Blog: Are there too many festivals in the UK?

By chrise | SophieMorton on 10 August 2011

On Tuesday, after 31 festival cancellations this summer, Isle Of Wight Festival boss John Giddings spoke out suggesting that the festival market is overcrowded.

Meanwhile Melvin Benn of Festival Republic argued that despite slower ticket sales, festivals are still extremely popular.

Here, two VF writers have their say. We also want to know your thoughts. Are there too many festivals? Did you have tickets to an event that was later cancelled? Would you go to a brand new festival? Leave your thoughts in the comment box at the bottom of the article.

The festival market isn't saturated yet, writes Sophie Morton

Let’s get this straight: there aren’t too many music festivals in the UK right now. With a million people expected to go to a festival this summer, the demand is certainly still there. People love live music; in 2008, more money was spent on live music than recorded music for the first time. That gap is continuing to widen.

In addition to the well-known festivals such as Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, there are plenty of smaller ones all over the country. In a time when petrol prices just keep on climbing, travelling miles is no longer possible for some people.

Gate prices are slowly climbing at the major festivals as well; a weekend ticket to this year's Glastonbury cost twice what it did ten years ago. The smaller festivals are a lot cheaper, meaning music fans can spend two or three weekends listening to live music and not have to worry about the cost.

One of the main advantages of having a large range of festivals is that there is something for everyone. Whether you're more at home on a dance floor than in a mosh pit, the choice of festivals means that there'll be somewhere playing music you like and within your price range.

As music is becoming more diverse, so too is the range of festivals. Having lots of festivals doesn't mean you're always getting more of the same; some festivals choose not to have any mainstream bands on the bill at all.

Bands are also benefiting from the number of festivals on the market, as more stage slots open up for fresh new acts to perform in front of potentially thousands.

Restaurants, shops and hotels around the sites regularly report an increase in customers over festival weekend. Having a lot of festivals means that a lot of communities are getting an often much-needed financial boost.

It's obvious that there is a desire for live music: increasing numbers of new festivals are being set up all the time. Permission has recently been granted for On Blackheath, a pop music festival due to be held in South London next September. Organisers hope up to 25,000 fans will attend.

Having more festivals provides greater competition for better line-ups and facilities. Fans aren't going to return to somewhere they don't like, especially when they've got a lot of alternative options. It's down to the festivals to maintain a good bill with a relative ticket price, decent, affordable food and an edge of originality to build a solid reputation else, perhaps, face the financial consequences.

Festivals aren't selling out like they used to because people are checking out the competition, and that's a good thing. You wouldn't settle for going to the same hotel every year just because it was the first one you ever went to. Why should festivals be any different?

What is the other option? Reduce the number of festivals and so reduce the number of fans who can attend and bands who can play. The music industry thrives on live performances, and while it continues to do so, the festivals must stay in their number.

There are too many festivals nowadays, argues Chris Eustace

Michael Eavis’ recent comments about festivals “being on the way out” certainly got people talking. Festival Republic main man Melvin Benn insisted festivals were enjoying a “boom” and were now “part of UK culture”, while a recently-released PRS financial report showed festival income was up 20% in 2009. There seems to be more festivals springing up this summer than ever before, but with 31 of them cancelled or postponed already this year, that should tell us something.

With the Ignition Festival in Newcastle the latest to fall, has the bubble burst? Well, while festivals are definitely now a major part of our summer, it’s also a main factor in the Glastonbury boss’ worries over whether people have “seen it all before,” with Isle of Wight Festival promoter John Giddings saying the market is now “saturated.”

It seems that quantity means quality is being sacrificed. Anyone who can get themselves a patch of land and the number for Ocean Colour Scene’s booking agent fancies themselves as a festival mogul these days, and that just chucking a few bands and some portaloos into a field will see the money roll in. If we look at the thriving small and medium festivals like Truck, Green Man, Parklife or End Of The Road however, they each have a character and charm all of their own, and they make a huge effort to find and get to know their audience.

Simply put, in order to survive nowadays, a festival needs to be able to offer a unique experience – the main reason people were up in arms over the suggestion that Glastonbury may only have “three or four years left” is because it’s generally thought of as more than just a music festival, with the Green Fields or Shangri-La loved just as much if not more than the Pyramid Stage headliners.

Witness too the rise of the niche festival. Dance events like Creamfields have been popular for a while, and now dedicated hard rock/metal festivals are also doing well, with independent festival Bloodstock continuing to grow and Sonisphere developing into a major player, selling out for the first time this year.  Retro festival 80’s Rewind has also sold out, while student-only event Beach Break Live also impressed earlier in the summer.

Festivals have the tough economic climate to deal with as well. People are going to shop around for the best deals, and brand loyalty can’t even ensure a sell out for the big guns, as Reading & Leeds has found out this year. It can’t have helped to have their headliners playing European festivals for half the price, and newer UK festivals with more “mid-table” bands will need to watch their prices for the same reason.

Also, with indie in the doldrums, commercially if not creatively, there are less bands breaking through to the mainstream. Given that the genre had become the bedrock of festival bills in the last 10 years, this has forced many events to widen their scope, but even that can only stretch so far. Every festival seems to have a dubstep tent now for instance, and the new stars that are breaking through like Example, Katy B, Tinie Tempah and Ed Sheeran have been so ubiquitous this festival season, you were surprised to find they weren’t on before Slipknot at Sonisphere.

Are there too many festivals now? Yes, but the real problem is that there are too many unimaginative ones. The big guns like Glasto, Reading & Leeds and V will all survive because they have the clout to book big artists, but even they’re facing a dilemma over whether to book the sure-fire dinosaurs or take a risk on newer blood as headliners. It’s something that anyone planning an event will need to remember – it might not always work, but sometimes it pays to do something different.

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