From day one, traditional American music-festivalgoers have been a little confused about Rock in Rio USA. Its acts are more IHeartRadio than Coachella. It will require attendees to pay exclusively with their admission wristbands. There’s no parking despite being smack in the middle of a city with too much of it. And what the hell is a Rock Street anyway?
Rock in Rio has caused me to wrinkle my brow, as well—and I’ve actually been to one. Last year I attended the Lisbon edition, and as I walked through the gates I felt like a festival virgin for the first time since Lollapalooza ’94. Here I was at a Portuguese music fest with bagpipe players in kilts approaching me while I waited in line for a Heineken. (And yes, the legend holds true—Heineken tastes much better overseas.) Fans were learning dance routines and falling three stories onto giant billowy landings. The longest line was for free inflatable chairs. I saw Lorde zipline a few hundred feet away from a performing Arcade Fire. And if all of that hadn’t sufficiently thrown me, discovering that people outside the U.S. like Linkin Park did the trick.
Rock in Rio seeks to stand out from a glutted and heavily cloned American festival market by being not just populist—is there anyone more popular than Taylor Swift?—and high-tech, but experiential. Atmosphere and amenities are as considered as the performer lineup. Which is why structures and facades make Rock in Rio look less like Life Is Beautiful and more like Six Flags. Or Las Vegas, for that matter.