For anyone who has ever attended a multi-day music festival, there is no denying that it has probably left an indelible mark on them. For many, the experience transcended the music that was being featured there. You just never knew what you were going to find, who you were going to hook up with, what new pharmaceutical or alcohol related experience you were going to have or how it would change your perception of life forever.
Music festivals over the years have become a venue where people of like mind and sensibilities can gather in a peaceful and nurturing environment to just let it all hang out. Even when the weather turns nasty (as it inevitably always does) it is then that the true feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood manifests itself. Food, water, shelter and comfort are readily shared in a microcosm of what many would like to see as a new world order. In short, it is for many a taste of utopia that they carry back to their communities with the commitment to make changes in their own environments.
So in a nutshell, music festivals were and pretty much still are places where you could and can drop in, drop out, hang out, get high, rock out, get muddy and find that special three day soul mate as well as get a true “communal experience”. It’s all good.
Thus it was with great interest that I attended the new exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, “Common Ground - The Music Festival Experience”. Billed as a multi-media experience “that promises to capture the true feel of a music festival” I wanted to see how close they came. I have to admit…it’s pretty cool.
“Spanning two floors of the Museum, the exhibit will surround visitors with the sights and sounds of a rock festival to evoke the experience in a visceral way, utilizing video of the iconic festivals of the past (Newport, Monterey, Woodstock, Wattstax and more) and the vibrant, constantly evolving events of the present (Coachella, Bonnaroo, Glastonbury and more), with an emphasis on establishing a “you are there” environment. Several floor to ceiling photographs of festival fans will invite visitors to examine and interpret the fan experience and become a part of the crowd. Ambient sounds will fill the space: weather, bands tuning up, people talking, radio ads and news reports. Visitors will connect with the intangible elements inherent in the festival experience – identifying with a community, participating in a social event and being part of the creative process.”
On the third floor of the museum there are two large TV screens at the entrance to the exhibit. The one on the left will be used to share photos sent from around the world from music festivals old and new. The right screen will show a series of the top ten music festival performances as voted worldwide by fans. Climbing up the stairs to the fourth floor you enter an area that covers the history of the festivals with lots of memorabilia including letters, telegrams, posters, instruments, play lists, T-shirts, jackets, stage costumes and etc. There is even the original sign from Yasgur’s Dairy Farm in Bethal, N.Y. where the first Woodstock took place. I suggest you take your time and check out all the nooks and crannies. There is some cool stuff to look at as well as videos. I found the musical instruments the most interesting with broken keys, snapped necks, scuffs and dents. Life on the road is not a happy one for gear.
“The second level of the exhibit will present an immersive experience designed to place the visitor squarely into the festival experience. The space will represent a performance tent at a festival and visitors will encounter a 20 minute film representing a fast moving day at a festival told through a cinematic mash-up of performances, sights, sounds, words and communal energy of iconic music festivals from the past seven decades. The main screen will be complimented with synchronized images and lighting that will evoke the feeling of day turning into night.”
The last segment of the exhibit is up a spiral staircase to the fifth floor where huge scaffolding dominates the room and the four walls are floor to ceiling videos of the stage and surrounding area. The only thing missing is a line of portapotties and the mud. It would also be cool if the museum could supply a scratch and sniff card with the smell of campfire smoke, mud, stale wine and beer, B.O., garbage, burning pot and yes…the portapotties to truly immerse the visitor into the true festival vibe. At least the music will be set to stun so that will help.
So how does the exhibit stack up? While nothing can ever replace the live experience of the music festival (smoking dope and open containers of alcohol are highly frowned upon during regular business hours in the museum) it does come close to brushing gently against the edge of the “feel”. If nothing else it will introduce some virgins to a new experience and they might go check out a real “scene” sometime in the future. For me it was a cool experience with a flashback here and there to days long gone by. This is an exhibit that comes close to living up to its hype. Check it out.
The Common Ground exhibit will close on January 31, 2015.
About the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. is the nonprofit organization that exists to educate visitors, fans and scholars from around the world about the history and continuing significance of rock and roll music. It carries out this mission through its operation of a world-class museum that collects, preserves, exhibits and interprets this art form and through its library and archives as well as its educational activities. For more information, visit rockhall.com.