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Festival Trends.

16 July 2016

From field festivals to RFID - how the festival experience continues to evolve.

Each year more and more festivals come on board in Ireland, but we have entered a new, third age of festival evolution according to JB – Strategic Director at Modern Green – and Hugh Scully – Interlude Festival, owner at Coppa, RFID & event technology representative. Eventbrite held a fascinating event on festival trends hosted by Jim Carroll of the Irish Times and Banter.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ireland had the likes the Fleadh, Slane and Siamsa Cois Laoi, amongst others. The 1990s saw the rise of the second age, with the likes of Witness and Homelands and other large-scale field festivals. Witness evolved to Electric Picnic and Slane’s legacy enabled it to attract world famous headliner acts. These two became the pinnacle of each summer – taking the lion’s share of consumers, and brands, attention.

However, in the last 8 years mini festivals and local community festivals have emerged; with more and more launching each year, we are now in our third age. This weekend past saw the second installment of Drop Everything on Inis Oirr and Life festival, for those craving a weekend on the dance floor. Music has, to some degree, taken a backseat to the overall experience, and large headliner acts are fewer and fewer. Whether this is down to audience taste or a lack of musical talent remains to be seen, but one statistic points to a lack of up-and-coming talent according to JB: the average age of a headline performer 10 years ago was 30, today it is 45.

However, consumers too have a part to play. According to a recent Guardian survey: 7 percent of people surveyed quoted the line-up as being what they looked for in a festival; while 58 percent said it was the experience.

You can see this reflected in the rise in the quality of food. Consumers used to be somewhat forgiving of someone cooking in a van in a field, but not anymore. Punters expect the same quality and choice as they have at home and sellers have upped their game.

From a marketing perspective what does this mean for brands? Consumers are much more forgiving of brand’s presence today as long as they are enriching their experience. It is a fine line, but dedicated brand areas are popular and if the brand gets it right – they will reap the benefits.

Take Spotify at last year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival who made excellent use of RFID (Radio-frequency identification) technology (which enables us pay by tap with our bank cards) to create content and playlists for music fans, as they traversed the festival. Within moments of hearing your favourite band you could exclusively download the playlist.

However, you can’t just claim a festival, it needs to fit. So long as brands respect that they are there to enrich, not to dominate, the festival scene is primed for brands to get further involved, be it through sponsorship or experiential events.

H&M understood this well, when in 2015, they teamed up with Coachella, once again, to create a bespoke fashion line for the event. They also created a pop-up shop at the festival, just in case of any last-minute need for the right festival outfit.

So what can we expect to see in the coming years?

A rise in RFID and tech use: RFID has been used in festivals around the world to enable a more seamless experience for festival goers. Embedded bracelets enable quicker queues and lines and like the Spotify example above can be used to create a whole new frictionless experience for punters. It is just going to take someone brave enough to embrace it.

Ibeacons too will come into play more, which offer a chance to further engage festival goers with original content and information.

We will also see more tech being used before and after the festivals to keep people engaged.

Food festivals coming centre stage: Feastival created by Jamie Oliver and Alex James, of Blur, is well established now. Food plays a central role, and the atmosphere is more family friendly and less focussed on just alcohol. We already have famous and excellent food festivals, but they are somewhat nice and so, there is room for a more mainstream music and food festival to enter the market.

Even more small community festivals: Sea Sessions, Knockanstockon, and Castlepalooza are but three smaller festivals that will take place over the summer. Smaller niche festivals have grown in popularity and abundance over the last few years and seem set to continue to emerge as there is an appetite for them. As the desire for experience over music comes to the fore, smaller communities with shared passion and interests will become the order of the day.

All-in-one festivals: Ireland is not shy of food or literary or arts festivals. Indeed some of these are our best established and most loved. Food and comedy already have a place at many festivals, but as the experience becomes the goal of festivals, we might well start to see a greater diversification of offerings at established festivals. Someone is missing a trick by not incorporating fashion, but the next few years, should see more of this in Ireland.

Non-summer festivals: In November last, Metropolis was held in Dublin and it was a massive success. When we think of festivals, we think sun (rain), fields and cider, but there is no reason to be locked to the summer. As Metropolis showed, consumers are eager all-year round. So expect to see more festivals occupying the autumnal and winter months.

Multi-venue festivals: Primavera and Sonar, both will take place in Barcelona over the next fortnight are concrete festivals – that is situated entirely in a city. Barcelona does have the sun and the beach to go with its beautiful architecture and music scene, but Irish cities have that too. Dublin, for example, whilst being a major capital city, has a compact city centre with hosts of different venues within walking distance of one another. As Culture Night shows, multi-venue events can work wonderfully. Thus Dublin is well set-up to host such a festival as Primavera, if only a promoter saw fit to host it.

Themed festivals: Each summer, the Isle of Wight hosts Bestival, a wonderful offbeat music festival. Attendees dress according to that year’s theme (this year it is The Future is here), and everyone makes the effort. This isn’t going to someone’s Halloween party, the theme and effort of those going creates a special atmosphere and a real community feel over the course of the festival. In Ireland, we can be quick to judge but as times change, there is a place for fancy dress in the festival field.

Changing the running order: Could we see big acts at midday and lesser-known acts occupying the traditional prime slots?

Festival goers are more transient: No longer are people going and watching a full 80 minute set, they will pick and choose their acts and be moving the whole time.

Electric picnic is for the older set: The average age of attendees at EP is over 30, do they care about frictionless experiences? Do brands need to offer them something more than connectivity to WIFI? Should festivals be catering to their audience’s social demands?

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