Center Stage: 21 Words to Know for Music Festival Season

1. Bonnaroo
This festival name may bring to mind a bonanza of kangaroos, but bonnaroo is actually a Creole slang word that means “best on the street.” The inspiration for this festival name was the 1974 album Desitively Bonnaroo by jazz legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dr. John. Desitive is an obscure term meaning “conclusive.” This year, Capital Cities, Kanye West, and Vampire Weekend were among those on stage at Bonnaroo, which took place in Manchester, Tennessee, June 12–15.

2. Because
Childish Gambino’s latest album title, Because the Internet, does more than allude to cat videos and binge-watching; it also places him at the forefront of linguistic trends. This playful title highlights a new use of the old term because, the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year for 2013. As chair of the society’s New Word Committee, Ben Zimmer explained in January, “No longer does because have to be followed by of or a full clause. Now one often sees tersely worded rationales like ‘because science’ or ‘because reasons.’” Childish Gambino, also known as Donald Glover, will be spreading the linguistic gospel (with beats and melody) at Austin City Limits in October, because talent.

Diplo 1503. Diplodocus
Diplodocus is the name of a huge herbivorous dinosaur from the Late Jurassic Epoch with a very long neck and tail; the Greek diplo means “double,” and dokos means “beam,” together referring to a series of chevron-shaped bones in this sauropod’s tail. Diplodocus is also the inspiration for the name of the popular electronic musician (and dinosaur lover) known as Diplo, who will be getting tails shaking in the audience this summer at the TomorrowWorld Festival in Atlanta, which takes place September 26–28.

4. Coachella
The name of this California festival finds its origin in a spelling error. Before 1900, the area we now know as Coachella Valley was referred to as Conchilla, a Spanish word meaning “little shell.” The valley earned this name due to the abundance of fossilized shells in the landscape. Conchilla was misspelled as Coachella on an official map, and the error stuck. Honoring its legacy of nonstandard spelling, Coachella boasted a lineup full of orthographically challenging names this year, including Cajmere, Chvrches, and The Preatures.

5. Lazaretto
The title of Jack White’s latest solo album, Lazaretto, suggests appropriately bluesy themes of isolation and woe. Lazaretto is defined as “a hospital for those affected with contagious diseases, especially leprosy,” or “a building or ship set apart for quarantine purposes.” The word can be traced back to Lazarus from the Bible, a diseased beggar whose name means “one God has helped” in Hebrew. The former White Stripe will be rattling bones with his searing guitar riffs and pulsing rhythms at the Newport Folk Festival and the Forecastle Festival this summer.

bumbershoot 1506. Bumbershoot
A nod to of the soggy reputation of the city in which this festival takes place, the word bumbershoot is a slang synonym for umbrella. Bumber is thought to be a playful alteration of the word umbrella, and shoot a variation on chute from parachute. Despite its reputation for rain, Seattle’s annual rainfall comes in behind Boston’s, New York’s, and Atlanta’s. The melodies of Foster the People, Elvis Costello, and The Head and the Heart will be raining down on attendees at this year’s festival, August 30–September 1.

7. Lollapalooza
Lollapalooza, the now Chicago-based festival that began in 1991, gets its name from the event’s creator and singer of Jane’s Addiction, Perry Farrell. Looking for a name for his new festival, Farrell turned to a dictionary, thumbing through the thin pages until he found the perfect word. defines lollapalooza as “an extraordinary or unusual thing, person, or event.”

8. Maladroit
Many music fans know the term maladroit thanks to Weezer’s 2002 album, which uses this borrowed French term as its title. This word meaning “unskillful, awkward, bungling, and tactless” was suggested to Weezer as an album title on their fan message board. Now a seasoned rock star, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo might seem far from maladroit to his fanboys and girls. You can see Weezer playing the festival circuit this summer at Aftershock Festival in Sacramento and Riot Fest in Denver.

foo fighter 1509. Foo Fighter
Foo Fighter fans might think Dave Grohl’s talent is otherworldly, but what does his band’s name have to do with UFOs? The expression foo fighter was used by US pilots and radar operators in World War II to refer to any unidentified flying object emitting light. The term foo had been popularized as a nonsense word in the 1930s by cartoonist Bill Holman in his comic strip “Smokey Stover.” Additionally, the titular character in his strip called himself a foo fighter instead of a fire fighter. The Foo Fighters will be lighting up the stage at the Firefly Music Festival, which takes place in Dover, Delaware, June 19–22.

10. Heist
The name of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s Grammy-winning album also happens to be an Americanism from the 1920s. Heist means “a robbery or holdup,” and is thought to be an alteration of the word hoist, “to raise or lift.” Another fun word fact: the first element of this Seattle rapper’s stage name, mackle, is defined as “a blur in printing, as from a double impression,” or “to blur, as from a double impression in printing.” Macklemore will be performing at Outside Lands in San Francisco in August.

11. Underbutt
Last year, the term underbutt bounced beyond the heavily trodden fields of festival grounds to the scholarly field of linguists, where it received the high honor of “Most Outrageous Word of 2013” at the official Word of the Year vote, held by the American Dialect Society. Members of this scholarly association defined underbutt as “the underside of the buttocks, made visible by certain shorts or underwear.” Perhaps next year academics will be arguing over the linguistic significance of the underboob as popularized by Beyoncé.

