Pollstar Live! Nuturing Mid-Level Fests

“Any of you guys use social media to help deal with the dummies? Or punters or whatever you wanna call them who pay for our salaries?” Moderator Jim Lewi of LiveWorks Events asked the panelists.

The question was prompted after APA‘s Andrew Ellis had this to say about Bamboozle Music Festival and what he would wish for if given a magic wand to make some of the biggest challenges at his festival disappear:

“We do more of a punk rock/rock festival. So people are a little more stupid. I guess the audience beating on each other, if they could stop doing that, that would be good. … [And] be able to guage when it’s hot out, how much you should drink or smoke. I think those are two of the biggest issues — just people being dumb and making it unpleasant for other people,” Ellis said.

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Alicia Karlin said Electric Forest was inspired by Bassnectar and his AmBASSadors, which are fans who volunteer at the shows to help keep the crowd in line, amongst their other duties, in exchange for free tickets. 

“We’ve kind of taken that concept and imbedded it into the festival, using your own fans to help with giving out free water, finding people who need assistance before it needs to get escalated,” Karlin said.

Lewi brought up the security strategy he’d seen at Bonnaroo in which the staff wore T-shirts that said “safety” instead of “security.” This little touch made a huge difference to certain fans who might never had gone up to someone in a security shirt.

“I think what all of these [panelists] do, and what we all want to do, is create experiences,” Lewi said. “That why people are going to these events because they are experiences that speak to them.”

Ken Hays talked about how Gathering of the Vibes recently tested out a new way to engage fans by running a contest on Facebook for fans who helped spread the word about the festival. Prizes included a pair of passes, a backstage tour and lunch with one of the acts.

“We try to use social media to make people feel like they’re part of the event year-round,” Ian Goldberg of Summer Camp Festival said. “We … gear things around the Summer Camp theme and we’re trying to recreate that experience as a kid of going off to camp for the summer. We do field day games at the festival, the typical tug of war, dodge ball. … We’ve also tried to expand that and keep it going year-round, so we’ll do online games. We have four different colored teams and we have about 2,000 people joined to each team. We’ll do contests throughout the year of photo scavenger hunts or different things like that.”

The panelists had a lot to say about the topic of why fans choose to attend their particular festivals. Is it the experience or the lineup?

“The location is part of the draw for us. … You can see the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge from our location,” Jordan Kurland said about Treasure Island Music Festival. “But maybe the experience is 20 percent — it’s still for us a very talent-driven thing. For us, people are going to come based on who’s playing.”

Goldberg said, “I think we’re all trying to create the experience and make it so that people are coming no matter what. … We’re selling more and more tickets before we announce a lineup than we ever had before.”

For David Margulies of High Sierra Music Festival, the experience is key.

“There’s a limited pool of quote headliners out there for festivals like ours,” Margulies said. “And so much of the names are interchangeable. You can see Thievery Corporation or Sound Tribe Sector 9 or Furthur or whatever at most of the festivals out there. Certainly a lot on this panel. It’s all about … creating that experience, what has led to our success.

“I talk to fans all the time and ask them what brings [them] to High Sierra Fest? And it’s never about the headliners. … It’s about the experience.”

Kurland added, “I think as we talk about experience versus talent — they are really one in the same. Talent is part of the experience. … Experience can be a much bigger part on the scale versus talent, but at the end of the day, people go to music festivals for the music, otherwise they could go to a carnival.”