When Ed Miliband bangs on about the “cost of living crisis”, it’s probably fair to say he’s not talking about the price of a ticket to see Arctic Monkeys or Damon Albarn performing in a field.
However, music fans could be forgiven for feeling they are paying an increasingly heavy price for their annual festival fix. Guardian Money found that some are paying almost double what they were a decade or less ago for the same event. But if you are looking for some festival action there are scores of cheaper/free events around.
Festival price inflation
Around 6.5 million people attended a music festival or gig in the UK in 2012, spending £2.2bn, according to VisitBritain – and, like many other big businesses, it has been ratcheting up prices.
Taking place on 17-20 July, the Latitude Festival in Suffolk – dubbed by some “the summer’s most middle-class festival” – is now in its ninth year. The line-up is good – this year’s headliners are Two Door Cinema Club, Damon Albarn and The Black Keys – and the vibe is great, but you couldn’t argue that it’s cheap: weekend tickets are £187.50 a pop (or around £202 once you add in the fees). That’s almost double the £95 face value people paid to attend the first Latitude in 2006, and compares with the £155 charged just four years ago. If the price of that £95 ticket had risen in line with inflation, it should cost between £117 and £124, depending on which online inflation calculator you use.
The granddaddy of them all is Glastonbury festival, from 25 to 29 June, headlined this year by Arcade Fire, Metallica and Kasabian.
The bulk of the tickets sold out in a record 87 minutes, despite the fact that they cost £210 (plus a £5 booking fee). That’s 87.5% more than the £112 fans paid to see acts such as Paul McCartney, Muse and Oasis in 2004. That £112 is equivalent to between £147 and £154 in today’s money. Back in 1990, when bands performing included the Cure, tickets cost £38.
The most recent data by the Office for National Statistics showed that while consumer prices as a whole were up 1.6% in the year to March, “cultural services”, which includes live music, cinema and theatre tickets, were up 3%.
But the price hikes don’t seem to have stemmed demand: to be fair to Glastonbury, it probably would have sold out even if tickets were double the price. And look at the House Festival, a 5,000-capacity one-day event at Marble Hill House, near Richmond in west London. Tickets for the event on 3 July sold out in 24 hours, despite the fact they cost £200 each – and they haven’t even announced any of the acts. However, it is renowned for its stellar pop line-ups – last year’s acts included Primal Scream, Kaiser Chiefs, Rudimental and Bastille – and your ticket includes all the high-end food and booze you can eat and drink (there is a waiting list for returned tickets – go to housefestival.com).
Cheap and free options
For those who still want their festival fix but can’t afford that sort of money, there are the scores of smaller events.
According to eFestivals.co.uk, there are more than 700 in the UK between this weekend and the end of the year. Many are relatively cheap or free. A good example of the latter is Coventry’s Godiva Festival, on 4-6 July, which bills itself as the country’s biggest free, ticketless family festival. The rocky line-up isn’t too shabby – it includes Happy Mondays, We are Scientists, Funeral for a Friend, Buzzcocks and The Selecter. Go to godivafestival.com
Other free, or mostly free, events include the Dart Music Festival in Dartmouth, Devon, this weekend, where the long and eclectic list of performers includes Martha Tilston and Marcus Bonfanti (dartmusicfestival.co.uk); Fishguard Folk Festival in south-west Wales on 23-26 May (pembrokeshire-folk-music.co.uk/Festival.htm); and Leigh Folk Festival in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex on 26-29 June, where acts include Trembling Bells and Alasdair Roberts (leighfolkfestival.com).
There are events dedicated to everything from Elvis Presley (the Porthcawl Elvis Festival on 26-28 September; tickets start at £6) to didgeridoos (the Elementary Didgeridoo Festival in Hay-on-Wye on 29-31 August; weekend tickets plus camping, £58) to ukuleles (the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival in Huddersfield on 13-14 September; weekend tickets, £39).
Two-day Paris festival We Love Green, in the Parc de Bagatelle on 31 May and 1 June has a very cool line-up: New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde, plus London Grammar, Foals, Little Dragon, the much-hyped Jungle and others. Two-day tickets cost €66 (around £53), with single tickets €38.50 (£31).
Benicassim (aka FIB), on 17-20 July, one of Spain’s biggest festivals, will feature Kasabian, Lily Allen and Tinie Tempah. A four-day ticket is £149 (plus fees) and includes eight days camping.
Also in Spain, Bilbao BBK Live appears something of bargain with three-day tickets starting at £88. It features The Prodigy, Franz Ferdinand, Bastille and The Black Keys. Others include Way Out West, in the Swedish city of Gothenburg on 7-9 August. Tickets are 1,895 krona (around £170). Acts playing include Queens of the Stone Age and The National.