This weekend was the first ever Orlando Calling music festival. I had the privilege of getting whisked away on a free weekend package (thanks @Grooveshark and @QuietCompanyTX!) that turned into a free VIP weekend package (thanks @fcsdotcom and #iScored!). With a lineup including Pixies, The Killers, Doobie Brothers, Gogol Bordello, The Roots, The Avett Brothers, Dr. Dog, Bob Seger and my personal favorite The Raconteurs, we were obviously excited. But this isn’t about the bands, it’s about Calling.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend several fests including ACL, Voodoo, Jazz Fest, and Bonnaroo and each is unique– somehow embodying the spirit of the city (or farm, in the case of Bonnaroo) in which it’s held. ACL encapsulates the happy-go-lucky music and food loving attitude of Austin; Jazz Fest celebrates Nola heritage while Voodoo showcases Nola hedonism; and Bonnaroo appeals to that suppressed hippie deep down in all of us that just wants to drop everything and dance in the grass with our friends.
Calling is different. The city built on Disney tourism unsurprisingly doesn’t have a strong music scene besides chart-topping arena shows. I think this commercialization came across in the experience. Despite the stellar lineup, it didn’t sell out. There was just something missing.
The festival was put on by Melvin Benn known for Reading and Leeds festivals in England. Perhaps the fact it was created my a non-native resulted in a lack local charm- the kind that makes other festivals so special. Some concert goers (and Orlando residents) blamed insufficient promotion for the weak turnout while others blamed the high prices/bad economy. I’m sure in the days to come plenty of people will be trying to figure it out.
None of this is to say it was a bad festival (I had a real blast) but just that something was missing if Calling is ever going to be a staple of Floridian live music pride. But of course slack must be given considering this is the first year…
Here’s a breakdown of the good and bad.
•Fast turnover between sets. Only 30 minutes as opposed to an hour
•REAL bathrooms (hand washing, what!)
•Casual atmosphere. Because it’s less established, there are no competitive super fans staking territory or pushing children into the mud to get a shady tree spot. Though obviously this will change as people grow familiar with the protocol.
•Custodial staff keeping things clean
•Main stage is inside the Citrus Bowl which means fantastic visibility/acoustics.
•No local charm (with the exception of a delightful Art tent and a few food trucks).
•No super fans to heighten the excitement surrounding the event.
•Terrible food/drink prices. Obviously festival concessions are always bad but $10 for a tiny burrito or $9 for a single cocktail is too much.
•Awkward layout. Concrete parking lot isn’t fun to loll around in and standing on plastic flooring at the main stage is strange.
•Dividing the lineup based on their appeal to different ages means less incentive to buy a weekend pass which means less time for people to hang out drinking $8 beers. Not a smart business move.
One of the highlights, however, was the Art tent. Artists painted wall-sized album covers while canvases and paint were available to fans to let their creative side out. I also had the enjoyable experience of seeing the outstanding local band The Mud Flappers. These guys really know how to put on a show and I genuinely hope they do well so I can see them play again.
In sum, Calling was a good time (hard to go wrong with these bands) but there are plenty of kinks to work out. Right now it’s too much like a blatantly commercial arena style show. At least have the decency to veil the commercialism in idealism and whimsy!