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The Secret Of Why Literally Everyone Goes To Music Festivals

What's with all the hype? Is it really about the music?

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In 2016, over 32 million people attended a music festival in the U.S according to Eventbrite ticketing platform. That's almost the entire population of the Canada! Most of us know that music festivals are not a new phenomena but what's with the sudden hype?

It seems like right when summer is around the corner, stores like H&M and Forever 21 start releasing that typical festival wear and everyone’s talking line ups. Are we trying to recreate a similar experience like the Woodstock '69 photographs we all romanticize? Or are we actually just really interested in the music? Either way, it’s obvious that festivals are the new summer thing and if you’re not going you better believe you will suffer some intense FOMO.

There isn't a lot of research in the field but Parker and Ballantyne (2010) have gotten the ball rolling after conducting a study on the psychological benefits of festival attendence. Using some of their simple yet insightful concepts, there are four ways to explain up why those who lose their festival virginity can't stop after that. They are: the social experience, the festival experience, the separation experience and of course, the music experience. It would be nice to explain why exactly we like to run around with flowers in our hair, pay hundreds of dollars to sleep in a tent all weekend, and sacrifice our showers all I the name of music. It's not as obvious as you'd think...

1. The Social Experience

Festival goers are motivated to share experiences with like-minded people and Parker and Ballantyne believe this is the driving force for attendance. They are looking to go beyond the music and connect with people. This can totally boost up an extravert's energy levels considering how outgoing and friendly everyone seems to be at festivals. Humans are social creatures and the festival is a Utopia for meeting a ton of peeps.

If you have ever attended a festival, you have most likely experienced how inclusive, everyone suddenly seems. It’s a big contrast from the crowd on the bus or in the lineup at Starbucks. Although the event only usually lasts a weekend, a community is created where people from diverse backgrounds are brought together with music as the uniting force. The good vibes are everywhere, it's really just one big vibe tribe. And during a time where we are increasingly involved online where the connections are less intimate and more fragmented, the realness of these real space and time interactions are a truly felt.

Music festival researcher William Thompson found that individuals attend festivals to meet new friends and expand their social circles. Its a great place to meet people floating on your wavelength. Festivals create communities that can also surpass the festival borders onto the online world and everyday life. We see this in the form of Facebook groups, Instagram pages, and website forums as well. People are connected by their common experience of attending a particular festival and this is what keeps them coming back every year. It becomes part of who they are.

2. The Festival Experience

The festival itself is all about hype. In 2014, Coachella was responsible for two of the biggest peaks in online festival conversation, following their line up announcement and the build up days before the event. Excitement, anticipation and reminiscing are all part of the experience. Eventbrite found that 54% of online conversation began before the festival as opposed to the 17% that occurred during. Posting on social media is part of the experience. Posts where festival attendees often count down the days, post #throwback from last year, or express their excitement by posting the arrival of tickets can be found on many social platforms. And after, once the 'post festival depression' kicks in, we can see a lot all of #TakeMeBack posts or even excitement for next year's event.


Check it out. It's a real thing.

Some festivals like Ultra, EDC, and Coachella offer their performances on a live stream so people can experience the festival even when they can’t go. The festival experience has expanded way beyond the actual weekend itself and now intertwines into daily life. This makes the experience technological, where you can leave a performance with just one click and move on to another. Although it also makes the experience less social, you can always invite a bunch of friends over and make it your own festival experience. #Coachella2.0. Will this decrease tickets sales in the future? I don't think so. Simply because of the importance of the social aspect of the festival. It is still a sweet alternative for people who can't afford to go or are unable to for other reasons. Let's face it, these festivals are getting more and more expensive and it's because of demand.

3. The Separation Experience

Music festivals are a break from routine and the boredoms and daily life. It is an escape to an exciting and experimental environment where you can be whoever you want to me. A study conducted by the University of Bath on 100 attendees found that individuals attend festivals to escape from their “increasingly dull and stressful lives”. Job stress and societal pressure are some of the many pressures young people deal with today. So goers peace out to a different reality to connect with the people and experiences that they crave. It is a world with no notifications, no pressures, no deadlines, little rules and all the fun to be had. It is also a great opportunity to travel with friends, even to a new country.


Festivals provide a ‘protected world’ and social environment where individuals can reevaluate themselves outside mainstream society. Individuals can wear clothing they don’t usually wear and not deemed acceptable in daily life. They can socialize with people of different ages or backgrounds that they normally wouldn't. They can listen to music or view art that they never thought they would. All of these experiences can challenge or shape their existing beliefs and perspectives. Sociologist Anthony Giddens argues that art and cultural experience are valuable to identity development because they are tied to emotional encounters. And with the majority of attendees being youth and young adults, this is the time of their life where they begin to explore who they are. That being said, music festivals are an invitation to a separate reality where personal growth can happen through experimentation.

4. The Music Experience


Historically, music has brought people together across cultures and time, again and again. The recent music festival phenomena is a rebirth of the interactive and inclusive practice of coming together to sing and dance. Although only a single artist or band plays, if you look at the audience, most will be singing or dancing along. Old traditions have transcended and continue to be part of the current human experience. Cool Fact: historians argue that the first music festival took place during sixth century B.C. at Pythian Games of ancient Greece.

Click Here to learn more about the history of music festivals.

The music is not only about the artist or band playing. With the technology of today, you could just stay at home and listen to the music. The music festival is about the audience, their engagement and enjoyment. Music scholar Christopher Small’s concept of ‘musiking’, where everyone’s music experience is valid, is a good way to describe this. 'Musiking' requires many players to create the music experience. From the sound technicians, to the volunteers, and even the hot dog vendors. Everyone has a role in creating an experience where music can be enjoyed by many. The festival provides a lot of jobs and often free tickets to volunteers. So while lineups are a good way to create hype and get people to the venues, it’s really about the personalized and shared experience of the audience partaking in the ritual of live music.



Music festivals are about so much more than the music. If this isn’t enough to convince you, ask anyone who has attended a festival recently. They will more likely tell you that festivals are about escaping daily life and indulging in the moment. They are about experimenting with who you are and being accepted by a group of like-minded people. They are about making connections that transcend the festival walls. They are about the cultural practice of music through song and dance among all participants. Although highly commercialized and expensive at times, music festivals will welcome you with open arms to experiment and experience life in a vibrant environment unlike any other. It’s worth sacrificing showers and sleeping conditions in my opinion.

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