Why FYF Fest’s cancellation feels like such a discouraging setback

Janet Jackson was set to headline this year’s FYF Fest, which organizers announced Sunday had been canceled.
(Solaiman Fazel)
Pop Music Critic

Well, this is a bummer.

FYF Fest announced Sunday that it had canceled this year’s edition of the annual festival, which was set to be held July 21 and 22 at Exposition Park with headliners Janet Jackson and Florence + the Machine.

In a statement, the show’s powerful Los Angeles-based promoter, Goldenvoice, said its “team of many women and men … felt unable to present an experience on par with the expectations of our loyal fans and the Los Angeles music community.”

Who knows what that’s supposed to mean?


Yet Billboard provided one interpretation when the trade publication reported that Goldenvoice had pulled the plug on FYF due to low ticket sales — a deeply discouraging development given that the show’s lineup represented an important step in the effort to bring gender parity to an overwhelmingly male-dominated festival scene.

In addition to Jackson and Florence + the Machine, FYF was to feature acts including St. Vincent, the Breeders, the xx, U.S. Girls, My Bloody Valentine, Kali Uchis, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lucy Dacus. The high proportion of female acts put the festival significantly ahead of other big events such as Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, neither of which has a female headliner this year.

For FYF, the representation of women seemed particularly important as it followed Goldenvoice’s split last year with the show’s founder, Sean Carlson, after he was accused by several women of sexual abuse and assault. The company replaced him at FYF’s helm with Jennifer Yacoubian, a Goldenvoice veteran who’d previously booked shows at the El Rey Theatre and the Shrine Auditorium.

When I spoke with Yacoubian in March, she insisted that she hadn’t designed the 2018 edition in response to the allegations against Carlson (or, for that matter, to the growing demand for more balanced festival bills).

But she acknowledged that the presence of “badass, strong women” contributed to a lineup that “felt so perfect and right and different and unique.”

Now that vision has been more or less rejected, at least if ticket sales were as poor as reported. (An FYF representative didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment.)

And that can’t help but register as a setback to anyone who looks to pop music as a maker of change — and as a place where all voices can be heard.

Perhaps a female president was too much to ask of America. But a music festival with two women on top in 2018?

I’d have thought we could handle such a radical idea.

To be clear, there are plenty of other reasons FYF might not have appealed to ticket buyers — reasons, I mean, that have nothing to do with anyone’s dragging his knuckles into the future.

For one thing, though the festival has improved in recent years, FYF has a long history of user-unfriendliness: long lines to get in, ineffective crowd control, last-minute pull-outs like the time Frank Ocean bailed just days before he was due to headline in 2015.

There’s also the fact that Jackson, who’d been positioned as the festival’s main attraction, isn’t exactly hard to see this summer, with appearances at other major festivals including Essence Fest in New Orleans, Panorama in New York and Outside Lands in nearby San Francisco.

At a moment of festival over-saturation, none of those bookings did anything to help establish FYF as a must-see event, which is how the show was rightly perceived in 2017 thanks to rare appearances by Missy Elliott and Ocean, who made up for his earlier cancellation with an unforgettable performance.

Indeed, many of the other acts that were set to play FYF this year can easily be seen elsewhere in the next few months; some, including Uchis and St. Vincent, appeared just last month at Goldenvoice’s flagship production, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio.

Another possibility is that potential attendees were put off by the idea of patronizing FYF in wake of Carlson’s alleged abuse. Perhaps stories of his alleged behavior simply rendered the brand too toxic to support — though that seems unlikely given the lack of identifiable concern among Coachella-goers over reported contributions to various conservative causes by that festival’s co-owner, Philip Anschutz of AEG.

In a counterintuitive way, that widespread apathy might be the (very meager) silver lining to the dark cloud of FYF’s defeat.

When I wrote admiringly a few weeks ago about the festival’s progressive lineup, more than a few readers got in touch to lodge familiar complaints about how liberals’ obsession with diversity had infected one more cultural institution that might be better served by a color- or gender-blind approach.

Yet the apparent disinterest in this year’s show puts the lie to that popular notion — it demonstrates that the so-called thought police on the left haven’t actually succeeded in silencing the voice of the free market.

And that, hopefully, will make it just a little bit harder for anyone to haul out that specious argument the next time some forward-looking presenter tries to pass the mike to an underrepresented voice.

Assuming, of course, that FYF’s failure doesn’t scare off the somebody eager to take that worthwhile risk.

Twitter: @mikaelwood