Long-term impacts of music festivals: Bringing more than sounds and crowds to a city
Multi-day stretches of tent camping and sweltering in the hot summer sun to be 100 rows back to your favorite music artist’s set? It must be music festival season. As the year draws to a close, with music festivals returning in full swing after a COVID-19 hiatus, it’s important to understand the socio-economic impact they have on the cities that host them, long after the final set is played. Do the short-term entertainment and monetary benefits outweigh the long-term urban inequalities they may exacerbate?
The origins of music festivals date back to ancient times when similar events involved large gatherings in celebration of music and art. Modern festivals, like the famous Woodstock of 1969, grew out of an ethos for anti-government and anti-establishment views that later developed into iconic pop culture movements. Much of the communal spirit that was fostered at Woodstock remains, but music festivals have since become a popular business model that draws more than 30 million people each year, according to Billboard. Coachella, one of the most popular events, set records as the first festival franchise to gross more than $100 million in 2017.
Music festivals have also become an elaborate display of mega-sculptures, architectural pavilions and other designs involving some of the world’s most renowned architectural firms. BIG designed and installed an 80-foot-diameter reflective orb at Burning Man in 2018, which was heavily crowdsourced and served as a beacon for festival-goers. Coachella has also been home to impressive designs by Bureau Spectacular and Pritzker Prize Winner Francis Kéré, making the art and architecture almost as important as the music performers themselves.
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Temporary monuments and architectural feats aside, music festivals have a greater impact on cities in the cities in which they are hosted that last far longer than the extended weekend on which they take place. First, there are many positive impacts that successful festivals can bring. For recurring events, crowds can reach up to 90,000 visitors in a weekend, bringing in turn a significant economic injection of temporary jobs and additional income. The city of Indio, which hosts Coachella every year, reports more than $250 million during the two-weekend event, with hotels, bars, small businesses and restaurants preparing for the influx by extending hours, hiring temporary staff and raising prices. But there are some negative aspects that show how the festivals have evolved away from their original purpose of peace, love, happiness and equality.
Earlier this summer, Chicago’s biggest event, Lollapalooza, featured multiple headliners that drew tens of thousands of fans, but also raised concerns about the city’s curfew, which forced minors to stay by 10 p.m., which was lifted. recently adopted after a significant increase in crime. But activists say that only penalizes inner-city youth, who are predominantly African-American and Hispanic, and benefits teenagers commuting from the suburbs, who are predominantly white. Many Chicagoans and urban policymakers highlighted the ways in which the festival criminalized its own residents. Additionally, the festival has seen support for a move to another city, though the mayor recently renewed it for the foreseeable future, citing financial benefits as the main reason why Lolla should return. Locals say that after the festival is over, the surrounding areas are left dirty, especially covered in broken glass and other alcohol containers that are slowly cleaned up, affecting people who frequent the park.
Are music festivals worth it? In the short term, there are many financial benefits to be gained – but there is much that can be improved. Some established franchises work to ensure that community groups are able to get involved in the festival through partnerships with lower-income neighborhoods and underserved schools. Others are looking for ways to create cultural programs where performers participate in volunteer events to entice fans to clean up after festivals as a way to give back to the city that hosted them. Some festivals even give free tickets to people who live in the immediate area, enticing them to attend. Especially in countries where these events happen year after year, it’s easy for resentment to grow. As a result, music festivals need to do more to make them more socially just and create benefits for communities that can far outweigh the negative impacts.