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The evolution of the great British music festival

As the Barclaycard presents British Summer Time music festival gets underway, we take a look at how glittering innovation and changing trends have transformed the festival experience in recent years.

05 Jul 2019 04:00

The festival scene really kicked off with Woodstock back in 1969. Today the global industry is worth a staggering £2.28bn, ranging from niche events with a couple of hundred guests to two million-strong behemoths like Vienna’s Danube Island Festival. One of the highlights of London’s festival calendar, this year’s Barclaycard presents British Summer Time features headline acts including Céline Dion, Stevie Wonder, Robbie Williams, The National and Florence + The Machine.

Whether you’re into yoga, film, the arts, comedy, technology, or simply dancing in a muddy field, today there is a festival for everyone. While the core principles of fun and freedom have stayed the same, the overall experience continues to evolve.

Changing attitudes

It’s clear that the way we think about festivals is changing. With the cost of tickets rising every year, new research from Barclaycard has found a fifth (20 per cent) of Brits are set to choose a festival over a holiday this year, with 32 per cent now seeing a live entertainment event as their main trip for the summer.

We are a nation of festival-lovers. Barclaycard research also found that nearly a fifth of us (19%) feel our summer would be incomplete without a festival, 20% feel that attending a festival is a rite of passage, and a third (31 per cent) would like their children to attend a festival to enhance their social skills and build confidence.

As festivals grow in popularity, the events themselves are also evolving to meet the needs of the ever-demanding festival-goers. For example, festival accommodation is becoming ever more advanced – with boutique camping options ranging from yurts and bell tents right up to shepherd huts, vintage caravans and pop-up hotels complete with cocktail bars and luxury showers.

We are also seeing a greater focus on sustainability, with many organisers introducing recycling schemes, CO2-neutral transport options and “leave no trace” policies to lessen the impact of the festivities on the local environment. Even glitter is being phased out in favour of biodegradable mineral alternatives!

For many revellers, having big names on your line-up is no longer enough. Research from Eventbrite revealed that more than half (55 per cent) of festival-goers say uniqueness is their #1 draw to a festival. To keep up with younger generations who value experiences over possessions - and stand out in a saturated marketplace, festival organisers are offering increasingly unique experiences, thinking outside the box and using technology to deepen the experience before, during and long after the festival.

The social revolution

From brand activations to Instagram-fabulous sequinned outfits, social media has transformed the festival experience on every level, pushing forward aesthetic trends, amplifying word of mouth and creating a more shareable, interactive experience.

According to Eventbrite, 85% of fans at a festival share photos, driving FOMO among friends and creating more buzz around the event for next year. The kind of beautiful scenery seen at Iceland’s Secret Solstice and Bulgaria’s Meadows in the Mountains - and art installations like those seen at Burning Man, are a beautifully simple way to drive social engagement. HD livestreaming and Snapchat-style ephemeral content have also become huge trends in the space, and some gigs even have on-site Instagram photo booths.

Social media also helps festival organisers stay connected with fans beyond the event; from promoting sister events to competitions and teaser content designed to create a buzz in the run-up to the event.

It’s not all about social media though; in 2018 Barclaycard research revealed that seven in ten Brits (62%) planned to enjoy digital detox at festivals over the summer, switching off their phones to be more present as they enjoy live music.

A more seamless experience

Payments is another area where festivals have seen growth in recent years. Many organisers offer instalment plans to make tickets more accessible and seamless payments for products and services on site.

Some festivals are encouraging fans to go cashless with contactless and wearables. At last year’s Barclaycard presents British Summer Time event, payment was made easy through the 324 Barclaycard PDQ terminals onsite and the 91 vendors were supported to take contactless payments.  Over the 10 days, 600 Barclays volunteers were on hand to make sure it was an unforgettable experience for the 400,000 who went along to enjoy the entertainment, food and music.

Fans at Coachella are given an RFID wristband linked to their ticket, payment options, and social media accounts. Benefits include reduced risk of theft and faster payments for food, drinks and merchandise - keeping queues moving and fans happy. Real-time data also shows organisers things like where high-traffic areas are, and which toilets are being used most to improve the experience next time around.  

Many are also employing location awareness technology; beacons positioned around the event that emit a radio signal and use geofencing to target festival-goers with relevant ads and messages in real-time; discounts, line-ups and surprise announcements.

Opportunities for brands

Pop-ups have become an essential part of the festival experience. This year’s Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Open House will play host to free yoga with Lululemon, an outdoor cinema, upswing circus performances, and a street food market featuring some of London’s best food and drink vendors.

With thousands of people gathered purely to relax and have fun, brands have the chance to get creative – prompting people to engage with the Barclaycard brand in new and exciting ways and create selfie moments to share with their friends on social. The Barclaycard Sensorium will also be appearing at Download and Latitude this year; an immersive experience designed to stimulate all five senses.

With more than half of millennials considering themselves “foodies”, it seems the more well-chosen and on-brand food and drink options available at a festival, the better. 99 per cent of millennials say they would recommend a food or drink brand after encountering them at a food festival and 84 per cent say they are likely to post a picture of their refreshments.

App-y days

With thousands on the market, apps can be used to help users deal with the practical side of festival life. The Barclaycard presents British Summer Time app features all the relevant info, a personalised line-up builder, competitions, merchandise and even Apple Music playlists for every show.

Elsewhere, there are apps to help you find your tent, apps to remind you to drink enough water, an outdoor app complete with torch, translator and calculator and even a virtual lighter app, for when you want to rock out with the crowd – but stay safe.

Festivals are all about authenticity, getting back to basics and connecting with the fun sides of ourselves. In 2019, we are embracing augmented reality, virtual reality and even hologram performers enhancing the experience at festivals.

Even so, last year, Barclaycard research revealed that 7 in 10 Brits think goosebumps are the top sign of a great live entertainment experience – with emotional intensity, acoustic changes, familiarity of a song key alongside audience size, mood and overall /ambience. These are things that can only be maintained through killer entertainment and authenticity – and will always be among the most important elements of the festival experience.