Millions of millenials flocking to music festivals

By Jon Kipper, NewsNetNebraska

More than 32 million people attended music festivals in the United States last year, a testament to the popularity of such events among young generations.

Last year’s festivals range from the big national festivals, such as Governors Ball in New York City, to smaller local festivals like Maha Music Festival in Omaha.

A sold out crowd of over 9,000 people attended Maha Music Festival in 2015. Courtesy photo by Zach Hollowell.

A sold-out crowd of 9,000 attended Maha Music Festival in 2015. Courtesy photo by Zach Hollowell.

Today’s festivals have evolved from their 1960s predecessors like Woodstock and Altamont, which were poorly planned and didn’t last. Lollapalooza and Coachella revived the concept in the early 2000s, and festivals became annual parties, where a variety of different artists will play. Today’s festivals run the gamut from one-day events to week-long showcases such as South By Southwest in Austin, Texas.

So why are today’s festivals so popular?

For 23-year-old Southeast Community College student Brian Minchow, it’s about variety and value. He’s attended multiple festivals big and small, and he likes the opportunity to see different genres of music in one location.

“When I was at Bonnaroo, I saw Paul McCartney, Kendrick Lamar, Pretty Lights, and 10 other great acts within a 24-hour time span,” he said. “If I paid to see those artists individually it would be double the cost of my festival ticket.”

A change in the business

Another huge reason why festivals have become mainstream is the revolution of the music industry in the past 15 years. Gone are the days of buying albums at the record store; instead consumers just stream music practically for free.

That’s great for the consumer, but not the artist, as they no longer see much money in album sales. According to Lauren Schomburg, executive director of Maha Music Festival, artists have to rely on touring for their income.

And that’s where the festivals come in. Because of sponsors, the festivals have the infrastructure to pay the bands much more money than they would normally receive at a gig.

“We pay on average three to four times more than what a venue or a promoter would pay to have them come in a rooted tour,” Schomburg said.

Because of the high costs of paying artists, putting on a music festival is no easy task, and some festivals can’t cut it. Area festivals such as the Grassroots Music Festival in Council Bluffs and Kansrockas in Kansas City folded after just one year.

Many credit the failing of those festivals to the fact that they tried to get too big too fast.

Omaha’s Maha took the opposite approach; it had about 500 people attend their inaugural year in 2009. Last year, the one-day festival sold out for the first time with over 9,000 attendees. Schomburg said it was a slow but steady rise that got them to that point as Maha’s attendance rose 15 to 20 percent every year.

One key to Maha’s success is the appeal to an indie rock niche, including acts like Modest Mouse, Spoon and the Flaming Lips.

But as Maha expands could they possibly bring in a big act like Jay Z or Lady Gaga? Schomburg doesn’t think that will happen anytime soon.

“Omaha has got a lot of that coming through already, so we just think it’s not really our spot to fill,” she said.


Another area festival that cashed in on the music festival boon is the 80/35 festival in Des Moines. The festival, which started in 2008, initially had difficulty establishing credibility, said program manager Amedeo Rossi.

“When you first get started, the industry is a bit skeptical of you,” Rossi said. “They don’t know if you really have the money, so they’re going to ask for money up front because there has been collapses on some of these festivals.”

Rossi said at this point the festival has gained enough of a reputation to consistently and easily book artists. The two-day festival has even allowed for the Des Moines indie rock scene to gain more traction.

“We call some acts Boomerangers,” Rossi said. “They play 80/35, and after that start playing in Des Moines regularly.”

A chance to reach millennials

Ticket sales are obviously a huge source of revenue for festivals, but sponsors are the primary reason music festivals are so profitable.

“Sponsors are fundamental to what we have done,” Rossi said.

Sponsors cover about one-third of the overall income of the music festivals, and that extra money goes a long way in keeping ticket prices down and keeping a festival thriving.

It also makes fiscal sense for companies to want to get involved in music festivals. Millennials are the main demographic that attend music festivals, and that is an incredibly valuable advertising demographic. Therefore, brands are eager to get involved with festivals.

Still, many big festivals get criticized for being too “commercial.”

So would Maha ever draw a line on sponsors?

Schomburg admitted that it’s a dilemma.

“It’s a really fine balance because you are never going to turn down funds, but we aren’t going to sacrifice or compromise the experience.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *