Let’s face it, you have to be mad to go to festivals. Tickets are expensive and seem to go up in price each year. Then there are the add-ons, including overpriced food and drink (made worse by the fact that you normally can’t take along your own).
The weather may be a disaster, leaving you feeling like a drowned rat even though your favourite band is in fine form on the main stage. And even when the weather plays ball and you find your way to the front for an artist you love, you can find yourself standing next to someone dressed as a clanger or John McEnroe who has had too much to drink.
But…….if you don’t go festivals, you are also mad. While ticket prices may appear high, it is not such bad value if you divide the figure by the number of bands or artists you see in one day, or across a weekend. Calculate how much it would cost to see each of them on a different day in a different venue. Also, add in how many new artists you discovered at a festival and wouldn’t otherwise know about.
Last year, I saw the following at festivals in the UK: James Blake, Shura, Floating Points, Bat for Lashes, Dizzy Rascal, Jones, Skepta, Anna Meredith, Jessy Lanza, Joanna Newsom, Wretch 32, Rival Consoles, Kelela, Public Enemy, Cat Power. And so the list goes on. So far as I know, none of these visited a venue within 30 miles of where I live (in Hampshire) during any 2016 tour.
I am the first to admit that I have no idea what it takes, or costs, to run a festival. Maybe the rising price of tickets is down to the fact that lawnmowers cost more than they used to.
The other day I found a ticket from Bestival 2007 – just over £100 for the weekend. An earlybird weekend ticket for this year’s Bestival is £175, without booking fees. Let’s say the cost has almost doubled, but not quite. What else has increased in price by roughly 90% over the past ten years – a period when inflation has generally been low?
Last year, apparently, Bestival attracted fewer people than expected. It has since set sail from the Isle of Wight to the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. Let’s hope it does well. So many other festivals have copied Rob da Bank’s blueprint for making festivals fun and slightly alternative that it would be a shame if Bestival did not survive in some form or another.
But the fact is too many festival organisers see bigger as better. Just along the south coast in Portsmouth, the Victorious Festival has moved from the local shipyard four years ago to a large, grassy common next to the sea. More people go each year.
For 2017, Victorious has added a third day (or at least evening) plus camping. But growth of this sort comes at a cost. Just before Christmas, it raised ticket prices one day before announcing its first headliner.
In fact, the best festivals are smaller, but with better loos and shorter queues for the bar. Maybe away from Portsmouth there is a trend towards festivals consolidating rather than expanding. The deservedly-trendy Field Day has scrapped its second day and gone back to a single Saturday in east London in early June. Oh and yes, seeing as you asked, prices have gone up.
Mind the clash
Regardless of cost, or the size of the festival, we now seem to be engaged in a 365 day-per-year game of poker with festival organisers. It starts when super, super earlybird tickets go on sale (usually within a few hours of the previous year’s festival finishing).
Then there are subsequent price rises. Should you buy at tier two or tier three to optimise your enjoyment? That is always assuming some of the bands playing the festival have been announced by then.
Festivals don’t just make a fuss about their line-up announcements. They even make an announcement out of when they are going to make their next announcement.
Plus there is the clashfinder. Should we really trust the first one, created by some muso nearly four months before the festival starts? Print and be damned, I say, but don’t flash your colour-coordinated clashfinder around too much when you arrive at the festival in case anyone starts wondering if you have a life.
Still, if it wasn’t for festivals, my life and that of many people I know would be seriously poorer. Festivals mean that we get to hear a wider range of music, travel to places in the UK and beyond that we never knew existed, and meet the odd friend for a cold beer on a hay bale when there is no band or artist on stage that we want to see. That is if we have any friends left after we’ve finished arguing over which bands are worth seeing and which aren’t.