Bursting the music festival bubble

Editorials Opinions

Editorial_webThe first Rifflandia was held in 2008, and wristbands were $66. Six years later, standard wristbands now cost $165, and VIP passes cost nearly $300. The move up scale is not a new phenomenon for music festivals, which grow every year as mainstream festivals attract middle-class dollars. Strict security, high prices, and tall fences seem the norm at the super-festivals like Coachella or Glastonbury. The question is: do all the dollars ruin the raw, authentic experiences (musical or otherwise) that festivalgoers seek?


It’s no secret that music festivals, including Victoria’s own Rifflandia, are becoming more commercialized in the often-uncomfortable relationship between art and business. It’s no longer as financially attainable for students to spend the weekend drifting from venue to venue, or particularly at other popular music festivals out of town like Sasquatch and Pemberton. The soaring popularity of festival culture in the last few years means that vendors, sponsors, and venues have increased their rates to sustain the growing demand for music-based events.


Modern super-festivals have moved noticeably from their counterculture roots. Instead, they now inhabit an offshoot: festival culture. That includes liveblogs, fashion, and money-making enterprises that seem vaguely anti-commercial on the outside, but really aren’t. The high price of travel, tickets, accommodation, alcohol, etc. can easily drown out the music and leave a sour taste in a festivalgoer’s mouth, who does not expect their bag to be checked and their water bottle confiscated. However, the increasing wealth of festivalgoers places additional pressure on organizers to find big-name acts and gussie up their venues to keep pace with the competition, all of which drives up costs.


Rifflandia, though, is harder to categorize. It’s decidedly local, but can attract international acts like Death Cab For Cutie and The Flaming Lips. Local craft brewery Phillips hosts shows in its own backyard, CFUV presents a series of shows at the Wood Hall, and wristband-wearing attendees can wander around downtown Victoria, hopping between participating local venues. Rifflandia has a community feel that takes over the whole city and local businesses, artists, and vendors all get involved. While this may feel like the corporatization of music to some, the Rifflandia machine does it on a smaller, local scale and, as Del The Funky Homosapien said to a receptive crowd during his Friday night set at Phillips Backyard, you have to support independent music somehow.


Still, the overeager injection of money into music festivals is not just undesirable in and of itself (Woodstock ’99 being the most extreme example), it might threaten the existence of festivals full stop. In a feature on Wondering Sound, Grayson Curran makes a convincing case that there might soon be a “music festival bubble,” where bands can command increasingly higher rates since every semi-mainstream music festival on the continent is trying to draw from the same small talent pool, eventually increasing ticket prices so much that they become too costly for festivalgoers, who can only afford so many $300 festivals in one year.


While high ticket prices will likely come with good acts, if you are looking to re-create that Woodstock ’69 experience, you might have to start looking elsewhere. Those interested in preserving lower ticket costs and more intimate feel should be looking for new, more unfamiliar or local venues featuring independent acts. Besides, there’s nothing quite like seeing a great band early in their career. For those who insist on seeing world-famous acts, arena concerts exist for a reason.