Are Music Festivals Only Catering To Rock’s One Percent?

Do you remember your first authentic music festival experience?

Mine was the Vans Warped Tour, just outside of Boston, during the summer of 1999. Not yet old enough to drive, my parents dropped my sister and I off near the main gate of the Suffolk Downs racetrack. Despite the uncharacteristically hot and humid weather, we begged for them to let us stay until the end so we could endure ten non-stop hours of music.

Infamous for featuring nearly one hundred punk, ska, and hardcore bands at each stop, the festival has been consistently touring every summer since 1995. They've never relied on major headliners and the tickets have always been affordable.

Out of curiosity, I hopped onto Warped Tour's website to see how much a ticket for this summer's Nashville date would set me back. I was pleasantly surprised to find that tickets are only $38.50 (plus service fees).

For a split second, I contemplated reliving my angst-ridden teenage punk rock days in a mosh pit at the Nashville Fairgrounds. I quickly reminded myself that I'm at least ten years older than the majority of festival attendees. Sigh.

Regardless, I have fond memories of rocking out at Warped Tour to bands like Save Ferris, NOFX, Green Day, and Millencolin. I was even able to push my way to the front of the crowd for a couple of acts, a challenging feat for a tiny fifteen year old girl.

Several bands even camped out in the heat to sign autographs for their fans. My sister and I returned to my parents' car sunburnt and exhausted, but already plotting our return for the following year.

My passion for live music grew steadily through adolescence and by the time I was in college, I was absolutely enamored by festivals. In fact, a group of friends and I volunteered at Bonnaroo for two years in a row in exchange for free admission.

Despite a lack of free time these days, I still love a unique music festival experience, and Newport Folk Festival takes the prize for my all-time favorite. Located on the water in Fort Adams Park, the lineup has consistently been amazing in recent years and the attendance is limited to just 10,000 people.

A couple of other bucket list festivals include Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Iceland Airwaves in Reykjavík.

With limited vacation time post-college, I've been forced to become more selective with the events I've chosen to attend. I've found myself opting for a smaller, more intimate festival over the 80,000+ person events I navigated with ease in my early twenties.

As I contemplate a more discerning criteria, I wonder if my standards have risen. How important are things like proximity to the stage, cleaner bathrooms, shorter lines, and access to comfortable VIP areas? Would I be willing to pay extra for these kinds of amenities?

Most festivals offer general admission ticket holders the ability to upgrade to their version of a VIP festival experience. Some feel that this diminishes the event for the average festival goer by creating a level of hierarchy among fans based on their level of discretionary income.

After all, not everyone can afford a $200, $600, or $30,000 upgrade.

A couple of months ago, Rolling Stone penned the piece Why VIP Packages Are Ruining Rock Festivals.

In describing the disparity between the general admission patrons and VIP, a promoter points out, “It's so not rock & roll. You're sitting in 90-degree heat and watching some asshole sitting in an air-conditioned tent getting a pedicure.”

But is that an accurate depiction what actually goes on? Does an upgrade for some detract from the other festival attendees' experience?

Rolling Stone interviews a disgrunted Lollapalooza fan who argues, “When I look at the VIP section, I see people folding their arms, looking serious. It's like they paid $1,000 to say, ‘I have more money than you.'”

Personally, I have no problem with festivals selling VIP upgrades.

Not all music lovers have the youth or stamina to last a full day sitting on the ground in the sun. If spending their hard earned money on a special entrance, private bathrooms, and an air-conditioned tent floats their boat, that really doesn't bother me.

Much like the secondary ticketing market for scalpers, a VIP experience wouldn't exist if the demand wasn't there.

I would argue that VIP packages are doing the opposite of ruining music festivals by creating additional streams of revenue for the organizers, as Rolling Stone also points out.

Readers: How do VIP packages affect your experience as a music festival patron? Would you consider forking over the cash for an upgrade?

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Discussions — 25 Responses

  • Retire Before Dad July 1, 2014 on 11:00 am

    I would absolutely fork over extra cash for a VIP upgrade at a good festival, if I could find the time. Nowadays, older people want to see the bands, but don’t want to camp. I camped at Bonnaroo 2007 and it was impossible to sleep past 7am because of the heat. Made the 4am DJ Shadow set hard to stay up for. Not to mention bathing in a shipping container with a bunch of half naked campers. Despite the lack of certain comforts, the Bonnoroo experience was AWESOME. With kids now it’s hard to sneak away for a long weekend like that. My bucket list festivals would be Glastonbury and Reading.

    • Addison Cash Retire Before Dad July 3, 2014 on 11:58 am

      Awesome! I’ve also experienced being baked out of my tent by 7:00 AM because of the heat at Bonnaroo. I’ve tried to find a tree or some shade to take a nap under so I could stay up for some of the late night acts. Camping isn’t for everyone. A nearby hotel would be ideal for me!

  • Brian July 1, 2014 on 12:53 pm

    Personally I would not pay for a VIP experience. If you are a true VIP you don’t pay extra. While I am not a VIP I have gotten into many areas of shows by hanging out with the right people and/or being in the right place at the right time. Of course now that I have a little guy, I haven’t been to many shows recently and I don’t really miss it that much.

    • Addison Cash Brian July 3, 2014 on 11:55 am

      Good point, Brian. It pays to have those kinds of friends 🙂

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach July 1, 2014 on 1:55 pm

    I used to LOVE music festival (Lolla was my first, and I’ve also seen the Warped Tour), but I have to admit that somewhere around my mid 30’s my tolerance for concerts went WAY down. This was a depressing and sobering thing because I used to see SO MANY shows in my 20’s…big, small, and everywhere in between. I could stand for hours and be right in the thick of things. Now I like the Hollywood Bowl or Greek Theater where I have assigned seats, good bathrooms, concerts are at night so I don’t get sunburned and sweat my ass off. That being said, it seems NO concert is cheap anymore and I rarely go. Once in a blue moon. I guess the plus side is it saves me TONS of money! I don’t mind big festivals having vip areas. I could probably never afford it, but if I could, I’d totally be doing the vip thing.

