The last major music festival I attended was many moons ago and was the Pink Pop festival in Holland. It was a great line up and my favorite band was Morphine who opened the festival. I also got to see Crowded House and Bjork who were both superb. A few decades on, I’m less enthusiastic for a variety of reasons both as an attendee and/or a performer.

Great menu, but not perhaps the best “meal?”

One of the advantages of attending music festivals is that you get to see a whole host of acts all in one place. That can also be a minus, when the set lengths are usually pretty limited. As a music fan I like to see a full artist set and usually festival sets are massively reduced in terms of length and there’s not a great opportunity for proper sound checks. As a performer a very short set length can be challenging, which it itself is not a bad thing, but the set is under 30 minutes, these days I’m not really a fan. This is because everything tends to be a bit hyperactive in terms of artist changeovers and my own research suggests that the public also are not fans of really short sets.

A good example of this was playing one of the ukulele festivals in 2016 and 2017. It was a good experience for the band as an early outing, but on both occasions there was an issue with sound on stage. As an artist its extremely frustrating to be squeezed into doing a 20 minute set and find you can’t hear your own instrument and/or vocal!

This way of working in booking loads of artists for real short set lengths may be great for promoters who can show a big range of acts on a poster, but its in my view not the best experience for artist and attendee. Yes, you can argue that festivals remain very popular, but I would respectfully suggest that often the primary focus is not musical enjoyment, but rather a social gathering. That’s 100% a valid reason to attend, but not my personal preference!

Good value for money?

Another reason why I’m mostly not a fan is the cost of attending such events. Even the small niche music events can be 50 – 60 sterling for to get in, but then there’s often also additional costs in, accommodation and food costs. Some of these events charge extra for workshops (which can be just 60 minutes which is not ideal for any actual learning) and so costs start to crank. Quite quickly this can become a three figure cost, which is tougher in these economic times. Of course this is 100% a personal view and clearly many will be happy to pay what I would consider huge amounts of money to stand in a field where the sound of the artists is not great. The alternative is an indoor events can also be not ideal in this covid era. I may have had a different view twenty years ago, but these days I’m far more picky!

Super fans?

In relation to UK festivals, research suggests 28% of festival goers are festival super fans, attending an average of four festivals a year. To define the true festival super fan, its useful to look at several factors including their average festival ticket spend, how many festivals they attend, how influential they are in getting friends to go, how often they go back to the same festivals. The following stats are interesting to say the least –

  1. Festival Super Fans (28% of all festival goers; attend an average of four (3.9) festivals
    each year)
  2. Moderate Festival Goers (34% of all festival goers; attend two festivals each year),
  3. Casual Festival Goers (38% of all festival goers; attend one festival each year).

The effect of covid

Although covid 19 is not highlighted so much in the news, covid remains a real problem for many artists. Here are just some of the artists in 2022 who have cancelled festival appearances – https://www.billboard.com/business/touring/2022-concerts-canceled-festivals-covid-19-1235017924/

In recent discussions with Jim Glennie from James, Jim confirmed how covid remains a real problem for major artists. As Eric Clapton discovered, regardless of your vaccination ideas, the virus really doesn’t really care and you can find your entire schedule cancelled often at short notice.

Conclusion

Of course these are totally personal views and I’d rather be say in The Village Vanguard with 125 capacity, all seated and excellent acoustics! On leaving the event I can hail a cab in 5 minutes and not be queuing for hours to exit the festival location! My interest is always for the love of music and seeking out the best environments for this. I’m not ruling out attending any such events or playing at such events in the future, but I’ll be pretty selective in my choices.

Audience with hands raised at a music festival and lights streaming down from above the stage. Soft focus, blurred movement.

Music festival experiences and why I’m mostly not a fan these days…

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