For the longest time, summer festival would not take root in North America–at least not to the extent that we see in Europe. But then came Coachella and Bonnaroo and the stay-in-Chicago version of Lollapalooza and Osheaga and Ottawa Blues Fest and Festival d’ete.
So have we caught up to Europe when it comes to music festivals? We’re close. As of this year, there are 847 music festivals in North America. That’s a lot. Maybe too many. Wondering Sound is wondering the same thing.
During the last dozen years, music festivals in North America have undergone a total transformation that’s not only overhauled the concert business but also altered philosophies on record releases, promotional strategies and advertising-and-branding approaches at large. These events have metastasized from enormous gatherings of tens of thousands of people near major markets — the giants of the festival world — into a battalion of smaller, no-less-ambitious events in cities across the country — the new Meltasia between Atlanta and Nashville, the small-but-intriguing Basilica Sound Scape in upstate New York, or Hopscotch, a Raleigh festival that I helped to build and co-directed for four years until resigning earlier this year.
But there are signs that the exponential curve of festival growth is a path to an unsustainable scenario, where too many festivals overshoot talent costs and overrun the ability of fans to buy tickets at all.
Just how much can the American festival circuit continue to swell before that bubble bursts, if it does at all?