Summertime is festival time. If you missed the ones last weekend, don’t fret. There are plenty more next weekend — and for weekends to come — and they’re all the same.
The plain truth: these so-called “Special Events” are no longer very special. There are just too many of them (one promoter calls it ”festival saturation“), tens of thousands in the USA alone, and festivals are much too similar.
For the past few decades there have been about 60 annual festivals in the Washington, DC area during a four-month season of sixteen weekends. Some years back we attended about 30 of them each year for professional reasons, and spoke with organizers of around 50 festivals annually.
Only a handful of events are distinctive –the large unique thematic festivals and very small neighborhood events. Most festivals are middling-big, badly-run and (if you are not very drunk) extremely boring. They all use the same staging, sound, and promotion companies, they book sound-alike bands, entertainment, exhibits, rides, souvenirs. They look the same and sound the same. Even the T-shirts look the same, and so do the piles of dated, unsold T-shirts left over after each year’s festival.
Festivals also taste and smell the same. Even the rare producers who take great pains to ensure the quality and appropriateness of event entertainment and design include every food vendor with a health department certificate and the appropriate fee. Festivals need to “curate” food concessions to establish and protect a distinctive identity. Of course, they only need do this if they want to survive.
Because this is another “Shake-Out Summer” for many long-time festivals. Even 4th of July events are being canceled. As Emily Fredrix of Associated Press explained last year:
Corporate sponsors are pulling out as they worry about their own financial well-being, let alone donating money to a festival. Organizers are reluctant to raise ticket prices since families shelling out $4-a-gallon for gas may not want to pay the extra money. And costs for hiring bands, vendors and renting grounds are rising.
Last year in Britain, pop music festivals cancelled left and right. Poor ticket sales and bad financial and logistical planning meant bands weren’t getting paid, drinking water — even beer! — was often scarce, toilets poorly serviced, staff inadequate. There was frequent confusion over admission price changes and unannounced schedule variations. When each event is a crisis, when creditors clamor for payment and customers demand refunds, it just isn’t fun anymore.
Note: Festivals compete with “Fun Runs,” “Charity Walks,” and “Mothers Against Bad Stuff” demonstrations on a typical DC weekend.
Image: Mike Licht. Download it here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
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