Can a variety of music festivals survive in today’s crowded market?

This year’s festival season is fast approaching but it’s more than likely that those heading to enjoy a weekend of live music will be leaving their wellies and tents at home.

Festivals have adapted and changed over time, with many smaller and indoor festivals being added to the bill over the last few years.

Despite the big events like Reading, Isle of Wight and Glastonbury remaining highly popular today – all of which started in the late 60s and early 70s – the total amount listed on eFestivals has more than doubled from 496 in 2007 to 1070 in 2016.

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This means that festival-goers can still spend the weekend caked in mud if they so wish, but there are now many alternatives available.

If spending the weekend in a tent sounds like hell, music fans can head to a day festival, such as Live at Leeds, and stay in a hotel room afterwards instead.

If the weather plays a big factor in the decision, festival-goers can combine a summer holiday with a long weekend of live music at Portugal’s NOS Alive or Benicassim in Spain.

Cumbria is just one area in the UK which has seen the recent increase of local music festivals first-hand, with family-friendly Magic Orchard first taking place in 2015.

The organisers described their first October weekend as a “huge success” and the festival returned the following year.

“Until the last few years, the county had a handful of traditional festivals – guitar bands, a field, a stage and some tents – but not much else,” says Karl Steel of Cumbria Live.

“What has changed is that seemingly anyone with access to a field has at least considered the prospect of staging a festival, while there has been a vast increase in the number of indoor festivals spread across various venues in a town.”

Karl believes that the rise of indoor festivals is based on the successful model that Liverpool Sound City, Live at Leeds and Camden Rocks are all leading the way with.

Another indoor festival which began in 2011 is A Carefully Planned Festival – an annual two-day DIY celebration of independent and alternative music in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

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(Credit: A Carefully Planned Festival)

Festival founder Matthew Boycott-Garnett says attending other festivals was the main inspiration behind starting his own.

With Carefully Planned now approaching it’s seventh year, Matthew explains, “I’ve always been very conscious of the importance of community. Bringing people together with a common goal or focus.

“I’d especially like to encourage older people to come as it’s easier for [them] to feel lonely and excluded.

“I hate to think that somebody who might like to come to the festival would ever feel like they couldn’t, for whatever reason.”

Many festivals are becoming more accessible for all, with some, such as Bestival, now specifically aimed at families with young children.

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(Credit: Bestival)

Regular festival-goer Shaun Pollock backs this shift of target audiences and believes that music should be enjoyed by everyone.

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(Credit: Shaun Pollock)

“You get a better atmosphere when there’s a range of ages. It’s nice to see whole families together enjoying the music.

“[Going to festivals] used to be more about drinking than anything else, but now I am more interested in the bands as well as other things like what food is on offer.”

With much more planning and overall thought going into festivals, music journalist Jamie Bowman agrees that this is a big thing for those both attending and hosting an event.

“You can pick a social group of people and target them with the right bands, the right entertainment, the right catering, and even the right beer.”

However, he believes that the increasing number of music festivals has almost reached saturation point.

Just last week, Glasgow’s newest music festival May West was cancelled two weeks in advance due to alleged location issues and mounting costs.

The news was revealed shortly after the media reported on the ‘luxury’ Fyre Festival cancellation which saw attendees stranded in the Bahamas due to poor organisation.

Scenarios demonstrated by May West and Fyre Festival raise the question of whether the growth of events of this kind is set to continue.

With the limited budgets of consumers and the freedom to pick and choose where to go, Jamie feels that festivals need to get it right first time to avoid losing custom.

“All the little festivals, I just can’t see how there’s going to be more and more of them. There’s only so many weekends in the year.

“I think the [the amount of festivals] is either going to stay the same amount or it’s going to drop. That’s my prediction anyway.”

Jamie’s thoughts coincide with Paste Magazine’s theory of having reached ‘peak festival’.

In an article published last year, they said, “The lineups increasingly look alike, any buzz just blends into the general wash of pop-culture tinnitus and it’s starting to seem like we keep going mostly because Instagram photos and Facebook posts make them look way more fun than spending a rain-or-shine weekend in an open field with 50,000 other people actually is.”

It’s clear that festivals which can offer something different to the market – whether that be location, types of entertainment or catering choice – are going to survive on the way back down from this ‘peak’.

Those which remain poorly planned and unable to stand out will simply be disregarded by festival-goers. With so many choices now on offer, the music festival game is certainly a competitive one.

Featured image credit: Abbie Jennings

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