Every summer, music festivals like Tennessee’s Bonnaroo, New York’s Governors Ball, Chicago’s Lollapalooza, and everything in between draw scores of sweaty teens and 20-somethings to grassy acres around outdoor stages. Look more closely, though, and you may spot a few older people in the crowd. That’s right: It’s not just Millennials packing into vans to go to concerts. Despite the notorious abandoned hygiene (and inhibitions), older fans are showing up, too – dads accompanying teenage sons, moms throwing hands up with their working daughters, and even entire families.
Take Bonnaroo, the four-day festival that transforms rural Manchester, Tenn., every summer. News that former Beatles’ singer Paul McCartney would kick off the June festival this year sent a jolt through baby boomers, many of whom joined their children to see the legend belt out “Let It Be.” Even performers are bringing their parents to festivals; Ashok Kondabolu, one of the rappers behind former hip-hop group Das Racist, dragged his parents to Seattle’s Bumbershoot in 2011. It was Mr. and Ms. Kondabolu’s first time attending a music festival. They hung in the back, attempting a head-bob every now and then, away from the more aggressive crowd surfers.
At a time when many career-bound 20-somethings see their parents only a few times a year, the summer music festival is providing a place for generations to come together.
Surprising as it may be to see retirees dancing alongside Millennials in a farm in Manchester, it’s a reminder of how music transcends age. When festivals pick the right artists, they can cross “cultural, aesthetic, and generational lines,” Rolling Stone critic Adam Gold wrote of Mr. McCartney’s Bonnaroo performance. Jason Lipshutz, a writer for Billboard, has brought his 58-year-old lawyer-father to Chicago’s Pitchfork festival twice. He summarized this unity best. “All of the subtext and buzzworthiness of the weekend boiled down to a father and son sharing a delicious groove as the sun set over Chicago,” he wrote in his 2012 Pitchfork review. His father concurred, “It was a terrific three days of music and hanging out with my son.”
That’s not to say the summer music festival scene appeals to mature adults. Most festivals are hot, sweaty, and provide little in the way of cushy accommodations. The generational divide between skimpily clad teens and retirees can seem massive. But at best, festivals unite thousands of strangers through their shared love of good music, or car camping, or each other. And when that happens, the meshing together of youth and adulthood is a sight to behold.