Music festivals: have they lost their spirit?

Music festivals first rose to prominence in the 1960’s, becoming a symbol of the growing counterculture movement. Examples such as Woodstock and Isle of Wight provided a hedonistic safe space of utopian proportion, commanding an audience of over 400,000 people. 50 years on, and music festivals are more popular than ever. But are their original values still intact?

The evolution of music festivals

Averaging at around £200 for a weekend and camping ticket. Modern festivals have certainly increased the fees asked by their predecessors. However, when comparing it to modern events of a similar nature, its price becomes far more understandable. With tickets for live gigs reaching over £100 for headline acts, festivals now appear to offer far greater value for money; with the opportunity to see tens of acts, differing in genre, and at a variety of themed stages.

Yet, value for money is not the sole reason behind increased attendance. Considering the consistent decline of music sales, live performances have now become pivotal to a musician’s financial survival. As a result, more emphasis is placed on innovative shows that incorporate elaborate lights and pyrotechnics – as well as an increased emphasis on the performance as a holistic experience. This higher quality of performance has added to the modern festival’s appeal. This has been exemplified by the electronic music legend Aphex Twin, whose return to the festival circuit involved wowing his Field Day audience with a multi-sensory experience of warped lights, visuals, and sound.


Have festivals lost the free spirit culture upon which they were built?

It could be argued that festivals have devolved into a sponsored marketing activity – with their growing popularity leaving them caught in the crosshairs of mainstream corporations fuelled by potential market growth; the antithesis of counterculture and its original values.

Yes, they have undoubtedly changed. But so have the parameters for a utopia-style experience that were first set back in the 1960s. Today’s generation are far more interested in the experience itself. Rather than being part of a political act; millennials seek to gain social capital through new and exciting festivals that offer a more intimate and unique experience. You no longer attend solely to listen to the music; instead there is far more attention towards creating an immersive experience that is in tune with the fantasies of the festival audience. This trend is seen in the makeup of the industry, as the growth of smaller, more niche festivals has far outclassed that of larger ones; with the sponsorship of bars or stages by brands considered a necessary evil in order to be sustainable in an increasingly crowded market.

However, some things never change. Festivals are a social experience that feed not only off the music but also your surroundings. The latter seems to be simply more prominent in modern festival culture.