NXNE: Why This Year Was Different

There’s so much more that goes into organizing a festival than booking a solid lineup. Finding venues, organizing schedules and acquiring sponsors are amongst the many issues that any festival organizer must deal with in order to make an event a success. When a given festival increases in popularity, however, a new infrastructural problem emerges: crowd control. This was a problem faced by Osheaga organizers two years ago as the sheer number of festival-goers completely clogged Parc Jean Drapeau and made it almost impossible to walk between stages. The problem was eventually solved for last year’s iteration of the festival but many lamented that festival organizers didn’t do a better job of predicting the inherent problems that come with the festival’s expanding popularity. The organizers of North by Northeast, on the other hand, dealt with this problem exquisitely.

The people behind NXNE made two crucial organizational decisions that both helped ensure every musical performance within the festival felt raucous but not crowded. The first of these decisions was having some headliners play their free shows at Yonge-Dundas square. The square is a great place to watch a free concert, but it can get cramped if you book an act that will attract too many people. NXNE’s organizers faced this issue in previous years, as bands like The National and The Flaming Lips brought capacity crowds to the square, which made it difficult or uncomfortable for many casual fans to take in the music. In choosing this year’s headliners (Sleigh Bells, St. Vincent, Spoon and Juicy J), NXNE expertly booked four acts with strong core followings whose fan bases were still small enough so as to not overcrowd Yonge-Dundas square. Every single performance in the square offered energetic but not suffocating crowds and excellent sight lines. This kind of quality concert-going experience cannot be chalked up to mere coincidence; it’s simply expert planning.

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The second crucial decision made by NXNE’s organizers that helped mitigate crowd congestion had to do with scheduling. NXNE’s organizers made sure that, for every show with the ability to draw massive crowds, there was also a scheduled show that would draw some of that crowd away. A perfect example of this could be seen last Friday night. One of NXNE’s most anticipated shows was Danny Brown’s midnight set at the Mod Club. Schedulers clearly anticipated that Brown’s rabid fan base had the potential to bring the Mod Club to capacity so they wisely scheduled A$AP Ferg’s performance at Tattoo Rock Parlour at the same time, in order to relieve some of the pressure. Some might argue that this sort of conflict leaves fans who were hoping to catch both acts disappointed. However, I would argue that seeing one of these performers in an awesome but not overcrowded environment is significantly more enjoyable than attending two overpacked shows where you might not be able to find a spot in the first place.

At the end of the day, NXNE was a impressively-organized and decongested affair. When it comes to attending a music festival a trend clearly on the rise, there’s not much more a fan could ask for.

Photo courtesy of NXNE