12.  wayfarer square 150Wayfarer
The word wayfarer has two uses appropriate for music festivals: this term entered English in the mid-1400s as a word for a traveler, especially on foot. In the 1950s, however, Ray-Ban borrowed this poetic-sounding word as the name for their classic model of sunglasses, which took the 1980s by storm thanks in part to Tom Cruise, who famously sported them in the iconic 1980s film Risky Business, and Canadian crooner Corey Hart, who invited a generation to consider the merits of sporting shades post-nightfall with his hit single “Sunglasses at Night.” The frame remains wildly popular, and has inspired an endless supply of knockoffs sure to be spotted at any summer fest, sometimes paired with underbutt.

13. Major-domo
The term major-domo refers to “a man in charge of a great household” or “a chief steward.” Major-domo also appears regularly in reference to Skrillex, the DJ who many have come to view as the steward of electronic dance music. This music-festival mainstay performed at Bonnaroo on June 15.

14. Orpheus
Arcade Fire’s 2013 album Reflektor is peppered with literary references, most notably in the song “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus).” Orpheus is the name of a character in Greek mythology renowned for his superhuman musical talents; he marries a nymph named Eurydice, who is mentioned in the title of the companion song “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice).” When Eurydice dies from a snakebite, a bereft Orpheus descends to the underworld determined to retrieve her. Persephone and Hades find Orpheus’s music so beautiful that they agree to let Orpheus bring Eurydice back to the living under one condition: they must never look back. When the reunited couple is entering back into the light of the living, Orpheus breaks this rule by looking back toward Eurydice, and she disappears forever. Arcade Fire appeared at Coachella and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and will play at the Squamish Valley Music Festival in Squamish, British Columbia, on August 9.

hootenanny15. Hootenanny
Next time your friends mention they’re headed to a hootenanny, tag along. This fun-to-say term, which The Replacements borrowed for the title of their classic 1983 album, means “a social gathering or informal concert featuring folk singing and, sometimes, dancing.” Note the term originally meant “a gadget for which the speaker does not know or has forgotten the name” when it entered English in the early 1900s. The Replacements will be inciting hootenannies all over the country this summer with performances at festivals including Boston Calling, Summer Ends Music Festival in Arizona, and Austin City Limits.

16. Pitchfork
The name of this Chicago-based festival is more than a reference to a long-handled fork for lifting hay. Ryan Schreiber, the founder of the online publication that hosts this festival, has said that the inspiration for the publication name came from the 1983 movie Scarface. In the film, Al Pacino’s character, Tony Montana, has a tattoo of a pitchfork, which indicates that he is an assassin. Schreiber told the Washington Post that when he launched the magazine, noted for its pointed style of criticism, “it was really about laying into people who really deserved it.” This year, the Pitchfork Music Festival will take place July 18–20 and will feature Kendrick Lamar, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Beck.

17. Guero
Beck will be playing festivals this summer in promotion of his latest album Morning Phase, but audience members will no doubt be requesting tracks off of his 2005 album, Guero. Güero is a Spanish slang term meaning “light-skinned,” “fair,” “blond”; Beck has said that he was called this word growing up in East Los Angeles. In addition to the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago in July, fans can catch Beck at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, and at First City Festival in Monterey, California, in August.

transatlanticism 15018. Transatlanticism
The word Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie used as the title for his iconic 2003 album Transatlanticism is defined in a write-up on Pitchfork as the “incomprehensible emotional gap between two lovers separated by comprehensible distances—the continental United States, an entire ocean, or, most likely, just a couple of floors in your freshman dorm.” This sense has not yet found its way into’s pages, but if Gibbard’s romantic coinage comes into widespread use, that could change. Death Cab for Cutie will be playing at Outside Lands in San Francisco in August.

19. Porta-Potti
One staple of festivals that is sure to be a crowd pleaser regardless of your music persuasion is the Porta-Potti. This trademarked name for a portable toilet graced the English language in 1968. The prefix porta- has been applied to portable items since the late 1950s, and is sometimes used in science fiction to describe future technologies, as in Dwellers in the Crucible, a 1985 Star Trek novel chronicling the friendship between James T. Kirk and Spock. Margaret Wander Bonanno writes: “The leader turned to the two who flanked him, one of whom held a small portascreen upon which he studied certain images.” Of course now we call such futuristic devices smartphones.

20. Phantogram
The band Phantogram creates a dreamy and richly textured electro landscape in their music. This is fitting as their name comes from a term for an optical illusion in which two-dimensional images appear to be three-dimensional when viewed from a certain vantage. The phantogram takes its place beside other types of optical illusions, such as the paradox illusion exemplified in the impossible cube by MC Escher and the random dot autostereogram illusion found in Magic Eye images. Fans can experience an aural illusion at Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Phantogram will play on July 5.

woodstock 15021. Woodstock
The New York town Woodstock provided the name for 1969 era-defining three-day music festival that featured the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, and Sly and the Family Stone. The festival was held in Bethel, New York, on a farm; the town of Woodstock ultimately denied the festival planners permission to hold their iconic “Three Days of Peace and Music” there. However the name stuck. Now the word Woodstock evokes a historic period in late 1960s counterculture.


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