In our headlong rush into personalized digital worlds—apps to replace the grocery store, Kindles to replace the library, blog forums to replace the town hall—concerts and festivals yank us back, even just temporarily, to shared experience. There’s something breathtaking about seeing 10,000 people sway side to side, or jump up and down, on the same beat. And it feels, well, normal, to sit in the grass surrounded by strange faces without immediately swiping left or right.
While occasions like Coachella, or your Friday night jam band, offer the obvious allure of sex, drugs and rock and roll, the appeal extends to something more fundamental. We want to be together. We want to let go of the ego that rationalizes who we ‘are’ and why we are ‘different’. We want to move. Some of us even want to rip our shirts off in the mosh pit... which makes sense conceptually…
Celebrity status appeals to some more than others, but there undeniably must be a rush associated with creating a shared experience for a massive audience. From Father John Misty acting out a semi-erotic fantasy onstage, to Madeon faking his own death and rebirth just before the beat drops on his hit single, artists get to take the crowd on a ride through their imagination. And we each willingly leave our own private experience of the music to temporarily live it together.
There are certainly nobler forms of shared experience—thoughtful protest, charity events, civic debate—but if festivals wake us up to the people around us, then even this Dionysian end of the spectrum is worthwhile. We may not be changing the world while we groove, but at least we’re reminded that there is a communal world out there and maybe we bring some of that back to 'real world'. The world certainly wouldn't be a worse place if we all hopped to the same beat every once in a while.