No ticket? Not to worry. In this age of cybereverything, pop fests increasingly are taking it to the next stage—online.
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If someone yells out “Free Bird!” at a computer screen, does it make a sound? In the Internet era, rock tours are coming to homes (and offices) near you; this summer’s websites range from glorified souvenir programs to on-air concerts. The latter concept remains in the developmental stage, but certain traditions remain: Even online, you can buy an overpriced T-shirt.

The most ambitious sites create a new kind of surf rock that literally brings it all back home. During the Intel New York Music Festival, held July 15-18 at clubs around the city, anyone with a Web browser and the right plug-ins could connect (at no charge) to http://www.intelfest.com and view live streaming-video broadcasts of 300-plus bands over four long nights. In my office I scrolled the cursor to one nightspot, and there, on the unfortunately small (2” x 2 1/2”) screen, was the belching punk of Texas hellcats REO Speedealer, complete with herky-jerky video delay. Tired of their throbbing gristle, I clicked to a handful of other clubs and, in doing so, viewed a wide range of nonmainstream rock, from Deni Bonet’s electric-fiddle hoedown to the fuzz-guitar blast of Benjamin Wagner Deluxe. Between sets, I had the choice of watching roadies change gear, perusing band chat rooms, or downloading a new Jesus and Mary Chain track recorded live the previous night. And if I’d stayed up long enough, I would’ve seen “special guest” Debbie Harry take the stage at 1 a.m.

If this was the “Woodstock of the Web” (Intel’s words), did I have to be wary of the brownout acid? Yep: Over the course of two nights, my PC crashed three times, the video occasionally stuttered, and some clubs broadcast audio only. But the sound was generally sharp (Ron Sexsmith’s twig-delicate ballads sounded as crystalline as on his CDs), and the music was varied enough to make the fest seem like the world’s coolest listening booth—with visuals.

Most tour sites, though, aren’t nearly as beefy as Intel’s. Keeping with Lilith Fair’s pop-pajama-party vibe, lilithfair.excite.com is friendly and nonthreatening, starting with the home page’s appealing mustard yellow graphics. It’s the best of the touring-festival sites: Clicking around the accessible layout brings up schedules of each show, interviews (Luscious Jackson talk about working with Happy Days‘ Anson Williams on a kids’ TV show), and photos from earlier gigs. An ongoing tour diary (by a writer for the site) is a smart twist; one day, it even complained about mediocre conditions at a venue in New Mexico. On the downside, it’s hard to decide what’s more annoying—the glaring Kodak and VW ads or the “Shopping!” area that reinforces the distaff cliches Lilith is meant to demolish.

The nuevo-hippie H.O.R.D.E. tour is less back-patting than Lilith, but that isn’t necessarily an advantage when it comes to home pages. http://www.hordefestival.com opens with a montage of black-and-white musician photos (Blues Traveler, Alana Davis, Barenaked Ladies, etc.) that’s duller than a 20-minute guitar solo, and the rest is the same sort of buzz kill. The site’s most helpful feature is its list of lineups and ticket availability for each show, plus the roughly precise times each band takes the stage. Also, it gets a bonus point for honesty. A rundown of previous H.O.R.D.E.’s notes the following about last year’s tour: “The music was too eclectic and diverse, and ticket sales suffered.” Digital bummer, man. Intel: B+ Lilith: B H.O.R.D.E.: B-

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