronson, Lil B, Vic Mensa, Ab-Soul. Other than the reliable Wu-Tang guys, these are all vital artists on the way up or at the peaks of their careers. And any of them could bring out any number of guests, something that happens a lot at Coachella. Meanwhile, Governors Ball is literally in rap’s birthplace; Randall’s Island is just south of the Bronx. But once you get past Drake, its lineup has barely any rap, and the rap that is there is not that exciting. Atmosphere are a durable live act, but it’s been a while since they did anything that set my ears on fire. And Logic? The People Under The Stairs? Bishop Nehru? You guys can do better.
Everyone hates metal. Other than godfathered-in progenitors AC/DC, there is basically no metal on either of these bills. Coachella has Brand New, which is awesome and which sort of counts, but that’s it.
Everyone likes punk rock. The lower reaches of the Coachella bill are stacked with great bands like Joyce Manor and the apparently-not-on-a-break-anymore Touché Amoré. Gov. Ball is way lighter on DIY types, but they do have White Lung, and that’s worth a lot. Either way, there will be many opportunities to get your mid-afternoon mosh on.
Conor Oberst is offering us a choice. Oberst is playing Coachella with Desaparecidos, his great reunited political punk band. Maybe he’s finally making another Desaparecidos album! That would be great! But he’s also playing Governors Ball as a solo artist, which is way less interesting. Who knows.
The Rev. Horton Heat is still around. Says right here!