A Lack of Latinx Musicians at US Festivals
By Luis Linan
Looking over this year’s festival lineups, I was struck by the lack of Latinx bands and artists that populate festival bills, particularly ones in the US. While I can’t deny that there are some amazing lineups this year (and others that are not so stellar), it does continue to be an unsettling trend. This issue goes beyond the homogenization of music festivals (a topic discussed at length by several publications over the last couple of years), but the basic fact that there are not nearly enough Latinx musicians on festival lineups. I was not the only to notice this trend either. In response to FYF’s lineup, one Twitter eloquently stated:
To see if this scarcity of Latinx acts was more than my imagination, I examined the lineups of 11 of the largest US festivals that have either already happened or announced their lineups for this year. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, I tried to get a broad, representative sample in terms of geography and genres. Here is what I found:
Festival and # of Latinx Artists
Bonnaroo (Manchester, Tennessee): 0
Boston Calling (Allston, Massachusetts): 0
Coachella (Indio, California): 9 - Nicolas Jaar, Kaytranada, Chicano Batman, Martinez Brothers, Diamante Eléctrico, Los Blenders, Tall Juan, Las Ligas Menores, QUITAPENAS
Firefly (Dover, Delaware): 3 - Salt Cathedral, Andy Frasco $ The U.N.*, Nahko and Medicine for the People
FYF (Los Angeles, California): 3 - Nicolas Jaar, Arca, Princess Nokia
Governors Ball (New York City, New York): 2 - Jessie Reyez, Saint Jhn
Hangout Fest (Gulf Shores, Alabama): 1 - The Suffers*
Lollapalooza (Chicago, Illinois): 2 - Kaytrana, Saint Jhn
Panorama (New York City, New York): 1 - Nicolas Jaar
Sasquatch (Gorge Amphitheatre, Washington): 4 - Kaytranada, Bomba Estéreo, Chicano Batman, Cigarettes After Sex
Ultra (Miami, Florida): 3 - Maceo Plex, Martinez Brothers, Hector
*=Majority of members are Latinx
As you can see above, the number of Latinx artists can be counted on one hand for several of these festivals, and for others I could find none. The lone exception is Coachella, which does have a history of booking Latinx bands, particularly high profile ones like Caifanes, Zoe, Cafe Tacvba, and CSS in recent years. Another relevant fact is that a majority of the acts occupy lower levels/smaller font of the lineups. Needless to say, when looking at this data, I found the situation perplexing as well as troubling.
The first question to ask is, “Are there underlying reasons for this happening, and if there are, what are they specifically?” Now, I won’t pretend to have intimate knowledge of the part-dark art, part-science that is booking music festivals. However, what little I do know leaves me wondering if Latinx artists are simply declining offers to play these festivals (a distinct possibility), or if they are never getting asked to perform in the first place (equally or more possible). While organizers are unlikely to give up this information, it is an unavoidable question, and one that need be answered if progress is to be made.
A corollary to the notion that Latinx artists are not offered slots could be that, while many of the cities (New York, LA, Chicago, Miami) these festivals take place in have large Latinx communities, the attendees of these festivals are not from those communities. As someone who has been lucky enough to attend several festivals in the past 5 years, I am familiar with the cost of attendance. Transportation, lodging, food, merch, not to mention the cost of the wristband itself, all add up quickly. This reality, combined with the quickly antiquating beliefs that Latinxs have less disposable income, has likely led to a perception that the Latinx generation will be on the outside looking and listening in as well. If this mentality is prevalent among bookers, it is easy for a festival to rationalize not wasting slots, talent, and budget on acts that a majority of their attendees probably care little about.
Some may say that booking no Latinx acts because there are few Latinx attendees is a no harm, no foul situation, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Music festival lineups are a sort of who’s-who in the current musical landscape, and if there are few-to-no Latinx bands represented, the community, especially young people, may feel Latinxs are not contributing to modern popular music. This belief will discourage the next generation of Latinx artists from picking up a guitar, mic, horn, or downloading Ableton. As we have seen throughout history, representation matters, and if aspiring artists don’t see bands that look like them at major festivals, or see them relegated to smaller or more niche festivals like Ruido Fest or Neon Desert, they may feel that there is a ceiling on how far their art can take them.
While there is no quick and easy solution to correct these misconceptions, I am hopeful for progress in the years to come. For many large festivals and organizers who have to sell every ticket possible to stay afloat, the risk is simply too great to not book the safest lineup possible. However, as the Latinx millennial generation’s income level and subsequent purchasing power increase, savvy festivals would be astute to look to this segment to augment their target audience’s size. But getting young Latinxs in the gates will take booking a bill that is representative of who we are, as well as to what we listen. Festivals like the Afro-Latino Festival of New York, Neon Desert, and Ruido Fest appear to recognize this and are leading the way.