Summer music festivals find their place in the sun – USA TODAY
Temperatures aren’t the only things surging this summer: Music festivals are proving to be hotter than ever, as scorching early numbers indicate.
After a decade of strong growth, the festival industry “has really been on the uptick the past couple years,” says Ray Waddell, senior editor of touring at Billboard. Lollapalooza in Chicago sold out its August festival in record time (20 minutes, twice as fast as ever), and Bonnaroo has become a destination fest, drawing attendees each June from all 50 states, with 55% of them traveling 500 miles or more to its Manchester, Tenn., locale. An estimated 435,000 people turned out for the seven-day Jazz Fest in New Orleans that wrapped earlier this month — an increase of 10,000 from last year — while Coachella welcomed some 90,000 festivalgoers each day of its two weekends in April and netted $67 million for its 2013 fest.
But the biggest growth has been in the small to midsize festivals, Waddell says. Beachside fest Hangout in Gulf Shores, Ala., sold out this weekend’s gathering in April, after upping its capacity to 40,000 from 35,000 last year. AEG Live-produced rock festivals Welcome to Rockville in Jacksonville and Fort Rock in Fort Myers, Fla., also sold out in April, and Carolina Rebellion in Charlotte scored record-breaking attendance of 60,000 people for its two-day event earlier this month.
“There’s a lot of attention paid to the mega-festivals, but there’s a lot of audience that gets passed over and forgotten about” in smaller markets, says Joe Litvag, senior vice president of AEG Live, the largest producer of festivals in North America. Though there’s no set recipe for success, he says it’s important to be realistic about audience demand and not overshoot expectations, as Sasquatch! in George, Wash., did when it added a second weekend over the Fourth of July, only to cancel it in March because of poor ticket sales.
One genre that has seen a huge influx in audience demand is country music, which has overtaken EDM as “the fastest-growing sector of the festival business,” Waddell says. Aside from Coachella cousin Stagecoach in Indio, Calif. (which brought in 60,000 fans one weekend in late April), the CMA Music Festival sold out all its nightly concerts a record four months before the event kicks off in June. Smaller fests such as WE Fest in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and Watershed in George, Wash., have also had sellouts.
“It’s not so different from the reasons why Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan are able to play at the stadium level: It’s such a community and a social experience,” Waddell says of the party-centric, laid-back atmosphere that draws fans to many heartland fests. “It’s a lifestyle. If you listen to what the music’s talking about, it’s about partying outdoors, in a lot of cases.”
But could it be too much of a good thing? With so many festivals cropping up each year, Litvag says the live-music industry could run the risk of losing money if promoters aren’t careful.
“At some point, we’re going to get so overloaded with festivals, everybody’s numbers are going to drop considerably,” he says. “Part of the reason why some festivals have been as successful as they’ve been is due to the fact that there wasn’t one in every city.
“If we’re getting to the point where there’s one in every city, I think that’s where we reach that oversaturation point.”