After spending most of this summer at music festivals across the U.S. like Sasquatch, Firefly and Governors Ball, we figured it’d be a great time to take a closer look at how festivals on the other side of the pond do things. While the music festival industry is certainly booming in the States, it owes much of its success to its European predecessors. Without mega-festivals like Glastonbury, Primavera, Roskilde, and Sonar, we most likely wouldn’t have Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Governors Ball. At the same time, American festivals have long done their own thang; there’s a noticeable different between Glastonbury and Coachella, Primavera and Bonnaroo. Maybe it’s due to regional tastes in music. Maybe it’s due to bureaucratic or logistical differences. Either way, we couldn’t help but notice a few things that set them apart after hitting some recent European festivals. Don’t worry, America: we took notes. In fact, we found three major ways that European festivals go above and beyond their American counterparts to make an amazing festival experience. Let’s take a look.
Some of the biggest festivals in the U.S. play it safe when it comes to booking. They concentrate on legacy acts and international stars that have already sold out arenas. On top of that, the vast majority of these artists are American (OK, maybe some are Canadian, too). Why not take cues from European festivals like Roskilde and Sonar? These festivals have a solid draw, even while taking adventurous risks with their lineups. As Grant C. Dull, DJ and CEO of Buenos Aires-based ZZK Records, noted, “It seems like a lot of festivals in the U.S. are carbon copies of each other– same headliners, same DJs, same everything. It would be cool to see some more diversity.” Indeed, at some American festivals it can be hard to tell which lineup is from which year.
We have two suggestions taken straight from the European festival playbook: Book artists from other cultures, and book new artists. Booking artists from other cultures and countries is one of the surest ways to create a more inclusive and mind-expanding festival experience. A second thing we’ve noticed is the amount of shine European festivals give to up-and-coming acts. Playing a festival is a wild, unreal thing, and giving new artists a chance to experience it can make for a truly magical performance. Don’t get us wrong, curating an entire festival takes some serious alchemical work, and there are some festivals in the U.S. fighting the good fight, but it’s hard to argue the fact that overall, European festivals have a major leg up on American festivals when it comes to diversifying their lineups.
America is making strides when it comes to booking festivals in cool locations. There’s Sustain-Release that takes over a converted summer camp, and Basilica Soundscape in an old Hudson Valley warehouse, but generally, it doesn’t really get more exciting than that. Maybe the challenges spring from American permit issues or from finding willing investors, but we’re not entirely convinced. Especially when festivals in Europe take place in crazy locations like an abandoned Soviet mine, a Bulgarian mountain meadow, in near-arctic circle Norway, or on an industrial island in the city of Hamburg, Germany. We’re not sure exactly how these festivals get put together, but one thing is for sure: we need events like this in the U.S. Both Sustain-Release and Basilica Soundscape received plenty of acclaim last year, and are set up for the same this summer. More American festivals should follow their lead.
American festivals have really stepped it up in recent years when it comes to looking out for attendees. Take for example, the consistently expanding safety precautions and vast array of luxury amenities found at pretty much all major U.S. festivals. However, there is one stereotype – a myth even–passed from touring musician to touring musician about European hospitality, which seems to ring true: Artists are treated like royalty in Europe compared to the U.S. Again, here’s our dude Grant C. Dull, “The hospitality in Europe is very high. From airport pickups to hotels, meals and backstage hospitality, it’s generally on point. If anything, I’d say the USA could learn a little more on that end.” Maybe European festivals have more people on staff to handle artist hospitality or maybe they’re just more organized. Either way, both of these would be hard to actually quantify. We think it boils down to a cultural thing. European festivals are trying to show the artists as good of a time as the fans, because if the artists are feeling great, the fans will feel great, too.
The one major thing American festivals have over European ones? The chance to win epic prizes like the chance to hang out with Austin Mahone. Download the 7-Eleven® app and scan it every time you buy a Slurpee® and you could find yourself reading All Access Chill off the same screen as Mahone himself.