Looking At The Growth Of Festivals Through Pollstar’s Charts

Sam Shapiro
– Papa Roach
Papa Roach plays to throngs of adoring rock fans at Carolina Rebellion in Concord, N.C., May 7, 2017. Part of AEG Presents / Danny Wimmer Presents’ World’s Loudest Month concert series, the event grossed $5.8 million, getting it at No. 42 on the 2017 Year End Top 200 North American Concert Grosses chart.
Over the past six years the main way Pollstar has tracked some of music’s biggest events is its annual Top 20 Festival Grosses chart, but those numbers only scratch the surface of what has been a complex and changing worldwide festival market.
For some context, the first major boon for music festivals was in the 1960s and ’70s, New Music Confab founder Dave Stewart previously said at a Sport Entertainment and Venues Tomorrow Conference, but after that initial surge there was a long period of dormancy. 
“Other than the Grateful Dead, no one made money doing music festivals on a large scale until about the early 2000s,” Stewart said.  “What happened with this generation? Because for 20 years no one would do that, no one would go get sticky, smelly, not have a shower for two days and pay $500 for the privilege.”
People are indeed paying for that, and they are doing it in big numbers. In 2002, a decade before Pollstar was tracking the Top 20 Festival Grosses, there were still 20 festivals listed in the Top 200 North American Grosses chart, including multiple occurrences of
Of those 300 events, about 20 to 25 were festivals each year until 2007, when there were 30 festivals between those two charts, 21 in North America and nine in Europe. That number didn’t go down to previous lows until 2013, when there were only about 23 high-grossing festivals on the year (including everything from the Top 20 Festival Grosses chart, which began in 2012).
The real meaningful spike in festival money, though, was in 2014 when 22 festivals came in on the Top 200 North American Concert Grosses chart, and 16 more came in the Top 100 International chart, and there was still a separate Top 20 Festival Grosses, meaning there was a whopping total of 58 charting festivals that year, a spike of more than 100 percent from the previous year. Never have the numbers for those three charts reached quite the same peak (last year was 41 high-grossing festivals, the year before was 44 including a headline showcase from Paul McCartney at Summerfest).
Factor in that some events – like Bonnaroo, which used to report regularly but has since stopped – no longer appear on the charts, and it seems like the festival market really exploded in 2014 and has yet to fall back down to pre-2014 levels. 
Pollstar reported in 2016 that there were numerous cancellations of country music festivals after tickets had already been sold, including Big Barrell, Farmborough, Dega Jam and the Space Coast Country festivals. 
Some speculated that this might be because the market was oversaturated. In total, by late March that year we counted 23 major festival cancellations, including Squamish Valley Music Festival, Counterpoint, TomorrowWorld, Gathering of the Vibes, Big Day Out, and Groovefest. 
Last year saw a few festival cancellations and flops (Rockavaria, Pemberton, Fyre, Hope & Glory), but the call-offs didn’t seem to be nearly at the same scale as 2016. 
Of the festivals that charted in 2017, one can look at Carolina Rebellion as one of the events not in the Top 20 but that still made a splash, grossing $5.8 million and reaching No. 42 on the Top 200 North American Concert Grosses. The AEG Presents / Danny Wimmer Presents event featured performances from Soundgarden, A Perfect Circle, Avenged Sevenfold, Korn, and Def Leppard and was part of the Loudest Month Ever concert series, which for years has had multiple events charting in the Top 200 North American grosses.
AP Photo / Scott Roth
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The Weeknd takes center stage at Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., April 11, 2015. This year The Weeknd is receiving top billing and it will be his first time performing at the iconic SoCal shindig.
The last festival to crack the Top 200 North American Concert Grosses chart in 2017 was The Ohana Fest at No. 200 with $2.8 million grossed. 
Those two chart entries show the growth of the North American market in the last several years. In 2008, the Top 100 International Box Office numbers bottomed out at $3.8 million, whereas No. 100 in North America was $2.8 million. 
For years that pattern held, as the Top 100 International Box Office events (mostly in Europe) were consistently outgrossing those in the middle and bottom of the chart in North America until 2015, when the No. 100 North American gross was $3.8 million, and the International No. 100 was $3.3 million. 
Despite all the growth, one format that may be going the way of the dodo is the traveling festival. The best-known example is probably the
Finally, much has been said about the unique status of Coachella as a festival, and one of this year’s headliners, The Weeknd, has seen his star rise on the Indio, Calif., festival’s billings over the course of multiple appearances. This year, his third at the event, his name stands alone atop the first day’s billing.
For his first appearance in 2012, The Weeknd’s name appeared in the top 10 artists for the third day on the event’s annual lineup poster. Fast forward to 2015 and he had moved up to the No. 2 position for the second day, behind only Jack White.
Between those first two Coachella plays he was busy, opening for Justin Timberlake in 2013 and for Drake in 2014 while simultaneously building his own headlining resume. Since his second play he has been selling out major arenas in full-fledged tours in 2015 and 2017, proving that festivals can help both grow a career and mark milestones in his career.