Grassroots Versus Big Biz Festivals: Taking Back the Experience
Check any festival discussion group on the internet and you will scroll right into the conversation and controversy over festival sellouts to large corporate partners IE: Live Nation and AEG. The hot buttons causing the majority of animosity have been discussed endlessly.
Things like ticket price increases, camping/parking charges, generic and repetitive lineups, the inevitable loss of creativity and local sourcing in the food and alcohol. The local vendors have been replaced by generic “get your pizza/breakfast taco/gyro/funnel cake here” all in one vendor. It's a big money business, and everyone is after a piece.
Every year the scene is introduced to the "next big festival" and the market becomes more saturated, thus making the grassroots festivals shrink and struggle to hold on to their following and funding. Why go to a festival with one or two big names, when you can go to one and see ten of the charts top 40?
That mentality is only the beginning of the differences and the dissolution. The vibe between the two is the real heart-breaker, but the vibe is also the one thing we can control in all this change. Let's step out to get a look at the differences between big biz festivals and grassroots and our responsibility to redirect its course.
#1 Festival Wear
Thanks to "what the stars wore at Coachella" write ups clothing lines have launched in stores like H&M to "give you that festival look." Festival wear, until recently, consisted of the clothes in your closet that were one purge away from donation or use it as a rag.
Now attendees spend an entire festival day morning into midday getting ready to look flawless at the entrance gate. Why? Within the first two hours spent in the 90-degree heat at a couple of shows, all of that effort is destroyed. What was once Instagram ready, is now a sweaty mess in a designer dress.
Don't we spend enough of our time in real life making an impression? Isn't part of the festival experience to go stand in the fountain or go down the water slide? Throw on a little body paint in with all of that itchy glitter.
The grassroots teams hold tight to the small things that get attendees back to basics. Take away a few thousand people, the hype of a multi-million dollar stacked headline, and all of the "look fabulous" stress melts away. They encourage spending the day in your Eno and comfy clothes, enjoying the music and watching the hula-hoopers or flame throwers. Clothing is an expression, but your memories are made in the moments.
#2 Social Media
As the show opens up and the first beat drops, hands shoot up high across the crowd with phones ready to catch every moment. Our obsession with capturing it all distracts from every organic moment and feeling we should be having. Not only is this an annoyance to the people behind you trying to catch the view, but also to many of the artists who will take breaks in the show and plead with the crowd to just be present and enjoy.
You know what's better than feeding your followers a play by play of your weekend? Arranging an in person lunch when the weekend is over to relive and tell all of your stories to them in person. Take back your time in these experiences, you only have them once.
#3 Stressing the Schedule
Lineups are announced a few weeks before the festival opens. This hesitation to release is no accident by the festival. Conflicts within a day's schedule are the biggest source of animosity in the entire experience.
Festival goers will run from end to end of the festival grounds desperate not to miss anything. Spoiler alert: spending all your time running around trying to be everywhere, will leave you very underwhelmed and exhausted by the time the headliners hit the stage.
Being very decisive and intentional about your plan will relieve all of this stress. Basically, you can't do it all. Meaning, you may make it if you're really on that hustle, but you won't catch your favorite song, or see any of the can't miss moments of the show, or see a special guest show up on stage, because you'll only have time for a song or two before it's on to the next.
By eliminating the overload of must-see artists, grassroots festivals minimize schedule conflicts. The time you spend running trying to make it is replaced with time to wander into an unknown artist show that may be the show of the weekend.
We can't fight the inevitable change of hands, lack of creativity in lineups, or raise in attendance and overcrowding. These things will continue to happen. Spend time searching smaller festivals. You'll know you've found them because you'll see a schedule free of constant conflicts, local partners advertising food and beer, and affordable ticket prices.
Keep supporting them so we will continue to have them around. For the big festivals, the ones we feel are losing all of their authenticity, do your part to take back the little bit we can, and remember the way it once was. Remember why you're there. Be present. Have a conversation with someone you don't know. Let your phone battery die and be an ambassador for the old days.