COVID-19 and Astroworld Should Change Music Festivals Forever

In this reported op-ed, writer Noella Williams traces the state of the music festival following the emergence of COVID-19 in March 2020 and later, Travis Scott’s Astroworld, unpacking how festival culture has shifted in the aftermath.

Riding an abundance of amusement park rides, hearing Solange perform A Seat at the Table, and being surrounded by devoted Flower Boy fanatics — 2017’s two-day Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival was an unforgettable scene. I spent a weekend roaming around LA’s Exposition Park with my two friends to listen to acts like The Internet, Mac Miller, and Vince Staples. It was my first-ever musical festival, the first of many.

A few months prior to Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, I attended my first concert in Atlanta during Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN tour. Since I’ve lived in Northern Florida my entire life, major festivals and concerts were usually out of my vicinity and price range. However, I graduated high school in May 2017 and wanted to celebrate my newfound independence from academics by doing something that I hadn’t experienced before — live music performances.

Three years later, during live music’s temporary hiatus mid-pandemic, I longed for the festivals I had frequented in the “before”: Lollapalooza, Coachella, Afropunk. My diverse taste in music has fueled my urge to attend every festival with a coveted lineup. When COVID-19 began to spread widely in 2020, I wasn’t sure I would get the chance to again.

As I stood in the crowd at Primavera Sound this past June in Barcelona watching Tyler, the Creator perform live, I thought about how festival culture has shifted, in some ways irrevocably, since the pandemic began. Contemporary festival fashion, the ambiance of being in an intimate crowd, and the emotional experience of seeing your favorite artist might not have changed, but we have. 

The return to festivals has been an exhilarating welcome, but as we barge forward into the “after,” we need to acknowledge and reimagine the future of festivals in a post-quarantine, crowd-hungry environment — one that prioritizes safety across the board.

Illustration by Madeline McMahon for Teen Vogue

Illustration by Madeline McMahon

The Festival Comeback

In 2022, music festivals are back, and the people who love them have rejoiced in their return, flocking to Lollapalooza, Coachella, and Electric Daisy Carnival to dance and party all night long with their favorite artists, just as they had before the world shut down.

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