I went to NYC’s newest music festival, and it’s the future of live music

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Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

I made the trek to Randalls Island in New York City this past weekend for Panorama Festival, the city’s newest three-day music festival put together by Goldenvoice, the promoters behind Coachella.

With temperatures topping 100 degrees and a lineup featuring big headliners like Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, and Kendrick Lamar, I expected the weekend to be ???? – both physically and performance-wise.

The most noticeable part of the festival, however, was a structural addition I didn’t expect to either notice or care about: the massive video screens attached to both the Panorama Stage (main stage) and the Pavilion Stage (second-largest stage).

Here was my experience of Panorama festival and what impressed me the most:


Here’s a look at the screen at the Panorama Stage:

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Run The Jewels performs on day three of the Panorama Festival.
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Theo Wargo/Getty Images

The Panorama Stage featured an LED screen that wrapped around the entire performance space. It’s 245 feet long and 36 feet tall at its highest point, according to Kyle Casey, the Panorama Festival director.

The Pavilion Stage, meanwhile, featured three screens. The one in the center was 32 feet wide and 18 feet tall, while the two screens on the side were 20 feet wide and 11 feet high.


Here’s what the screens at the Pavilion Stage looked like:

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Grace Potter performs on the Pavilion Stage.
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Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

This may seem like an odd thing to point out. Just about every large-scale concert, from festivals to amphitheater shows, has video screens to help the nobodies in the back see what the tiny figures in the distance are doing on stage.

But at Panorama, the screens seemed bigger.

Not only that – what was playing on the screens seemed far more thought out than at other shows and festivals I’ve attended. The cinematography of the artists’ performances had a concert documentarylike quality. Those behind the booth seemed to always know where to place the camera to give a particular part of a song the emphasis it needed to drive it home.

This suspicion was confirmed by Casey, who said VER and BML Blackbird, the companies that provided the screens for the Panorama Stage and the Pavilion Stage, respectively, collaborated with each artist’s team to make sure their prepared video content meshed with the camera work provided by the companies.

The more prominent artists, like the headliners and those playing just before, had their own personal video directors who called the shots and clearly knew the cues of each song.


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Matt Berninger of The National performs at the Panorama Festival.
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Theo Wargo/Getty Images

I never thought I would care about something like that. I usually make fun of the people staring at the video screens at a concert. Why go to a concert if you are going to just watch a screen?

But at Panorama, the camera work was so visually interesting on its own – and the screens so massive – that I found myself constantly looking up at them whether or not my view was blocked.

On top of that, many of the artists turned the video screens behind and around them into something approaching a video art piece that completely changed your experience of their performance.

Sia tricked half the crowd into thinking Paul Dano, Kristen Wiig, and Tig Notaro were dancing on the stage. Arcade Fire displayed a slideshow of David Bowie photos while singing 2013’s “Reflektor.” The National and Oh Wonder layered the performance footage over abstract colors, patterns, and lines that mimicked the aesthetic on their album covers.


And then there was Kendrick Lamar.

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Kendrick Lamar at Panorama.
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Theo Wargo/Getty Images

The current king of hip-hop took the video screens as his canvas, switching between live black-and-white footage of himself performing and the crowd jumping, and an ever-changing reel of looped historical footage thoughtfully chosen and spliced together for maximum effect.

There was a suitably Orwellian clip of Ronald and Nancy Reagan blown up to cover the entire screen, Ellen DeGeneres and Barack Obama hugging repeatedly, George W. Bush tripping on a curb, Michael Jordan driving to the hoop, and Bill O’Reilly cursing at the camera.

The loop was endless and mesmerizing, taking those in the audience back and forth through the last 60 years of televised history.


This video gives you a good idea of the kinds of footage playing during the set:


And here’s an iPhone video I took from inside the crowd:

At a festival presented by the technology site The Verge and sold with a tagline of “Music.Art.Technology,” the video screens and the way that the artists like Kendrick Lamar used them felt like the future of live music.

And I imagine that’s exactly what Goldenvoice wanted.


A few logistical notes for future festivalgoers:

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Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

• The lines to get in were mercifully short, even if security personnel had a tendency to be overzealous.

• There was a wide variety of reasonably priced – by Manhattan standards – food and drinks.

• The marketer activations (hello, American Express Access and HP Lounge!) were semi-creative and, at the least, unobtrusive. Nearly everyone required you to post a photo with their chosen hashtag to get a free bandana, sunglasses, or whatever else they were giving out. (Advertisers: Please stop this.)

• The second-largest stage was thankfully underneath a massive tent that kept the scorching sun away in the middle of the day.

• Artists’ sets weren’t jammed together so that you had to run from stage to stage, and set times seemed thoughtfully picked to ferry like-minded fans through the festival. One example: The National played on the main stage, followed by Sufjan Stevens on the secondary stage, thus making way for fans of Kendrick Lamar.

• Panorama had only three stages instead of the four that Governors Ball, Panorama’s NYC competitor, had. The downside: fewer artists to choose from. The upside was that each stage could play its sound system at full volume without noise pollution at other stages.

• The Lab “interactive experience” was only mildly interesting, except for the virtual-reality theater, which was worth every minute I spent in the line waiting for it.

• Getting out of Randalls Island only felt mildly like the escape scene from a zombie apocalypse movie. (This is probably endemic to holding a massive event on a small island.)