What makes a good line-up?

By Miles Hardman

Music festivals are in a period of transition at the moment; whichever one you attend, there are now all sorts of activities to partake in outside of the live band aspect. The main attention grabbing part of any live event, though, is still the line-up.

While it’s easy for organisers to hire the biggest names around to headline the more popular festivals year after year, the staleness of familiar bookings is hindering profits and overall public interest in such events. While a headline slot from The Killers, Muse or Rihanna is all very exciting, in the long-term these acts are going to start wearing out their welcome.

So in this day and age of economic downturn and increased access to television broadcasts, what does a festival line-up need to keep the vibe alive? Here are a few starters…

Next-generation headline acts

Watching the same acts dominate the highest billing positions at all the major festivals can get boring, so it’s important that smaller acts – albeit ones that can tackle a headline gig – get a taste for the most prestigious slots. Not only does this keep the experience fresh and interesting, but it’ll also help in the long-term with new options for future festivals.

2013 has seen Mumford & Sons more or less pull-off headline slots at both T in the Park and Glastonbury, as well as Queens of the Stone Age – a band more accustomed to sub-headline slots – accompany Arctic Monkeys and Primal Scream at the top of Benicassim’s line-up in Spain.

Keep an eye out for Foals, too, who are undoubtedly to be greeted by a plethora of headline offers after topping Latitude earlier this summer.


Broadened horizons

Sticking to one genre gives a festival a sense of identity for sure, but there’s no harm in mixing up the kinds of acts that are being booked, or even throwing in a few wild cards.

Not dissimilar to when Jay-Z was announced as Glastonbury’s headliner in 2008, Eminem has come under fire from many Reading and Leeds nay-sayers ahead of his performance at the festivals – one that takes place just a few hours from my writing this article!

A line-up shouldn’t be too mixed up though. Last year at R&L Bombay Bicycle Club found themselves among a parade of punk bands, much to their confusion. The point is: keep festival goers interested, regardless of the reaction.


Every festival has a unique selling point that sets it apart from the competition, and this is something that’s becoming ever more vital to its success. Some have their heritage to garner attention, others will keep the tone of the event more intimate, but the most important selling point is having acts booked that no other festival does.

Artists that don’t tour much might be up for a slot somewhere on a festival’s bill, or perhaps there’s an enthralling up-and-coming band that no one else has signed up that potential visitors will take notice to.

Maybe there’s even a band that could make a comeback to render a festival the must-attend event of the year… Oasis, we’re looking at you.

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