Are there too many festivals? The state of play in festival nation

Originally the vanguard of the counter culture the festival has seen big changes over the decades.

In the late sixties they were like examples of the so called alternative society – a brave new world of tuning in and dropping out or sitting in the mud taking lots of drugs. It’s difficult to believe that in early seventies UK putting on a festival was tantamount to taking on the establishment. the Windsor Free Festival and Stonehenge were battlefields with the police that saw bizarre court cases with hippies being dragged in front of the beak.

In the middle of this Glastonbury and Reading became small intrusions on the calender – an add on to the college gig circuit for the serious band but not the main focus. In the punk era festivals were looked down on and it took acid house and the whole E fuelled idea of communal raving to suddenly push the festival into the heart of British life.

In the early part of this century the festival was everywhere and was the mainstay of a whole industry of bands and mini businesses – it was the key part of the British music industry.

The festival had got respectable, the tabloids switched from a disinterest of a sneering report of stoned hippies in the mud to listing the non celebs in their wacky backstage caravans – soap stars and bemused looking footballers lording it up in their VIP areas. The posher papers were suddenly there as well and the festival was part of the summer circuit.

Everyone was on the case and there were up to 600 festivals in the UK this year. Of course this cannot survive – many were going bust blaming the recession but how many times can you go and see a Z list indie band in the rain?

Then there is the challenge of the European festival – cheap air travel, cheap tickets, great bills in the warmth of Barcelona’s Primavera or Budapest’s Sziged.

What is the future of the festival?
Is it becoming a platform for miming pop acts like V festival?
Will the post Glastonbury counter culture festivals like Beautiful Days, Bearded Theory and Wickerman thrive as they strive to keep the original community counter culture spirit of the festival? or will the cynical money grabbers be the winners?
Will Reading/Leeds have to scale down or change after nearly not selling out this year?
Have the festivals become too corporate?
Or is it great that there are so many niche festivals like the Rebellion Punk Festival in Blackpool? or the ATP for the slightly older post punk audience…

Please comment now!

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. I think its obvious that there are too many festivals…for me they’re never the best way to see bands and the televised ones don’t seem exciting in any way…not sure if thats down to the tv, the fans or the venue, but something always seems to be lacking.

    • Festivals aren’t just about bands – that’s the whole point.

      The big festivals – the ones you see on the telly – do little more than offer a stellar line-up of major acts and the latest NME hype acts, and do nothing to enhance the punter experience – crap beer, expensive burgers. The line-up of festival A is the line-up for festival B next year, before returning to festival A another year later.

      The diverse market fo smaller festivals is the antithesis to this – good bands are good bands whether they’ve sold 100 million records or not, good beer at affordable prices, promoters spending money on things beyond the main stage bands such as site art, chill out areas, getting a good range of food traders selling reasonably priced good quality food. Now that’s a festival, and the well known “big” festivals don’t care about this, they just want the loot.

  2. There’s a lot of festivals because there’s a lot of demand. There’s probably something for everyone. Personally I prefer the smaller more intimate festies. Favourites include End Of The Road, Green Man, ATP and Beautiful Days. There’s loads of things I dislike about festivals but – when it all comes together – it’s a wonderful thing. I keep going back for more, going to at least two every year so that says it all as far as this music lover is concerned. End Of The Road is the one I like the best of all – respectful vibe, intimate, eclectic and (amazingly) the weather is usually OK.

  3. Well put Nigel, there is a lot of demand and therefore there are the festivals to meet that demand.
    I really hope people continue to get together and put events on and that this brings likeminded people into a field, away from the corporate, media driven nonsense that is the bigger festival [and life in general]..
    Small festivals like Alchemy, Beat-Herder and Bearded Theory are put on ‘for the people, by the people’ and anyones welcome to get involved or just buy a ticket, lie back in the sun and enjoy!!
    Lots of people love festivals and they will hopefully remain many and diverse!!


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