Has the bubble finally burst on the major festivals?

By Steve Jenner on 02 April 2008

How the media love to jump on a cultural fad, build it into the tallest tower they can and then send it tumbling back down to the earth with a sensationa

l crash. They did it with us dot coms at the end of the last century ( thanks ), they do it with bands and celebs day-in, they recently did it to Facebook and now they've turned to our favourite cultural institution of recent years - festivals (major ones, to be specific).

Here's The Guardian getting stuck in: http://music.guardian.co.uk/festivals/story/0,,2270145,00.html ( which I was even quoted in, not altogether in context ).

The basic premise is this: "Look at how similar and dull the major festival line-ups are this year...."

On this observation, they've got a point. The Verve and Kings of Leon, for instance, are both going to be at Glastonbury, T in the Park, Oxygen and V2008 Chelmsford and Staffordshire. I just yawned thinking about it.

Then they get a bit carried away by saying things like "People are bored of this now and sick of the commercialism inherant at major festivals and they're all turning, instead, to boutique festivals (like Bestival and Latitude) which are about more than just the music."

The flaw there is in the word 'instead' .

Certainly, the rise of the pretty and more intimate boutique festival has seduced many of us away from the 'Big Bands in Fields' machines that are the majors. But that hasn't stopped any of these giants selling out faster than they ever have before.

Just like music, it's a fact that most people enter the festival scene through a mainstream gateway (via a major festival). Then they diversify to more specialist tastes (the small/ medium-sized/ boutique events). What's important is that more people are entering the scene (at the top end) than those migrating down it. And this is what's happening, backed up by hard, cold ticket sales.

Whichever way you look at it, it's blazingly apparent that the festival market is not only still growing, but at a faster rate than it has ever done before.

This dismisses the notion that the disappointing major headliners are a symptom of market over-satuation "too few bands for too many events". Nor are they just a product of the emergence of enticing new mega venues like Wembley Stadium or the O2 ( as my quote in the Guardian was led to suggest ) which offer headline-sized acts more lucrative deals. Muse sold out Wembley twice last summer and it hasn't stopped them returning to V Festival this year.

More likely, the organisers of these festivals are faced with the dilemma that their tickets will all sell-out anyway, probably faster than they did last year - so whynot spend the minimum possible on their headliners? If people are happy with Kings Of Leon and The Verve (as clearly the folk who snapped up all the V and T tickets in such a rush are), then what's the problem?

All I can say is thank god for Reading and Leeds for managing to keep such complacency at bay, refreshingly forfeiting profitability to deliver one of the greatest festival line-ups of all time. It probably cost its organisers (Festival Republic) more than all the others combined, but if I had to pay for my festival tickets, I know where I'd put my money. It's certainly put some excitement (and dare I say character )back intothe top end of the festival scene.

So has the festival bubble burst?

No, it's just got even bigger.

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