    • Addison Cash Tonya@Budget and the Beach July 1, 2014 on 4:59 pm

      I’m definitely too cheap for splurging on a VIP experience. And concerts have definitely gotten expensive. Fortunately, we have tons of free or inexpensive live entertainment in Nashville!

  • Aldo @ Million Dollar Ninja July 1, 2014 on 2:10 pm

    I used to love festivals when I was a teen, but now I can’t stand them. I much rather go to a small event where I don’t have to deal with crazy teens crowdsurfing and kicking me in the face. The sound at those big events is also terrible. I guess being VIP will fix some of those problems, but I rather just go to a smaller event.

    • Addison Cash Aldo @ Million Dollar Ninja July 1, 2014 on 4:55 pm

      Aw, man. Crowdsurfers can be dangerous! The sound definitely varies between events. I’ve heard amazing and terrible, for sure.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty July 1, 2014 on 2:35 pm

    There are certain bands I would pay for a VIP package for. We are going to Denver this fall to see Pearl Jam, and even though we didn’t pay for VIP, our tickets were $180ish each.

    • Addison Cash Holly@ClubThrifty July 1, 2014 on 4:51 pm

      Wow, I’d love to see Pearl Jam someday! I would pay for a VIP package to sit in the pit for a band I really love.

  • Asset-Grinder July 1, 2014 on 8:43 pm

    Man I havent been to a music festival since 1993 lol. Kube summer jam in Monroe washigton. I guess I am not that kool lol

    • Addison Cash Asset-Grinder July 2, 2014 on 4:37 pm

      Wow! It’s not for everyone. My parents don’t really enjoy the music festival experience unless it’s super intimate. I think they would like something the size of Newport Folk Festival, but nothing larger.

  • NZ Muse July 1, 2014 on 8:57 pm

    For a few years I went on a concert binge – spent all my money on gigs. I’ve worn myself out and have had enough of that scene! But I don’t think I would pay for VIP.

    • Addison Cash NZ Muse July 2, 2014 on 4:35 pm

      Hahaha, I’m sure you saw a ton of amazing shows, though!

  • Natalie @ Financegirl July 2, 2014 on 12:53 pm

    I never go to music festivals because they are so expensive! I guess this gets your point across. I would rather use the money for something else – just not worth it for me!

    • Addison Cash Natalie @ Financegirl July 2, 2014 on 4:35 pm

      Definitely understandable, Natalie! It’s important to have priorities like that.

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life July 2, 2014 on 5:50 pm

    I’ve never been to a music festival, though I think I would enjoy the A/C if I could afford it!

    • Addison Cash Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life July 2, 2014 on 7:39 pm

      Access to air conditioning in the middle a hot summer festival sounds like the epitome of luxury to me.

  • Kassandra July 2, 2014 on 8:30 pm

    I don’t see a problem if people want to pay more for the VIP or better seat experience.
    I’ve spent more money on a couple of concerts to have a better seat in concerts with zero regrets! My tolerance for big crowds is very low but for some bands I make the sacrifice lol!

    • Addison Cash Kassandra July 3, 2014 on 11:54 am

      Agreed, Kassandra! Some bands need to be seen live.

  • Zee @ Work-To-Not-Work July 3, 2014 on 6:54 am

    The VIP tent is the first class flight experience of the Rock Concert. You’re still enjoying the services offered, you’re just a little more comfortable.

    As I’ve gotten older my body does not like standing in one place for hours and hours at a time. Actually, it never liked that, but it’s been speaking up more if I try to do that these days.

    When you’re younger and you have less money (assuming you start to make more money when you get more experience) but you have more youth on your side, so you may turn your nose up at the “upper class” people in the air conditioned tent while you take in the “full experience”. But as you get older you still like the music, but perhaps you don’t like the sweaty shirtless dudes with the chest rugs that glisten in the sun. Maybe you want to be able to watch the bands perform and not miss half of their set because you want to get a drink at the bar with the 30 minute line.

    I see the appeal of the VIP tent. If I still went to music festivals then perhaps I might consider it, but I doubt I would pay the extra money because I would rather see that money spent elsewhere for the time being. Maybe in 10 years from now I’d pay for the tent with A/C

    • Addison Cash Zee @ Work-To-Not-Work July 3, 2014 on 11:54 am

      Great points, Zee. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  • Mel @ brokeGIRLrich July 3, 2014 on 2:05 pm

    How rock and roll is it to dictate exactly how you’ve got to watch a show??

    Well… actually… scratch that. It is kinda old school rock and roll.

    But then again, who cares? I’m all for VIP upgrades. Honestly, I wonder if those people are paying such a big premium for those upgrades that some of that inflation is able to trickle down to the general admission ticket prices.

    • Addison Cash Mel @ brokeGIRLrich July 4, 2014 on 5:13 am

      Haha, totally agree with you, Mel.

  • MakintheBacon July 9, 2014 on 1:50 am

    I was more of a concert goer, than a music festival goer in high school. My parents were way to overprotective to let me go to music festivals and I didn’t have the guts to lie and sneak around. Lol.

    The idea of seeing a band in a big venue seems more of a turnoff. My partner mentioned he would rather see the band or musician in a smaller, more intimate venue, where you could actually see them, instead of on a jumbotron. I’m not a big fan of crowds or the big cost that goes along with the big venue.

    This is probably asking too much, but bands should play a few smaller gigs, you know go back to their roots, when they were just starting out.


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