FEATURE | Music festivals: are they too expensive?


Music festivals: are they too expensive or are they good value for money? That’s the question TGA is asking. Lara Bella and Olivia Thomson put across both sides of the argument.

Festivals. These days they fill the calendar almost year-round, and they’re big business. They’re commercial enterprises with at least one eye on profit.

Some might say organisers are mainly interested in screwing what they can out of festival goers – you pay hundreds in entry fees and you’re not allowed to take your own food and drink into the arena, meaning you’re forced to pay whatever the cost of the food and drink they’re serving within its confines. At California’s Coachella, one of the more expensive festivals in the world, this means paying around $20 (at a conservative stab) for a burger and chips (£15.43 at the present conversion rate) and $10 (£7.72) for a pint – but UK festivals aren’t far off.

Coachella, festivals, sunset, festivalgoers, festival fashion

It’s a far cry from the first festivals which were built on peace and love and hippie ideals – or maybe this is just how we see them through our nostalgic lens? Whatever, tickets were relatively cheap and you’d never get a situation today like Woodstock where they let hundreds of thousands of people in for free.

But this is 2016 and this kind of event can’t be put on without costing someone a lot of money so it’s fair enough that they want to claw that back (and admittedly make a killing on top). And to be fair, festivals have come a long way since the Sixties, offering luxuries that many festival goers have become accustomed to, like flushing toilets, showers, and charging stations, and even on-site spas and good food options.

However, while festivals all over the world aren’t exactly cheap, there’s a big difference in ticket prices and sustenance costs depending on where you go in the world.

Chicago’s Lollapalooza festival tops the charts as the most expensive summer music festival this year – at £190.50 per day it costs 50% more than Glastonbury, which comes in at £124 per day. V Festival is the third most expensive, costing £134.50 per day, while Serbia’s Exit Festival is the best value for money, coming in at just £42 per day. Sziget in Hungary is also inexpensive at £45.29 per day. For British fans, the cost of flights means prices skyrocket, of course.

So are festivals too expensive? Or do they actually represent good value for money? Two TGA writers, Olivia Thomson and Lara Belle, argue the toss…

No, says Olivia Thomson 

Coachella, festivals, Ellie Goulding

For some, it’s their idea of absolute hell. Standing for hours on end in a crowded, sweaty, usually wet and muddy (at least in the UK) field surrounded by noise and nature, only to head back at god-knows-what-hour to a sweaty, smelly, probably also wet and muddy tent to try and get some sleep before doing it all again…

Oh, and paying handsomely for the privilege too – anything up to the value of £500 a piece for your ticket and accommodation, and that’s before any travel, food, drink and add-ons like merchandising, VIP areas or luxury toilets (if you must).

It’s understandable that some people loathe the very idea. Festivals in the UK can set you back anything from £160 (Wireless, no accommodation) to £230+ (Glastonbury) for your basic ticket-plus-camping-space – a square in a field doesn’t cost much to run, granted, but try telling that to our friends across the pond charging $99 for a camping space at Coachella.

But you know what? Those people are WRONG.

There remains one crucial fact that is alone enough to convince us that the festival dream is worth the money. It’s not just about the escapism, the insane experiences, wild nights and complete removal of responsibilities. It’s about the music.

Coachella, festivals, festivalgoers, festival fashion

Multitudes of artists are lined up, from the A-listers to ones with names like Kurt Vile and the Violators (you wonder if you’re supposed to see them in pairs – Yellow Claw with Cashmere Cat, or Frightened Rabbit with Seven Lions?), all in convenient walking distance from each other and all there purely for YOUR entertainment.

No matter how expensive the festival (with Lollapalooza coming in at the most per day), just think about the costs of the individual tickets to see those artists, plus travel each time. I guarantee you it’ll come to far more than your chosen festival. Take V Festival – the ticket with camping is £189 this year – and make what you want of the line-up, but a standalone Justin Bieber ticket looks to be at least £75, so add on expected ticket costs for even a fraction of the other artists and you’re looking at a good deal.

Seeing as you’ll be spending the sum of a small holiday anyway, you could even combine the two – events in Croatia (Hideout, Soundwave), Spain (Benicàssim), Belgium (Tomorrowland) and further afield are increasingly part of the festival conversation.

