The Right Crowd: How Festivals Catering to Specific Fans Are Thriving

Travis Scott returned to the stage and performed in front of a large crowd at Rolling Loud, the biggest rap music festival in the world, in Inglewood, California, on March 4, making it the rapper’s first performance since the Astroworld festival incident in 2021. Other headliners for the three-day event at Hollywood Park grounds, adjacent to SoFi Stadium, included Playboi Carti, Future, Kodak Black and Lil Uzi Vert. (Photo by Vincent Madero / Rolling Loud)

As the world continues to adjust to life three years removed from the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the music industry is also adapting to what now seems to be the new normal of a tsunami of live entertainment. After more than a year of health orders that limited concerts, the industry came back in full force in 2022 to recuperate lost time (and money). That trend shows no signs of slowing down, especially when it comes to the festival circuit.

“It’s exciting to be back, I feel everyone is busier than ever. There’s also a lot of competition, and there’s no such thing as an automatic, even though there are the diehard fans,” Mark Weiss, CEO of 237 Global, said in February during a Pollstar Live! panel that discussed fostering communities around artists and events.

As the market gets more and more inundated with major events featuring a variety of artists, Weiss is not the only one with that thought. Event organizers and music executives aren’t so much thinking big as they are small, focusing on a niche audience to deliver a unique experience for those fans whether it promotes a specific genre or culture.

Genres such as EDM and even reggae have thrived in festival settings over the years by delivering not only a memorable lineup but a vibe that is exclusive to that community, something Solange Sinclair, business development manager with Lobeline Communications, saw. Being the granddaughter of Reggae Sunsplash founder Tony Sinclair, she witnessed firsthand the power and influence a genre festival can have on fans around the world.

“[You] see the impact that Reggae Sunsplash had globally whereby you can today go into countries like France and Germany where the first language isn’t English [and see] there’s such a huge community and followers of reggae music,” Sinclair said in February. “If you were going to a reggae concert, there was this sense of love, fluidity and a communal sense to it, and it is really interesting to see how that originated back in the ‘80s and blew up and still remains.”

Another genre festival that successfully fostered a global fanbase is Rolling Loud, which is possibly the largest hip-hop event in the world and has been held in Miami, Portugal, Thailand, Germany and most recently at Hollywood Park near SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. The event featured more than 100 rap artists performing in front of tens of thousands, and it also marked the return of Travis Scott to the stage following the Astroworld Festival incident in Houston, Texas, that resulted in 10 deaths due to a crowd rush. Rolling Loud is one of those events that seems to have a finger on the pulse of the genre it focuses on, and fans can’t get enough of what it has to offer.

“So, there was this new wave of rap that we started seeing in ‘17 and ‘18 with, the Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti and Rae Sremmurd and Lil Baby and everybody was into that space pretty aggressively for a while,” Huston Powell, a promoter at C3 Presents, tells Pollstar. “And now it’s kind of bifurcated. Rolling Loud is all in on that space. And it is 100% genre-specific in my mind, which is great. And so, if you like that genre of music and that’s your thing, then you’re going to be happy at Rolling Loud.”

Some festivals cannot simply be contained within a specific genre but also can’t go big like Coachella or Lollapalooza, so there’s a middle ground where organizers choose to focus on a culture and community rather than a specific type of music. One example is 88rising’s Head in the Clouds Festival, an event dubbed as the “Asian Coachella” that held its inaugural show in Los Angeles four years ago and aims to promote artists from the Asian diaspora. It has since expanded to Jakarta and, for the first time this year, New York, where 88rising was founded. You know you’ve made it as a festival when fans purchase tickets before the lineup is even announced, which is the case with this year’s Head in the Clouds in Pasadena.

“The community of fans, the audience that has been coming year after year expect and know we’ll be able to deliver a collection of artists from around the world across different genres that they’re just not going to see represented yet at any other festival of this scale,” says Ollie Zhang, head of artist development at 88rising. “That’s always been the unique proposition of Head in the Clouds, that we are always going to thriving to bring the best Asian and Asian American talent we can find and put together.”

Aaron Ampudia and Chris Den Uijl are doing the same in the Latin market. They founded Baja Beach Fest five years ago in what began as a unique reggaeton music experience on the beach in Rosarito, Mexico, and has since grown into a celebration of culture that now dips its toe into other Latin genres with the inclusion of Grupo Firme, one of the hottest regional Mexican bands around, at this year’s event.

“Not only are we doing for Latinos something that they can call their own, but also showing the rest of the culture in the United States what Latino culture is all about,” says Ampudia, who also co-founded Sueños music festival in Chicago along with Den Uijl. “The majority of our fans are Latinos, but we’re seeing a lot of ethnicities come to the shows and experience the food and music and dancing. That’s super cool to watch. It’s not only for Latinos now, I think the whole world is listening now to that music and that sound.”

Festivals such as Baja Beach Fest and Sueños create a sense of belonging and provide a safe space for fans to celebrate the music and culture that they love, which should ultimately be the goal of anyone involved in developing such mass events.

“I think what we like to really try to focus on is that inclusivity story and celebration story,” Den Uijl added. “It hits your heartstrings in a different way. It makes you feel like it’s your own event. When those things kind of connect and that magic happens, that’s when that big community starts to build.”