Thousands of music fans will flock to Tennessee this weekend to watch bands play back-to-back on multiple stages during the three days of Bonnaroo, one of the nation’s biggest music festivals. Almost all of those bands are full of dudes.
168 bands — not including children’s music or comedians — will play at Bonnaroo this year, a reflection of just how massively the summer music festival economy in America has ballooned. Of those, 18 are all-female bands, and 15 have a woman in the band at all. But Bonnarooo is not alone. Almost every major music festival in the United States has the exact same problem: The lineup is full of boy-bands.
To prove this, we looked at the lineups of nine major music festivals happening this year: Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, Outside Lands, Firefly, Sasquatch, Hangout, and Governor’s Ball. What all nine have in common is that they cater to general interest listeners (meaning, they are not genre-specific), have a large number of attendants, and are spread out geographically.
After we compiled our list of bands, we sorted them into three major categories 1) all-male bands 2) bands with at least one woman in them and 3) all-female bands.
In total, there were 678 different bands playing these 9 festivals, as shown in the chart above. Only 72 of those bands were all-female, and 102 had one woman in them. That means that groups without a single woman represent 74% of the bands playing at music festivals this summer.
We also broke down the data by individual festivals to see how the concerts stacked up against one-another.
Some, like Austin City Limits and Hangout Fest, fared slightly better than their competitors. Some fared far worse: Coachella was 84% male. But every single music festival had a strong male band majority. And frustratingly, this isn’t even a new problem.
In 2013, Abby Johnson, writing for Salon, analyzed 5 major festivals and found that “71 percent of the total bands were all-male outfits, with all-female (mostly female solo artists) only claiming 9 percent.” In the mid-90s, Canadian artist Sarah McLachlan founded Lilith Fair as a kind of rebellion against concert producers who refused to put two female acts back to back at festivals — something that is still rare today.
In Hollywood, there’s a big fight over what kind of roles women have — for example, the ACLU is currently investigating biased hiring practices against women. In the literary world, the VIDA count documents gender disparity. The music industry doesn’t have this same kind of gender tension — maybe because music seems like it’s getting closer to gender equality than any other medium.
After all, many of the biggest names in music are women. Taylor Swift has the best selling album this year. Beyoncé can get thousands of people to watch her make an announcement about being vegan. Katy Perry is tied with Michael Jackson for the most number one singles off one album, and Miley Cyrus is always stewing controversy. It’s easy to assume that because women in music are immensely popular that they are also well represented.
But if you attend any music festival and happen to think critically about gender and equality in the world, you realize pretty quickly that there aren’t a lot of women on the stage. There are plenty of women in the audience often being judged for their flower crowns and crop tops, but those women aren’t represented in the bands they’re there to see.
The end goal here isn’t to create a mythical 50-50 ratio in music festival lineups, although that would be nice. But when the gender disparity is so great — when there are 504 all male bands to 72 all female bands — it’s difficult to believe that this is an isolated occurrence, or that not enough women are on tour, or any other excuse.
“I certainly don’t think it’s because booking companies are saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to put women at the bottom of the lineup,'” Evelyn McDonnell, an esteemed rock critic, told Salon in 2013. “The men of power who are in this industry have this internalized, institutionalized sexism. They see men as having economic power and therefore get billed.”
But just as there’s no data-based reason to believe that teenage boys are more willing to pay for movies than women, there’s also no data-based research to support the idea that male bands will bring in more money than female bands. It’s the classic nostalgia-inducing men’s bands like Paul McCartney and Billy Joel, though, that get the attention of concert promoters and the spot as a headliner at these massive, highly profitable events. But who’s to say women wouldn’t turn out in droves to see, say, Alanis Morissette, the Dixie Chicks, or Madonna? (She made headlines at Coachella without even being on the ticket.)
In fact, women are already showing up to music festivals in comparable numbers to men. According to research done by eventbrite, the representation of bands on the stage doesn’t even come close to matching the demographics of the audience they perform for. By analyzing 9,000 festival attendees (a small sample to be sure), Eventbrite found that over 50% of attendees are women.
Music festivals are rarely populated by Top 40 artists. Taylor Swift isn’t going to play Lollapalooza when she could make far more money on tour by herself. Because of that, music festivals are a great place to find middle-class musicians who are trying to make a living. By excluding women from these lineups, concert producers are giving male bands a boost in exposure and fan bases that women in music don’t have.
And if there really aren’t enough women creating music to populate 50% of these music festivals’ lineups, well, that’s an even bigger problem the music industry needs to address.