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Who Goes to North Coast? An Investigation

The electronic/jam festival has run for six consecutive Labor Day weekends in Union Park. Who’s showing up, and for how long will they keep coming back?

Dudes being dudes at North Coast 2014.   Photo: Joshua Mellin

I had some fun Wednesday picking Nine Bands That Are Actually Worth Seeing at North Coast. Snark aside, it wasn’t difficult: This year is the first that the festival, which runs this weekend in Union Park, has booked anyone outside its typical beach-party electronic/jam blend, with D’Angelo and the Roots stuck awkwardly between Steve Aoki and the Disco Biscuits.

What I hadn’t realized was how much actual overlap there’s been in North Coast’s lineups over the years. In the festival’s six-year run (including this weekend), Future Rock has been booked all six times. The Disco Biscuits have played three times. Atmosphere, Steve Aoki, Bassnectar, Nas, Pretty Lights, Green Velvet, Lotus, Alesso, Benny Benassi, Zeds Dead, STS9, and Umphrey’s McGee have all played the festival twice. If you account for owner React Presents’ other festivals Spring Awakening and Mamby on the Beach, the overlap is worse (Paul Van Dyk, Afrojack, Excision, Phantogram, Cashmere Cat), and to fill North Coast’s roster through its 2017 deal with Union Park, they’ll probably have to double-dip again.

Which raises the question: Who’s showing up to North Coast for Future Rock every year, and for how long will they keep coming back? The 20,000-a-day festival draws neither the global crowd of Lolla (anybody willing spend a hundy on Paul McCartney) nor the niche devotees of Pitchfork (people who read music blogs), and its fan base is consequently vague.

A quick glance at this magazine’s photos from recent years shows the crowd you’d expect: hoola-hippies, teenagers, bros, high people, and, most importantly, college kids with disposable income. North Coast’s own data backs this up: In 2010, more than half of its attendees were ages 18 to 24. 61 percent were college grads (the other 39 checked high school or some college), 66 percent had a household income greater than $75,000, and 70 percent were white. 2011 didn’t look much different.

Of course, the kids rolling up for Pretty Lights in 2010 have since graduated and joined the workforce and probably bought pets, and if they still care about Pretty Lights at all, they don’t care worth $90 and a crowd of 20,000. North Coast is feeling them drift, too: While the festival sold out two of three days last year after bumping its capacity to 20,000 daily, tickets remain for all three days this year.

Enter D’Angelo: Smart, nonabrasive, and borderline adult contemporary. To retain its advertising base, North Coast needs to either attract a new crop of sub-24s—viable before co-owners React Presents introduced a directly competitive electronic festival, Mamby on the Beach, in July—or cater to its aging fan base.

According to co-founder Michael Berg, they’ve gone with the latter. “2015 is programmed to an older crowd,” he told Consequence of Sound this week when asked about the festival’s new 17-plus age limit.

What he didn’t get into is that if React keeps buying the right talent, North Coast could usurp a chunk of Lolla’s fed-up Gen-Xers while simultaneously ushering Millennials toward Mamby and Spring Awakening. This year, that might just look like a different crowd at D’Angelo’s Saturday night set. But in another six years, it could mean a whole new corner on local music.

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