Festivals 2017

What Would It Mean If Kate Bush Had Been Asked to Play Coachella?

A 'New Yorker' piece on the festival's CEO mentions how her name was floated, then set aside.

by Lauren O'Neill
11 April 2017, 11:59am

The world's biggest festivals, despite being televised and, now, livestreamed for all to see, do tend to have an air of mystery about them. How much do the acts get paid? How are they chosen? And just who keeps letting The Courteeners play?

A new piece in the New Yorker hopes to answer some of these questions – only some, however: The Courteeners will always be a conundrum that nobody can solve. Writer and author John Seabrook profiles Paul Tollett, the man behind the booking process for Coachella, which is due to take place this weekend and next (14 to 16 April, and 21 to 23 April).

One of the most interesting revelations in the piece comes from Marc Geiger, a booking agent at agency William Morris Endeavour, or WME, which works with major artists. He details Tollett's vision specific vision for the festival, which at one point included turning down the prospect of an appearance from English music great Kate Bush:

In addition to curating the lineup, Tollett had booked the 150 acts himself, negotiating all the offers with agents – a six-month process. He also fielded a lot of pitches that he had to turn down. Geiger, of WME, described their working method: "I'll say, 'Kate Bush!' And he'll go, 'No!,' and we'll talk through it. I'll say, 'She's never played here, and she just did thirty shows in the U.K. for the first time since the late seventies. You gotta do it! Have to!' 'No! No one is going to understand it.'"

On one hand, Tollett is definitely right. Coachella's audience is a young one, and its lineup tends to skew particularly mainstream, with EDM and pop firmly on the table (case in point: this year's would-be headliner Beyoncé, and her replacement Lady Gaga). Kate Bush's brand of romantic, often uncategorisable music would simply miss the mark with fans at that particular event. However, on the other hand, there's also the argument that a performance from a legendary artist such as Bush would add a heritage-style credibility that critics suggest Coachella is often missing, so brand-led and artificial-feeling it has become. Then again, others might argue that's what Desert "Oldchella" Trip is for.

This year's lineup has its share of Important Artists. Headlining alongside Gaga are Radiohead and Kendrick Lamar – who releases his album this Friday, coinciding with his performance at the festival's first weekend – but from where I'm standing, it feels as though it'd also be a good move to book some musical darlings like Bush to keep Coachella in competition with the best. Glastonbury, for example, has started to skew young in its booked artists but still has a legacy and tendency to mix both heritage and new acts. On a farm of that size, with that many stages, that's potentially more feasible: you can insulate yourself in whichever scene you choose, avoiding the sorts of acts that aren't your "thing" without feeling as though you're missing out.

But then again, maybe it's too late for Coachella to try and court a new audience: Tollett's the expert. He knows that the people want in-your-face entertainment, and he knows those who buy Coachella tickets may want to drink beer in gated areas while they watch it and take photos of it. And maybe you just can't argue with that.

In any case, Kate Bush's camp have responded, according to Pitchfork. "It was never Kate's intention to play any more shows than she did in London," the statement reads. "The show was conceived for a very specific type of venue. No discussions were ever had with Kate about playing any festival, including Coachella." There we go.

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(Image via Wikimedia Commons)