SXSWORLD November 2014


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1 6 S X S W o r l d | N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 4 | S X S W. C O M ven though rock festivals have existed in North America since the '60s, in their current form they are only about 15 years old. Coachella appeared in 1999 and was followed shortly by Bonnaroo, Sasquatch! and Austin City Limits Music Festival. Since then, the new festival model has only expanded. A recent Eventbrite study of Twitter use among festivalgoers called them "one of young Americans' favorite pastimes." American music fans spend more money to experience live music than to buy it in recorded form, and for many of them, the festival is an irresistible value. Festivals have also completely changed how bands tour the U.S., serving as the foundation for foreign touring acts' trips, enticing defunct bands out of retirement and setting acts' touring schedules for the year. Booking agents find themselves planning tours farther and farther ahead to account for the early booking practices of festivals. "For the competitive market of festivals com- peting with other festivals, I feel like everyone is trying to get that band before the other person, so festivals will start booking within a couple weeks of the festival that just happened," said Michelle Cable, owner of Panache Booking. Tours used to be timed around album releases, but that is no longer the case, according to Tom Windish of The Windish Agency: "The tables completely turned on this for 2015, where my complete strategy for a tour cycle has switched from being based around an album release to being based around which festivals the band was going to play." Festivals are important not just for the guaranteed paydays they can offer bands, but also as a means of exposure that starts long before the festival dates. Eventbrite found that the majority of festival chatter happened before the event, much of it clustered around lineup announcements. Spotify identified the "Bonnaroo Bump," a spike in the streams of Bonnaroo artists when the festival announced its lineup and schedule. It's a virtual version of the serendipitous discovery of new acts that happens at a festival, with links from lineup announce- ments replacing a walk from one end of the grounds to another. "If you get five times as much attention if you're playing festivals than if you're doing a club tour, that's going to mean a lot to some bands," said Windish. Discovery is just one aspect of the festival experience that appeals to attendees. The overall atmosphere and nonmusical attractions play a role in determining how well a festival succeeds. "Hopefully because there's so many festivals happening, people will take a dif- ferent approach," Cable said. "A lot of festivals are incorporating food and local communities and culture, and doing various things with bands beyond just showcasing them as musicians, which I think is really cool and necessary." "What sets any great festival apart as an experience unto itself is those extra-musical elements, especially when you're asking people to camp for a weekend," said Ashley Capps, the founder of Bonnaroo and its parent company AC Entertainment. "The music's obviously key, but there's so many other things that you can do to make it an unforget- table experience." That destination festival experi- ence has a strong footing in Europe and the U.K., where festivals such as Glastonbury, Reading and Roskilde have histories that span five decades. "I was blown away by the fact that the modern rock festival had flourished in Europe even as it had struggled to gain any kind of real foothold in the U.S.," said Capps. European festivals cluster during the summer, when people can travel, and they generally appeal to a young audi- ence that has the freedom to do so. They also have fewer restrictions on alcohol sales, something that Marianne Ifversen, booker for Denmark's vener- able Roskilde festival, mentions as a major difference between the U.S. and Europe. "In Denmark you can drink when you are 18 and you can drink every where; you don't have to stay inside a club or some- thing. So part of the culture is sober drinking," said Ifversen." I think in the U.S. it's difficult to control the drinking habits of the younger people." Ifversen says their demographic is, like that in the U.S., quite young and with access to funds for passes: "At Roskilde we have had the same mean age for ages, 23 years. Sociologically, it's pretty much the white upper class, unfortunately. It's very much the same sort of people who go to festivals." The cost of festivals might be the limiting factor for growth. An August Wondering Sound article, "Why the Summer Music Festival Bubble is About to Burst," cites a number of nearly 850 North American festivals in existence and notes rising talent costs and lim- ited revenue streams as the constraining factors for festival growth. "I'm often asked if I think the growth of festival culture in the United States can continue and can be sustained. I'm pretty bullish about it overall," said Capps. "It is a social experience and people are hungry for that. I think there's still significant growth in the festival sphere. When you see the number of them in Europe, it gives you an idea of what the potential can actually be." Music Festivals Gain Influence with Artists and Audiences by SuSan elizabeth Shepard E To p a n d B a ckg roun d: Ros k ild e Fes t i va l , B ot to m: Au s t in City Lim it s M u s ic Fes t i va l M I C H A E L F L A R U P M I C H A E L F L A R U P A N D Y S M I T H

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