And OK, while you’re always going to see plenty of posturing and pretentious festival fashionistas, ultimately everyone is just there to have a good time – whether you’re older, younger, a complete novice (just read these tips and remember your loo roll) or an old hand. It’s actually quite refreshing to remove yourself from the techy trappings of your everyday life – an old, battered phone is a safer choice than your brand new iPhone – and as long as you’re with people you love and don’t mind going a few days unwashed, you’re guaranteed to have a blast.

We also owe it to the artists, whose music we love and enjoy but no longer pay for individually with any great frequency, to respect their work – and they (and their labels) must find different ways to make their money. What better way to do that than with what is effectively a massive party? (Let’s just hope the festival organisers don’t start benchmarking ticket prices against the combined sum of individual artists’ concerts).

So give yourself over to the mud, the grime, the smells, the people and the noise, and forget those naysayers who think festivals have become over-commercialised cornucopias of overindulgence (which might be EXACTLY what we’re looking for anyway). They’re so worth it.

Yes, says Lara Belle 

Coachella, festivals, festivalgoers

For the past 20 years I’ve been lucky enough to have never had to pay for a festival… well, apart from the odd charity donation. Yeah, I know that sounds twattish, but having been an artist, and with friends still in the industry, it’s just worked out that way (still twattish). But even though I could get in for free, I’d rather be anywhere else! Festivals aren’t all they’ve cracked up to be.

Today the festival market is saturated, and line-ups have suffered as a result. Now I’m lucky if there are a handful of bands across a whole weekend that I would want to see.

People often say, “It’s not just about the music, it’s the atmosphere”. Really?! Standing in a muddy field (let’s face it, a dry festival in the UK is a rarity), being damp and dirty, having to relieve yourself of the pints of the official drinks partner’s watery lager you’ve queued 20 minutes to get in the most disgusting portaloos, before making your way back to the stage in slow motion (as you try to prise your Converse from the ground below) while being careful not to tread on the bodies strewn about the place as you play the ‘Are they Dead or Alive?’ game. Some you actually worry about, so you tread on them just to make sure.

You’ve now made it back to your designated spot (so your mates can find you, as mobile reception is a lottery), B.O. fills your nostrils and you’re surrounded by people who have reverted to their caveman sides.

This doesn’t create a great ambience in my opinion. But if you are an avid festival-goer another fun game to play is “Which festival has the best queues?” FYI, Download. I missed most of Alice in Chains’ set queuing for a Trooper beer! (Worth it though: MAIDEN.)

Then there’s the actual cost. £200 is the average price for a weekend ticket which is quite expensive. Yes, admittedly you’re getting a lot of bands for your pound, but that aside, it’s when your feet leave terra firma and you enter those gates that it all starts to mount up. I’m not a teenager so I’m never going to get cheap booze from the supermarket and store it in my tent. ‘Tent’ isn’t even in my vocabulary, so where would I hoard my supplies?

My tent issue hasn’t even developed with age. I went camping once and ended up sleeping in the back seat of a car. It rained for the whole weekend; my mattress deflated; everything was damp; I traipsed mud all over my sleeping bag. But it was the earwig that went AWOL that sent me retreating to the car for safety. It was all very traumatic.

Coachella, festivals, festivalgoers, festival fashion

Sustenance will easily set you back £100 for a weekend. At £5 a pint, £6-8 for a pulled pork bun/Katsu curry or organic falafel, maybe that’s even a conservative estimate? Your wallet will be emptier than a student’s fridge in no time. Add on camping gear, travel and don’t forget your wardrobe. Pass me some denim hot pants, a fringed waistcoat and a floral headband, I’m Grazia-ready people, and we’re talking a good £400-£450 for a weekend. That’s the same cost as a weekend in Europe!*

But each to their own. After quaffing some Aperol Spritz in Verona, I’ll come back and catch up on the festivities on iPlayer. The sound will be good (the wind won’t be ricocheting it around my living room) I’ll have an optimum view and I can fast-forward the rubbish before retiring to my memory-foam mattress. Bliss.

*Brexit might have messed this up!

Photos: Nick Sayers | Kim Taylor-Foster

Research was carried out online during June 2016 by No.1 Currency using festival websites and blogs. Total cost and cost per day figures based on festival admission, cheapest accommodation cost, and ten beers per day.

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