When it comes to modern day music festivals, I can say that I'm a relatively experienced vet in the game. From attending during my teenage years as a fan of the festival scene and its artists, to working the event on behalf of a major ticketing company, to being in press, to going with an artist with an artist pass, I've been personally involved with so many different facets of the festival industry that it's not too far-fetched to call myself a veteran, and at the very least I feel that I can call myself an experienced festival attendee.
It could be that being in the music industry has made myself (and the rest of the writing staff at Magnetic) jaded in the way we might think about music, but it's becoming more and more apparent that while the festivals aim to be bigger and better in terms of capacity and stage design, when it comes to the experience of the festival's attendees, things become a lot murkier.
At first I wasn't entirely sure if I was the only one feeling this way about some of my favorite festivals I had been attending year after year, but recently, LA Weekly wrote an entire piece on Coachella's expansion and the failures that come with a festival that can't handle its own size, and with the recent disaster that was Fyre Festival, we can't help but think that certain aspects of festival culture may have started to collapse on itself.
Festivals in general aim for unique experiences, and most use their eclectic lineup (with sellable headliners), big stages, local cuisine, and art installations, among other things, to sell their event, plus a few special features that help set them apart from the rest. For Coachella, the event sells itself with hard-to-get headliners. For HARD festivals in the summer and fall, it's their expert curation that navigates between hip hop and electronic music. For FYF and Camp Flog Gnaw, it's trendy, fashionable, and made to be the festival for the coolest people in the city (I'm using LA based festivals solely because of my personal location not because of preference).
Behind all of the fancy pictures and big fashion statements that give a sense of FOMO to those that missed out though, can be long festival lines, lack of accessible water, shitty security with a big ego, and general confusion that can pervade the air. A lot of festivals feel like they do enough to cover municipal codes or whatever their insurance required of them, and I've had my own fair share of stress with the event experience- at one festival that will remain nameless, I caught a cold but insisted on going anyways, then promptly broke out in a fever about an hour in. The festival had closed their exit for the time being (as it was still only around 7pm) and trying to get in touch with someone who could help my boyfriend at the time and me out of the event to get home meant being dragged by different people working there from one end of the festival to the other about 5 or 6 times. I ended up in the med tent from fatigue (and my boyfriend for dehydration) and spent a bulk of the night there. Needless to say, we did not return to the event the next day. While I take responsibility for insisting I go to the event, the following issues that arose could and should have been easily resolved. Other frustrations, that weren't solely when I attended as a festival pass purchaser have included: no one in the festival having any sort of idea the press tent is located at when everyone is scrambling for interviews (this was when I would work on behalf of multiple music outlets), being kicked out of places despite being a guest of an artist who specifically needed me to be at a certain location, dealing with groupies looking to scam tickets or get in as VIP (when I briefly worked for a ticketing company), and more. I've got a million of these stories. While those are specifically the bad experiences, it does help paint the picture that sometimes, festivals can't seem to handle their own weight to bring the best possible experience for their guests or the people who aren't explicitly VIP members.
On the other hand, the artist experience is something of a wonder. Free catered food for all three meals throughout the day, sponsored merch which can mean anything from alcohol to candy to vape pens to shirts and hats, and rides to any stage you desire. If you're at a bigger festival, a lot of these events will have special booths backstage where you can get your makeup and hair freshened up, and of course, the most important- luxurious bathrooms and AC. The experience is drastically different, and as I've come to spend more times there than out with the masses, I can see why people start to forget how the other side attend the festival, and I think promoters, artists, and any member of the music industry really do forget that behind the crowd are humans who deserve to receive respect. People, often young kids, will pay money they don't have to see their favorite artists and create memories with their friends, and while a couple hundred dollars for a tier 1 GA pass might not seem like much, it is for a lot of these kids. Money is and, for the foreseeable future, always will be important to making these festivals a success, so of course the VIP experience should be better- those people earned it. That doesn't mean the little details should be dropped entirely for the GA attendees.
Events like Fyre Festival were admittedly for people who probably only buy the VIP passes at their favorite events anyways, but the way they were treated is a massive middle finger to their time and money. The event lacked communication from the start and revealed just how unprepared they were to handle an event of that magnitude. While it's always disappointing to find something is cancelled, showing up to that disaster is not merely a minor inconvenience or slight disappointment- Fyre is heading steadily towards a barrage of lawsuits from both the people that got to the event and those that were forced to spend extra time in Miami. In the end, communication and respect go hand in hand in contracts and business of all form, and when corporations fail to gain our trust, people will eventually begin to turn away.
Check out our recent piece that took a look at Fyre Festival here. Please email your thoughts on the recent Fyre fiasco, or any disastrous festival stories in general, and if you managed to get off the island we definitely want to hear from you- email us here firstname.lastname@example.org subject Fyre Meltdown.