Have music festivals lost their festive spirit? And does it even matter?
As we’re in the middle of festival season we’ve had some thoughts on this years landscape.
And whether you’re the sort of person who recruits your entire extended family in an attempt to bag a Glastonbury ticket each year or not, you’ll find them hard to avoid if you frequent the internet.
It’s no surprise that constant festival coverage is inevitable; with over 450 music festivals in the UK (and countless others offering a new level of escapism abroad) festivalgoers have become like kids with a Christmas Argos catalogue – overloaded by choice, not sure what’s going to be in this year and, perhaps unlike children, where they’re going to get the most bang for their buck.
But has too much choice killed the spirit of festivals, along with rising ticket prices, bigger crowds, and ridiculous band fees that seem to have diminished that sought-after Woodstock vibe?
As one day festivals continue to add further strings to the industry’s bow, so has the idea ended that setting up camp and roughing it in a muddy campsite surrounded by fellow music lovers that, for better or worse, may keep you up all night is an integral part of the experience. Turn up, listen to the music and leave. Great, of course, for those who can’t stand the idea of not showering for five days but hardly the rite of passage that comes with embarking on a five day adventure and bonding with your friends (whilst making new ones) for an extended stay in a temporary community set up for your pleasure.
Boutique festivals are also to thank for the abundance of choice that has sprung up in the last decade – no longer are the muddy fields of England subjected to just a handful of festivals safe in the comfort that their line up will make it a sellout. Consumers are now able to cherry-pick their experiences based on everything from musical taste to their political interests – and why shouldn’t they when money is tight and festivals are expensive!?
The rise of the boutique festival seems to be based on the idea that the big festivals have lost their charm – they’ve sold out to commercial interests, the mainstream, and are so out of touch that they can’t come up with anyone better than Ed Sheeran to be a headliner.
Secret Garden Party’s success, for example, was never about the line up, but about the new ways in which it would offer unique experiences that you wouldn’t find elsewhere – an adult playground that never pretended to be anything else. Who doesn’t want to stumble through a portaloo and into a field of sunflowers, are we right!?
With more choice comes more sub-par players on the field, however, and where some get it right and go on to earn themselves a seat at the table, boutique festivals can sometimes feel like a call for exclusivity based on a certain demographic or snobbery of the musical variety.
Despite a crowded playing field, however, there does appear to be a filter for those that do and don’t have staying power – regardless of your line up or offering of weird and wonderful activities, if you can’t bring the sense of communality, escape, freedom, and revelry that consumers seek ever more frequently, you probably won’t be around next year anyway – we’re looking at you, Fyre Festival.
Surely the key to Glastonbury’s success is that it has never lost the qualities listed above despite its behemoth status; with the plethora of ever-changing activities it offers, the diverse music that graces its many stages, and vast range of ages it attracts each year, people are willing to embrace the more commercial aspects, especially when the main sponsor – EE – is acting in a ‘brand as servant’ fashion by providing juice for everybody’s phones.
And whether you save up to buy your ticket or can afford it no problem, you know there’ll be something for you at the festival and, most importantly, you’ll feel welcome. Ultimately, this has got to be the magical formula that makes it the only festival to sell out every year in less than an hour anymore.
Though it’s a shame that choice, commercialization, and sometimes tribalism can go against the festival spirit, change might not necessarily be a bad thing. The rise of the boutique and one-day festival has opened up festivals to many people who would never have considered attending before thanks to glamping, niche line-ups, and bespoke offerings whilst the big hitters like Glastonbury, Bestival, Download & Reading and Leeds must stay on their toes to keep giving something attractive to their consumers.
And, surely if we’re talking about inclusivity, the real spirit of the festival has got to be ‘the more the merrier’?