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Are Double-Weekend Festivals the New Standard?

May 8, 2012

I Wanna Hear the Same Song Twice…

In 2010, the ninth year of its existence, the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival had expanded its horizons, so much so that organizers welcomed 75,000 music lovers, not including staffers, organizers, talent and the mounted police of Coffee County’s finest. However if you asked anyone who has ventured to Bonnaroo, they will often testify that crowds are much larger than advertised, reaching around 100,000 attendees. (Due in part to forged tickets and sneak-ins.) Regardless, those crowd numbers can make 530 acres of festival grounds shrink considerably.

Coachella's Empire Polo Grounds are spacious, up until you cram 75,000 music fans within. Festival founder Paul Follett believes he has found the best alternative to overcrowding by extending the event to two separate weekends.Essentially, the festival had grown too big for its own measuring stick. Bonnaroo’s ticket allotment has only increased by approximately 10,000 in ten years; an indicator that growth has been limited. Aside from price hikes, the Lollapaloozas, Bonnaroos and Sasquatches of the world are, like any respectable business, seeking new ways to expand their brand.

This year’s Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival was the first of the ‘Big Three’ to gamble with the experiment of a double weekend. To be fair, New Orleans’ Jazz Fest, among other festivals around the world, have been producing multi-weekend events for years, albeit not with repeat performances. And now, annual demand at Coachella has incited founder Paul Tollet to book some of the world’s greatest acts…for two straight weekends. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Follett explained, “I didn’t want to ruin the show by putting 40,000 more people in per day. We’ve got more land, we could’ve gone that route, but we didn’t want to do that. We found something else…I’m believing in it.”

So is the double weekend the new standard for festivals everywhere? Or will the fans deem it a sell-out?

Essentially, it was a sell-out; the kind in which all 150,000 combined tickets were purchased within three hours of going on sale in January. But while crowds came out in full force both weekends, commercial sponsors were less enthusiastic. “There is definitely a feeling of excitement associated with the first weekend, when no one knows yet what memorable moments the festival is going to bring,” said Lacoste vice president of marketing Emily Coppock. “And who doesn’t want to say they were there first?” Guess, Armani Exchange, Chevy Volt and Lacoste were just a few advertisers to keep their promotional events to the first weekend only. In an atmosphere where sponsors host pool parties and mist tents, their absence was noticeable.

There’s no denying that the excitement resided in weekend one, when long-awaited rumors and secrets were put to rest. The hologram of late rapper Tupac Shakur, which performed onstage with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, was explosive enough to garner worldwide media attention and millions of views online within the festival’s middle week. Naturally, the shock and awe was not as well replicated in the second weekend. Other ‘non-holographic’ cameos by Usher, Kimbra and 50 Cent were also restricted to weekend one.

Double-weekend festivals such as Coachella face the task of recreating magic for audiences, who in today’s digital age, are connected with every revelation of each performance.

And yet, despite featuring the same lineup, weekend two still consisted of a few new surprises. John Fogerty joined the Black Keys onstage and former Pulp bassist Antony Genn assisted in the band’s classic “Common People.” Weekend two visitors even enjoyed more fortunate weather, as rains and cold temperatures plagued half of weekend one. But it was impossible to deny the allure of the first weekend, especially with Los Angeles’ celeb culture (i.e. Rihanna, Katy Perry, Kate Bosworth) joining the pilgrimage to Indio.

It’s not an easy task to recreate the mystique of an event like Coachella in two weekends. Other festivals will undoubtedly face the same challenges if they adopt the format. Like every year, it was a major success for Coachella financially. Selling twice as many tickets and reducing production costs by leaving sets constructed over the week allowed organizers to enjoy a significant profit leap. The adjustment was a commercial success.

That said, fans have now had the opportunity to contrast weekends and the issues that accompany them and there’s no doubt that most will prefer premiere weekends in future sales. A drop in interest could be cancerous to second weekenders. But for the entrepreneurial spirit of festival organizers, is a double weekend to beneficial to ignore?

The American consumer has always been a beast in which demand precedes supply. As festival leaders recognize this new ceiling, extended events will become as real as that Tupac hologram.

That was real. Wasn’t it?

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