Some Coachella attendees enjoyed a seated, four-course meal at the desert music festival. Photo: Getty Images
Dancing-in-the-field season has only just begun, and already festivalgoers have feasted on blue crab hand-rolls, bacon-wrapped jalapenos, and BBQ brisket sandwiches between sets. They’ve washed down vegan orecchiette Bolognese with imported wine or craft beers from the tap, and some experienced a multi-course meal in the middle of the desert.
“The bar has been raised in the industry,” says Emily Stengel, the crowd services manager of C3 Presents, which produces large-scale music festivals like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. “It’s been trending for a few years — people don’t want a turkey leg or a funnel cake anymore.”
Lineups, tickets, and VIP experiences
Festival taste is evolving and the minds behind the music are proving to have their finger on the pulse of culinary America more than ever.
In April, Coachella set the stage by super-sizing both its curated food and seated-dining concept (for $225 a pop, diners chowed down plates from top L.A. eateries during a four-course meal). Shortly after, New Orleans’Jazz Fest amped up the grub lining its gyrating grounds with twists on classics, like a crawfish strudel and Italian chicken sausage po’boy.
And the festivals still to come promise not to disappoint.
Outside Lands will feature 78 restaurants, food trucks, and carts when it returns for its eighth year to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park — they even have a stage dedicated to all of the creative bites that Northern California has to offer. (Think: Ramenburgers, veggie korma rice bowls, sausages in a pretzel bun, and chicken and eggplant parm sandwiches.)
A music festival goer enjoys a skewer full of bacon at Outside Lands in S.F. Photo: Paige Parsons.
Tennessee staple Bonnaroo is bringing back its communal BonnaRoots dinner, which features a locally sourced, four-course feast for $50 or $75 per diner, and BaconLand, where attendees will be greeted with a menu of pork indulgences. Food truck newcomers will also be offering grass-fed burgers, vegetarian poutine, and organic ice cream.
Festival-wide, the shared sentiment is clear: “Consumers, you’ll have options.”
Not your typical festival fare
“There are things you can find only at the festivals,” explains Stengel, who has produced Lollapalooza’s food hub with curator and celebrity chef Graham Elliot since 2009. While their full menu won’t be announced until mid-July, Stengel teases one returning fan-favorite: Elliot’s lobster corn dogs. “They fly off the shelves.”
Now in its 11th year in Grant Park, “Lolla” (as it’s affectionately nicknamed) is an establishment in the music festival world. Each year, it accepts 40 local restaurants and vendors out of 100 applicants for its food court and Farmers Market. They have their process down to a science: “We’re serving good food with low wait times and good service. So the goal every year is just to make it better,” she says.
Music lovers chow down on grub from food trucks at NYC’s Governor’s Ball. (Photo: Mark Makela/Corbis)
“They wanted to get more things in the mix that represent NYC,” says the co-founder of the restaurant review site, Andrew Steinthal, about stacking 50 vendor slots with unique neighborhood establishments. “The lineup is a good compromise of places festivalgoers wouldn’t necessarily get to otherwise.”
For example, confections from Manhattan’s Momofuku Milk Bar, reinvented staples from Food Network Star Justin Warner’s Do or Dine out of Brooklyn, and “the best burrito in New York” (according to Steinthal), which hails from Taqueria Diana in the East Village. “People are going to be really fired up about Ramen Burger,” he adds. “That thing was made for Saturdays and Sundays, and hanging out in the middle of a field watching bands.”
Sure, the food lineup is secondary to the music (heavy-hitters Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Elton John are all upcoming headliners), but as Stengel points out: You have to eat, so why not make the food just as memorable?
“Our goal is to make it so there’s something for everyone: There are options for kids, and adults — there are options for vegans, people with gluten-free diets, and there are options for carnivores,” she says. The bottom line? “If people trust the experience and trust the food, and they know that you’re going to book great acts, then you will have a very loyal fanbase.”
And that is music to their ears.