Steve Waksman (Smith College, USA)

Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman Professor of American Studies; Professor of Music

Keynote: A Homecoming: Why Beychella Matters

The video of the Zoom discussion will be up shortly


When Beyoncé performed at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, she became the third woman to headline the festival since its start in 1999, as well as the first African American woman to assume the headlining slot. Using the tag “Beychella” on social media and announced from the stage, Beyoncé was able to control the narrative surrounding her performance and at least temporarily, insinuate her own personal brand onto the identity of the festival. In this presentation, I use Beyoncé’s 2018 performance at Coachella as a medium through which to reflect on some of the ways in which live music has evolved in the twenty-first century. The first half of the presentation examines Coachella as a case study for the redefinition of U.S. music festivals that began to take hold at the turn of the century, a phenomenon that was shaped by the larger trend toward corporate consolidation that began to dominate the live music industry at the time. The emergence of Coachella as the premier festival of its era sets the backdrop for a consideration of why Beyoncé’s headline appearance had the public impact that it did. Her decision to frame her performance as a simulated “homecoming” event at a Historically Black College or University, in turn, marked Beyoncé’s effort to use the festival as a forum for staking out new ground as an African American artist within a live music and festival economy that has typically cast black performers, and black female performers especially, in marginal positions.


Steve Waksman has turned a lifelong involvement with music as a player and listener into a career as a scholar of rock and pop. Professor of music and American studies at Smith College, he joined the Smith faculty in 2001 after receiving his doctorate in American studies at the University of Minnesota. His research and teaching interests range widely across the subjects of U.S. popular music and popular culture, with particular specialty in the study of live music, music genres, music technology and musical instruments (especially the guitar).

Waksman’s publications include the books Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience (Harvard University Press, 1999) and This Ain’t the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk (University of California Press, 2009), the latter of which was awarded the 2010 Woody Guthrie Award for best scholarly book on popular music by the U.S. chapter of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. He has contributed essays to several journals and edited collections, including the Cambridge Companion to the Guitar, the Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the WorldListen Again: A Momentary History of Pop and Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music Around the World. In 2008 Waksman was the keynote speaker at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s American Music Masters event honoring the legacy of musician and inventor Les Paul. In 1998 Waksman’s dissertation on the electric guitar won the Ralph Henry Gabriel prize awarded by the American Studies Association.

Currently, Waksman is researching a new book on the cultural history of live music and performance in the United States, tentatively titled “Live Music in America: A History from Jenny Lind to Jay-Z.” With Reebee Garofalo, he is the co-author of the sixth edition of the popular rock history textbook Rockin’ Out: Popular Music in the U.S.A., and with Andy Bennett, he is co-editor of the Sage Handbook of Popular Music.