Pollstar Live! Panel Spotlight: Can The Indie Festivals Compete With Global Bookers?

Newport Folk Festival 2017
Douglas Mason/Getty Images
– Newport Folk Festival 2017
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs during the Newport Folk Festival 2017 at Fort Adams State Park on July 30, 2017 in Newport, Rhode Island
Independent promoters’ place in the music industry as well as the role of a festival in a mature market will be discussed at Pollstar Live! as part of the panel “Arms Race: Can The Indie Festivals Compete With Global Bookers.” 
The Feb. 7 power panel is moderated by Tim Sweetwood, President-Talent Buyer, C3 Presents, and includes panelists Michael Berg, Talent Buyer/Promoter, Silver Wrapper, Inc.; Marcel Marshall, Co-founder, Trillectro; Eric Mayers, Manager, Red Light Management; Michael Petryshyn, Owner, Riot Fest; Jay Sweet, Executive Producer for
“This panel is made up of a great group of people that can accurately analyze the current climate, and possibly predict what the future holds,” Sweetwood of C3 Presents – which is behind more than a dozen festivals including Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, Voodoo Music & Arts Experience, and Shaky Knees – told Pollstar. 
“I look forward to asking questions on the best ways companies and people can create in the future, and how a new festival can succeed and separate themselves from the pack. I think we can dig in and find some great talking points on what aspects you need to know in order to establish an event, and also what points you need to understand in order to give events/festivals a fighting chance in the crowded market place.”

Pollstar reached out to the panelists to get their thoughts on the 2017 festival climate and the future of the business.  
“I think the festival market is bloated and we’ll continue to see a few festivals suffer and go away in 2018. Most established festivals will be strong and profitable. I would be surprised if a lot of new festivals pop up in 2018 or 2019,” said Wheeler of Red Mountain Entertainment, which consults with groups and organizations to develop music and food-themed festivals throughout the Southeast including Sloss Music & Arts Festival and Top of The Hops Beer Fest.   
“With the cancellation of established events like Pemberton, and the complete failure of a new event such as Fyre Fest, some people say the festival bubble has burst, and in many ways, they’re right,” added Berg of Silver Wrapper, which co-produces North Coast Music Festival and Suwannee Hulaween, as well the multi-venue, multi-week Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival.
“However, there’s still room for markets and festival sites to take on new events that are not yet represented in that geographic region, or dedicated musical space. To survive and/or thrive in the current festival ecosystem, whether as an upstart indie or major player, it’s all about experiential at the fan level.”
As for Newport’s Jay Sweet, he’s looking forward to what’s to come in 2018.
“The story of music festivals in 2017 can pretty much be summed up with one word: ‘consolidation.’ The big machines are buying festivals at an astonishing rate … and so for us little, aka independent festivals, the question becomes, what are the options? It’s a daunting question because there are really only two options: last long enough to be bought out – or you ignore the game all together, put your head down and just do your thing and do what you do better than anyone else.  
“Obviously, being the original festival, it really wasn’t a choice in our minds. The lesson we continued to learn/preach in 2017 was this: find your community, your tribe, and work from there. At a time when a lot of festivals are trying to reach and please everybody, we’re continuing to embrace the opposite by focusing our attention on knowing as many people who come through our gates as possible and making sure they leave feeling like part of the family.
“Look, we’re beyond fortunate to have a community that’s supportive and shall we say, dedicated. However, their trust is something I personally will never take for granted. Their rightfully earned demand for quality over quantity is what keeps us going full tilt. This being said, our goal for 2018 is to embrace their compounding expectations by continuing to break free from the trite conventions of the festival industry, ironically conventions we actually created in our 60-plus years. We’re not sure exactly what that means … yet … But we know that the key to our success in the past has been to adapt. As some guy that played Newport a couple of times back in the day said, ‘He who’s not busy being born is busy dying.’”
Sweet also offered a preview of Pollstar Live! by reminding us that one of the best things about panels is that the discussion could go in any direction.  
“We might go off on a 30-minute tangent about dance pit etiquette at festivals, who knows,” Sweet said. “But I will say, I am really looking forward to hearing from the other freaks who do what we do. I’m always down to knock heads with Eric and Tim as we share some of the same ethos. Jill is always on top of her game and I’m also thrilled to meet the Michaels and Marcel, talk about successes and failures … the ‘out of the box’ ideas they tried that either worked or fell flat. 
“I really do believe that the innovation in the festival industry is coming from the festivals that are being forced to innovate … the little guys who can’t afford to play by the same rules as the mega-festivals so they have to come up with new solutions.”