How to Make a Better Festival

Planning and executing a successful music festival is a horrendously huge deal, from the Annual Cedar Polka Festival in Leelanau, Michigan to CMJ in New York. Even in microcosm, making things work is a juggling act that aims to satisfy local government entities, fans, performers, special guests (hello V.I.P.), sponsors, press, and so much more. Festivals never go off without a hitch, but the successful music festival is one that can deal with problems as they come – which are legion, and arrive in quick succession. Not everyone can be made happy, but if the overall experience is a good one, then you’ve got a shot at doing it again next year. For the past three years MadeLoud was a happy sponsor of the Monolith Festival in Colorado, but it turns out the gathering was not financially feasible and has since discontinued (a huge shame – it was beautiful). We can’t pretend to know every angle that needs to be considered in throwing a great festival, but in our years of sponsoring, attending, and doing press at these things, we have a few ideas.

For the Organizers:

Think both big and small

It makes sense that any festival would want to include tons of local bands, thus bolstering regional goodwill and engendering positive vibes amongst your city’s bread and butter, but some festivals forget this cardinal rule. Don’t overlook the obvious! Also, just showcasing the local “talent” and forgoing outside voices is often an exercise in nepotism and tedium. You may think Walla Walla has a good enough ska scene to not have to necessitate branching into Portland or Seattle, but most of us beg to differ.

Make V.I.P. actually V.I.P.

At a certain Austin festival a few years back, the free liquor backstage and the supposedly primo port-a-johns were bogarted by dudes who knew a dude, very dubious “press” agencies and annoying sponsorship people (more on that later!). Organizers – it’s okay to make certain areas off limits to friends and friends of friends. The point of these quiet spaces is to give bands some peace, the press a place to do their jobs, and actual guests of bands an area to change their kid’s diapers and check their emails. The guy you know who writes a blog will still talk to you tomorrow if you don’t let him backstage – otherwise, he’s just going to drink all of your vodka and vitamin water and annoy Thurston Moore. Let him use the normal shitter.

Comfort, Comfort, Comfort

Have a place where a lot of people can sit down in the shade, and an ever flowing, free or inexpensive source of water. That’s it.

Give us an Alternative

Seeing bands all day is great, but for many a festival-goer, their time at said event is enhanced by an opportunity to do all sorts of activities that have little to do with drinking beer and watching music. Chill-out tents with DJs? Okay. Stuff for kids, like bouncy castles and face painting? Great. A huge tent sponsored by Camel where people can try their new disgusting spit-less dip? Kind of tacky, honestly. But really, people appreciate the chance to shop and relax while they aren’t headbanging. And with kids coming to more and more festivals (thanks, cool parents!), it’s nice to give them something to do, since your toddlers really don’t appreciate Devo the way you think they should.

For the Sponsors:

Define “Sponsorship” so that it includes free things

Sure, Miller Light is the official beer of SXSW. Congrats! But if you think this one-upmanship is going to be passed down to the attendee, you’re dead wrong. The average festival attendee probably pays more for beer than at the average mid-level shindig, and even then you might get the opportunity to meet a Miller girl or get a koozie for free. What benefit, if any, does corporate sponsorship translate to the ticket holder? Saying “You wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for us” is cold comfort – just like you always told your parents. Instead, maybe companies should consider how to make good onto the person actually buying their (watery) beer at festivals, instead of doing all of their wheeling and dealing behind closed doors. People love free crap, from buttons to lighters to hats – but they don’t really love being reminded every ten seconds who the sponsors are when they’re trying to watch a band or take a piss or buying a beer for eight dollars. Something to consider, yeah?

For Bands:

Let’s assume the sound guy/girl is trying his/her best, and don't punch the audience

Musicians, it’s hectic for you to get on stage, run through a short set, and make your way elsewhere for an after-party or interview. That said, let’s not take out our frustrations on the nice people doing sound, the lights, or interviewing you. Even if the organizers of the festival are douchebags, we can safely assume they are not also the people getting your mic levels just so, bringing you warm towelettes or asking you about your last album in fanboyish glee while they record your answers onto their iPhones. As fun as festivals can be, they’re also stressful and tiring. Make sure your complaints hit the right targets, and not the fans and people working for a paycheck while the rest of the town parties.

For the Crowd:

Don’t Ruin it for Me

I’m happy that you’re here with your friends and watching lots of bands. But see how almost everyone else here is behaving? That’s what we like. If you’re having an awful time, just leave. Rarely do festivals improve the longer you’re there and the drunker and more uncomfortable you get. I didn’t want to leave Monolith a few years ago before the end of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs set, and it’s a good thing I didn’t because I remember little of the actual music but have acute memories of shivering and wishing my feet weren’t soaking wet (I was a lot of fun at the late dinner that followed). Also, Woodstock may have set a bad president for massive drug use in public. Please don’t take acid and run around the park screaming and throwing off your clothes – it doesn’t make the music of Vampire Weekend sound any more palatable or original, we promise.

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