Festivals of the Future

September 9, 2015

Music lovers are flocking to festivals in unprecedented numbers. In the U.S. some 32 million fans attended festival events last year. In Australia the music festival industry now generates upwards of $100 million annually.

The drivers seem simple. There’s a collective craving for real, shared experiences. Technology is alienating people. They want to get together.

Up to this point, few festival attendees would have chosen “luxury” as one of their event descriptors but that’s begun to change too.

Fan expectations are on the rise. It’s a trend seen in permanent venues, and it’s starting to seep into the festival world. Music fans, like sports fans, want more. They want options. They want their experiences enhanced, tailored and interactive.

Festival attendees want shorter queues, or at least more pleasant ones where they’re served beer and snacks. They’re seeking food and drink at different price points. Many are looking for local, organic produce. Some are prepared to pay more for convenient parking and better camping. Hot showers and flushing toilets are pretty high on the list of requests too.

The change in demand is evidenced at major festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury, where VIP packages sell out. In Australia, even the proudly muddy and messy are lifting the luxury stakes for those who prefer it. Byron Bay’s Splendour in the Grass offers cocktail and champagne bars, even an onsite hair salon. With the additions come increased opportunity for sponsors to get involved, and for other financial gains for organisers.

It’s not all, however, about luxury or higher end offerings. Many festival-goers just want more variety. Again organisers are answering the call. Splendour offers a comedy club. Berlin Festival famously combines music, film and art in the highly unique Tempelhof Airport setting. Many festivals, including America’s world-renowned Summerfest, now go to extraordinary lengths to cater for kids.

That said, the main reason fans choose to come to a festival, to enjoy good live music and have a blast, hasn’t changed. The main attraction is, and will continue to be, the artist. Attendees are asking for more in that regard too though. Music fans want better access to the performers they’ve come to see, and the opportunity to interact. Many are no longer prepared to wait for hours at the base of a stage to get it.

The concepts for facilitating these demands already exist. Populous’ permanent venue designs, like the Coaches Field Club at the Gold Coast’s Metricon Stadium, centre around offering fans better views and access to players. Similar facilities have been created at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium. Margaret Court Arena features back-of-house access and courtside VIP seating to allow fans to feel they’ve been fully immersed in the event experience.

Populous has also made a name for itself by coming up with innovative solutions to challenges at the world’s biggest temporary events, responsible for design, event planning and operations at everything from FIFA World Cups to Olympics and Super Bowls.

Translating this experience to the festival space comes with one major responsibility – to provide enhanced offerings without losing the festival ‘vibe’. The egalitarian nature of festivals is their greatest feature – attendees get to be part of a melting pot of music lovers from all walks of life.

While specific solutions to this vary from project to project, the key is always to provide tailored structures and experiences catering for all festival-goers. It’s not about making one area better than another but making each and every area unique. Populous prides itself on its inclusive designs for arenas and stadia, for creating the places where millions unite. Doing it on the festival scene is an equally thrilling (and loud) challenge. Structures and experiences are just designed for different timeframes. That and there’s much more mud.


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