Festivals and concerts come in all different sizes and budgets. Insomniac’s EDC Las Vegas is a prime example of what a festival with a large budget can look like, and the experience is one that attendees are sure to remember. However, money doesn’t always make or break the experience of a festival or a concert. Sometimes the best events are the smaller, more intimate festivals that lack the commercial sponsors noticeably present at large events.
The Dirtybird BBQ recently set up shop in Chicago’s West Loop, where the likes of Claude VonStroke, Shiba San and more played to several hundred people in a small parking lot. Walking into the lot felt a lot like walking into a neighborhood block party (except most block parties don’t have inflatable banana rides or Dirtybird artists manning the grill). Like other smaller events, security and ticket lines were basically non-existent. A quick pat down and glance at my ticket showed how relaxed everyone was at this BBQ. The parking lot itself was just big enough for everyone, making it a very cozy experience with plenty of room to dance. A tiny tent covered the decks but was not big enough to cover the massive speakers. The speakers protruded from the underneath the canopy and filled the entire neighborhood with Shiba San’s “Okay”.
Nowadays, production value and commercial advertising are huge factors producers have to consider when putting on a music festival. Not only does money buy big name artists but it also goes towards creating an experience that smaller budget festivals simply cannot replicate. When you compare events like Coachella to smaller shows like the Dirtybird BBQ, there really isn’t a comparison when it comes to stage design and production. However, if we strip away the fancy sets and the flashing lights we realize that the vibes and the overall environment are still the same.
The rise in popularity of electronic music has seen more and more sponsors flooding the scene to grab their share of the market. The Huffington Post calls these “Super Concerts” a “bastardization and redefinition of the concept of a festival” with a focus on making more money for both music industry corporations and their sponsors. Security gets stricter with each big festival and the price of tickets only gets more expensive with each passing year. A certain amount of freedom is lost when you enter huge music festival grounds; suddenly we’re not allowed to bring in open packs of cigarettes and police dogs line the entry way. On the flip side, that hefty ticket price provides more amenities like VIP bathrooms and gourmet food.
Not every festival goes down the road of commercial industrialization, but it does make it harder for them to compete with events that range from Coachella, EDC, Lollapalooza and Burning Man. Local festivals are making way for well-known festivals that market themselves to younger and younger audiences all year-round. Music festivals are becoming a place to be seen and a place where you have to fight your way through a crowd to hear an artist you love. With more money comes a more memorable experience, but it also means you’re likely to run into a younger crowd that doesn’t truly understand what a music festival is all about.
At the end of the day, we go to the low-key events and these “Super Concerts” because of the music and the experience we want to receive. Paying $40 for a ticket versus $300 will surely buy you a different festival experience, but the memories we make are what bring us back to the scene. There is a noticeable difference between attending EDC and a Dirtybird BBQ, but we shouldn’t be putting down one type of event over another. We craft our own experiences from both and that should be reason enough to keep coming back to music festivals whether they are commercial or not.