It’s a conundrum that everyone has, when they’re planning their schedule at a festival. Set times drop, and all eyes go to the headliner slots – only for headliners to be given an hour slot, far less than they’d play if they were holding their own show. The likes of Kendrick Lamar, Lorde, A$AP Rocky, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals and more have headlined festivals in Australia over the last 12 months, all of which are world class acts. So, when artists come to headline Australian festivals, should they be playing longer sets?
The Arguments For
Let’s face it – when buying a festival ticket, everyone’s looking to get their money’s worth. Whilst it’s always great to see acts that play the festival circuit regularly, what’s better than seeing an act at the top of their game headlining a festival? Often, there’s months of lead-up to the headliners following the festival announcing their line-up – and to give them a set that’s only 60 minutes feels like a bit of a letdown. When it comes to headliners, the more time the better – after all, that’s what people are going to remember.
More attractive for artists
Certain headliners aren’t going to want to fly around the world, just to play for an hour. It doesn’t seem like a good use of their time, and realistically, who can blame them? After all, artists have a reputation to uphold, and want to put on the best shows they can wherever they go. If artists know they’re going to have time to play their full show, rather than an abridged version, then they’re a lot more likely to want to join Australian festival line-ups.
Bang for your buck
With the multitude of festivals being held every year, not just in Australia, but worldwide, one of the things that can separate festivals are set lengths, as well as clashes. FOMO Festival, which recently dropped a kickass line-up, promises one stage and no clashes – which, if you’re a fan of the artists that have been booked like BROCKHAMPTON, Lizzo, Rico Nasty and more, is an attractive prospect – as it’s guaranteed that you’ll be able to see all of them. The same applies to set lengths. If it’s assured that an artist - who might not have been to Australia for a while - is going to play a 90+ minute set, that might be what separates it from the run of the mill festival.
More music per day
This might be a bit of a controversial one, but if it’s looking harder to accommodate longer set times for headliners, then festivals should be either looking to start earlier in the day, or finish later at night. There’s nothing wrong with keeping the party going a bit later – after all, some of the best festival memories are made after midnight. Giving festival-goers the options for their days to either start earlier or finish later means everyone gets the most out of their experience. In addition, people are able to not only catch more headline sets, but also morning/afternoon acts, which is a win-win for all involved.
The Arguments Against
Look, if you really wanted a longer set from an artist, then it makes sense to go see them at their sideshow. After all, the best part of festivals are seeing as many acts as possible, right? Rather than going to a festival for a select few acts, people generally go for the smorgasbord of artists that they’re able to see over the weekend. Forget quality vs quantity, shorter headliner sets mean you can get the best of both worlds.
Honestly, some artists just don’t have the discography to play a 90+ minute set, and that’s fine. They’re still definitely worth booking as headliners. It takes years and years to build a reputation up as someone capable of killing a 90+ minute set, so by giving less artists that timeslot length, it increases its value and gives other artists something to aspire towards.
Room for surprise
Every now and then, a festival dares to do something different, and put an act on later in the night than they otherwise might be billed. And more often than not, they rise to the occasion. If you fall into line with what other festivals are doing, then you won’t have the opportunity to spring a surprise or two on unsuspecting punters, and won’t build a reputation of being tastemakers. Festivals like Groovin the Moo and Laneway Festival often get acts before the rest of the festival landscape catch on, both in Australia and worldwide, so having more variety in what set times artists plays helps them develop a niche for themselves.
No matter what way you look at it, Australia gets some incredible line-ups – like Splendour In The Grass, Listen Out and the aforementioned FOMO Festival. Whether you’re a fan of shorter or longer sets from headline artists, Australian festivals manage to land the best of the best consistently each year – and at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.