Rock festivals reach out to multicultural audience

International band presence is increasing at large music festivals across the US.

As minority populations grow and the mainstream goes multicultural, event promoters are adding diversity to their band lineups. Lollapalooza, which was held in Chicago the weekend of Aug 4-6, is no exception.

Between the downtown skyscrapers and Lake Michigan in Grant Park, Lollapalooza saw 130 bands on 8 stages, with diverse acts such as headliner Manu Chao (born from Spanish parents in Paris), Wolfmother (Australia), and Asheba (Trinidad).

"This is a kick-ass lineup!" said Perry Ferrell, Jane's Addiction front man and Lollapalooza mastermind.

Promoter and Capital Sports CEO Charlie Jones: "We are really interested in reaching out to as many people as possible, including all of Chicago's different music communities."

In its 1990s heyday, Lollapalooza was a successful traveling tour full of hard rock, punk, and alternative rock acts.

But the event fell on hard times financially and artistically and folded; the 2004 comeback was disappointingly canceled. In 2005, however, the festival was reinvented as a two-day "destination festival" in Chicago's Grant Park.

It offfers more than a traveling show can: local culture and art, kid's activities, diversity, community, and, of course, lots of good music. And it was successful again. This was not a truly original idea.

Lollapalooza's switch to a diverse multi-day festival format was partly inspired by the recent success of the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee. In danger of extinction just a few years ago, many of these mega concerts returned to their roots in Woodstock, offering multi-day events. Bonnaroo started in 2002 with a focus on local Southern artists and jam bands.

The Bonnaroo music festival, which sported three full days of eclectic music on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee, offered musical diversity, with acts such as Seu Jorge (Brazil), Damian Marley (Jamaica), Dungen (Sweden), Amadou & Mariam (Mali), and headliner Radiohead (England).

While many fans were pleasantly surprised by this, it was not an accident.

Co-founder Jonathan Mayers explains: "We want to challenge our audience and we want to introduce people to new music and artists that they've never seen," he says. "We always wanted to expand and open up our programming to include a lot of different types of music."

In turn, Bonnaroo was inspired by Coachella, an alternative and progressive music festival started in 1999 in California. Earlier this year Cochella saw Segur Ros, Seu Jorge (Brazil), and Dungen. For a true Latino event experience, check out the free upcoming Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival and Art Fair (Aug 26-27, 300 S. Columbus).

While the lineups are becoming more diverse, the crowds that these music festivals are attracting have changed less.

As minority populations grow, a new mainstream of multi-cultural consumers is emerging.

Guy Garcia, the author of "The New Mainstream: How the Multicultural Consumer is Transforming American Business," says these new consumers are changing the texture of American society, incuding the music business.

"In a consumer environment where non-whites will make up 50 percent of the population by 2050," says Garcia, "the New Mainstream has become critical for business survival."

A future challenge for existing music festival, and an opportunity for new ones, will be to attract a more diverse crowd and tap into the power and potential of the New Mainstream. "The world has changed," Farrell told the New York Times in 2005. "I'm not afraid of the mainstream. The mainstream is not such bad people."