Festivals, Then and Now

The initial offering of this blog series delved into the history of festivals, and how the activities later transformed into ‘Modern Day Music Festivals’. With Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock and Glastonbury being at the epicentre of large-scale live music gatherings, let us see how others have developed those ideas to create the diverse scene that we have on offer in 2020.

Picture Glastonbury 1971 (its second year), arriving by car following the crowds via a myriad of poorly signposted country roads near Bristol. You park up next to a Pyramid shaped scaffolding structure, clad in an assortment of plastic and metal corrugated sheeting and pitch your tent a little way away from the front of the stage. Slowly over the day, the capacity grows to around 1,500 attendees and you spend the rest of your weekend listening to The Kinks (or T. Rex as they were later replaced with), enjoying the freely offered milk and the homemade Ox Roast. Aside from a poor water supply and limited toilets, that was it! Everyone had a good time, although Eavis’ dream of paying off his student loan most probably fell through.

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Glastonbury

Flash forward nearly 50 years, to an almost unrecognisable event. The show, which now holds a capacity of 180,000 guests (+ staff and artists) and covers over 900 acres of farmland, holds an abundance of activities and entertainment. From live performers, artists and musicians, to film screenings, yoga and a huge party in Shangri La Village. With a multitude of bars, food traders, shops and concessions, it would be nigh impossible to tick everything off within one visit.

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Two of the major changes in the festival world have been to the music and legislation, and with that, a myriad events that have changed the scene, for better or worse. These include Factory Records based in Manchester – introducing artists such as New Order, Joy Division and Happy Mondays. The Haçienda (also Manchester based) brought Acid House and rave culture to the forefront of the popular culture. As artists like Underworld, The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy brought rave music to the fore, whilst simultaneously the likes of Grandmaster Flash, Run-D.M.C., NWA, and The Beastie Boys popularised rap. Other areas such as Afrobeat, Disco and Techno were also brought into a higher limelight with artists and events such as Fela Kuti and Nile Rogers plus the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany.

Another important element to consider in music festival evolution are the reasons for why artists were performing. Before the Internet really took off, artists would make the majority of the earnings through record/CD sales with gigs nearly as a marketing tool for new material. Whereas today, with the accessibility of music streaming platforms such as Spotify, Itunes and Soundcloud alongside an abundance of other media sources, artists now rely on events as their core income, therefore charge a premium for their performances.

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Alongside the genre changes, let’s look at how legislation has forced the hands of organisers to plan their festivals from a perhaps more controlled angle. Festivals have always been about enabling freedom for your guests and occasionally carries a rebellious attitude or characterisation. From a long list of tragic safety related incidents, our knowledge as an industry has grown to mitigate these re-occurring (although Fyre Festival was a total blip).

The Indianapolis State Fair is a key example of legislation and regulations not being followed properly with a main stage collapsing under the load of heavy wind that evening. Unfortunately, four people died in this tragedy. Love Parade previously had multiple deaths due to one of the main egress routes flowing through a narrow tunnel which caused crushing from the over attended free event. Even Glastonbury has seen horrendous weather-related issues. In 2005, some campsites flooded to be over 6ft deep, causing the waste from portaloos to drain into the flood creating huge sanitation issues. Alternatively last year, when heatwaves nearly caused them to run out of water for the guests.

All of these aforementioned issues alongside many more have mostly benefitted the overall development of the festival world, however in doing so has also tightened the infinitely growing book of legislation.

Written by Luca Onisto

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