Britain: Nation of Festival Goers

The music festival is one of the cultural icons of 21st century Britain, up there with David Brent’s office dance, Prince Harry’s cheeky grin and Pete Doherty’s periodic court appearances. Between 2004 and 2008 the total licensed capacity of festivals in the UK exploded from just over one million to almost two million. While things have slowed down since, the music festival market is now a mature, dynamic and creative institution of which our music industry is dutifully proud.

With the great British Music Festival ever growing, changing and remaking itself anew, we asked what it is that drives you all to behave outrageously in our nation’s parklands and ancestral estates every summer. Let’s find out what you said…

Modern life is rubbish. So Blur, stars of countless festivals past, once intoned, and never a truer word spoken (or yelped in a mockney accent). People are basically naked apes, designed for racing ‘au naturel’ across the mighty savannah and daubing rubbish pictures on cave walls in a state of gibbering, childlike bliss. Nowadays, in the UK, we’re expected to sit in polyester suits trying to sell insurance to idiots. How did this happen?

We haven’t time to explain, but what we do know is that festivals provide a much needed escape. In our survey, you told us that festivals are about authenticity, openness and transparency. Your trips to festivals are a chance to let go of not only the tensions but also the hierarchies of modern life, a place where you and your boss can join in glorious harmony to sing ‘The Scientist’ in slurred voices while dressed as crocodiles. A few of you even mentioned some au naturel experiences of your own…

infographic festivals

Friends! Friendly friends! Everyone likes them, some even have a few, but here in blighty, we don’t like to talk to them much, barring a Facebook like here or a hurried pint there. Yet in the summer, something changes. You take your friends to festivals, meet new ones while you’re there, and in general think of them as pretty central to the whole business. 64% of you rated ‘experience/atmosphere’ over ‘content/music’ in terms of importance to your festival experience, while 55% of you said that the key thing about festivals is that they develop personal connections between people, rather than just being fun social events. Most of you maintain new friendships long after you’ve washed off the mud, glowpaint and stale cider.

What about all this jibber jabber spouted by the press about the festival “bubble” bursting. They’re at it every year, so there must be something in it, right? Wrong. You lot don’t seem to think there are too many festivals, or if there are, it just makes you keener. As one respondent put it: “I like the variety of festivals on offer… the broader the range of festivals the better – more choice, more competition, better for us.” Besides, if there was a festival bubble, it “burst” in 2008 which, according to efestivals, saw the highest percentage of UK festivals cancelled in the past six years. Recovery from the drop was pretty speedy. According to the European Festival Market Report 2010, average capacity was back up by 15.4% that year.

graph festivals

At the heart of it all, though, is the music. You love music, you lot. Apart from expensive holidays abroad, gigs are the only things you spend more money on than festivals. 81% of you would pay to see your favourite band live more than once. The live entertainment is by far your biggest driver to attend a festival, and your tastes are both diverse and marvellous, with ‘dream headliners’ ranging from Coldplay to Beyonce to Metallica (though a lot of you might be too tame for the latter: 60% of you enjoy ‘the music’ more than ‘the madness’).

So there you have it. We may be a dull, downtrodden little island, but festivals unleash the spirits so many of us keep locked away the rest of the year. Tastes will change and new festivals will rise and fall, but we’ll always need that chance to break free, tune in and reconnect with what is really most important to us: the people and music we love.

Written by Josh Lowe, on behalf of Ticketmaster.