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Ancillary Experiences at Live Events: Upping the Ante

From immersive art activations to curated food events, music festivals have been adding more ancillary experiences to their lineups in order to create a more memorable experience for attendees.

Music festivals these days involve so much more than just music. While having a lineup that attracts a large audience is still key to a successful event, having other on site experiences as well has become more and more critical. From immersive art activations to curated food events, music festivals have been adding more ancillary experiences to their lineups in order to create a more memorable experience for attendees.

As festival line ups begin to look so similar, it can make every festival feel the same. For example, Eminem headlined at five major festivals this year alone. He was at Coachella, Bonnaroo, Governors Ball, Firefly, and Boston Calling. So how do festivals like Coachella still sell out? They create a desirable experience outside of the musical offerings that keeps patrons coming back year after year. While Coachella does boast one of the most comprehensive line ups out there, besides the year it brought back Tupac via hologram, it does not do much to differentiate itself musically from other festivals. It does, however, offer a comprehensive line up of food offerings for every diet, wine and beer gardens, massive art installations, and engaging branded activations. It provides attendees a full 360 festival experience over two weekends in the desert of Palm Springs. The event has also become the premiere fashion runway for the entire scene, an edge no other festival currently has.

The culinary director of Goldenvoice (who runs Coachella), Nic Adler talks about a new kind of festival goer, one who focuses on the experience outside of the music. “I think that we’ve started to see another group of people come to the festival, where everything is a little passive, including the music,” Adler says “They’re just there because of the Coachella experience, and they’re kind of taking everything as it comes and trying not to set too much of a schedule for themselves so they can experience as much as possible.”

Culinary Experiences at Live Events

In the past the typical festival fare was nothing but fried food and questionable sandwiches. However, as the average festival goer has changed, so has the selection of food options. More and more festivals are incorporating local food trucks and vendors into their event. Some businesses have even hit the road, vending at multiple festivals across the country this season. Event organizers are ensuring that a wide array of dietary needs are met by working with establishments that serve vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, and other options. More food options benefits everyone. Attendees are happier because their needs are being met and sometimes even exceeded depending on how instagram worthy their meal is. Festivals like Governors Ball up their popularity by bringing in unique food options like ramen burgers and giant waffle cones.  According to a study done by Maru/Matchbox 69% of Millennials take a picture or video of their food before eating it. Patrons get to enjoy not only consuming these decadent delights but also love posting pictures of them online for their friends to see.

As part of a pre event marketing campaign, highlighting the many options that attendees can treat themselves to throughout the weekend can provide exceptional content for an event. Leveraging the social medias of food vendors also gives an event marketer more access to a wider audience. More impressions can be generated for the festival through strategic partnerships with popular food vendors.

Outside of simply bringing in unique food vendors, some festivals have even begun to offer special culinary experiences for festival goers. The (Red) Supper at Bonnaroo is not only an exquisite dining experience but also a chance for festival goers to feel good about their meal choice. They get the chance to take a break from the usual festival fare and enjoy a hand crafted, family style dinner. Curated by Nashville native and James Beard nominee, chef Margot McCormack, the three course meal featured southern classics like buttermilk fried chicken. The best part, 100% of the ticket price goes towards (RED), an organization that is committed to helping fight AIDS. Each meal ticket helps to provide 375 days of medication in sub–Saharan Africa that helps HIV+ moms stay alive and prevents the virus from being spread to their babies. This is just another example how festivals are increasing the amount of socially conscious activities available for attendees.

The New Orleans Jazz Festival offers a more interactive culinary experience at its Food Heritage Stage. There chefs get on the microphone to deliver cooking demonstrations to festival goers. There you can see master chefs like the Red Fish Grills’ Austin Kirzner give full presentation on how to cook some of their signature dishes. Outside Lands in San Francisco is another event that has a similar stage, “Gastro Magic” where chefs give patrons an inside look into some culinary delicacies. The festival also has tents names “Wine Lands” and “Beer Lands” that features 41 Northern California wineries and 30 West Coast breweries. The wine area even occasionally has marching bands come through, creating a total experience for wine lovers outside of the mainstage bars. Forecastle in Kentucky offers an exclusive members only Bourbon Lodge at its event. In addition to being air conditioned the lodge offers a rare selection of Bourbon that is only available at the festival like Old Forester Birthday Bourbon or Four Roses special editions. Those wishing to enter can purchase a special membership to allow them access to the lodge during the festival. At Firefly coffee lovers can enjoy The Woodlands Coffee House. It features a cozy spot for attendees to relax and enjoy intimate sets while sipping on coffee cocktails.

VIP Experiences at Live Events

From golden toilets to personal concierges, the VIP experience at festivals have really begun to outdone themselves these days. In the past, upgrading your ticket usually just meant a better viewing area. Today, that is not enough to keep up with the growing demand of patrons wanting lavish on site experiences. A lot of VIP packages offer access to exclusive bathrooms that tend to be temperature controlled and have way shorted lines. One of the most luxurious bathroom experiences by far goes to Austin City Limits. In years past, the festival offered six lucky patrons access to a private golden bathroom complete with its own chandelier.

Camping at music festival can be a true test of one’s durability. One truly braves the elements when sleeping in a tent on the festival grounds. Those who do not wish to put their skills to the test and still want to stay on site can opt to for VIP accommodations provided by the event. From air conditioning to the full rock star treatment, event organizers have upped the ante on what “glamping” looks like these days. Big spenders at Coachella can pay an “amount disclosed upon request” to have their own air conditioned yurt, maid service, private golf cart rides, security, artist access, and other worthy amenities. Firefly offers a Himalayan salt lamp in their luxury tents to aid festival goers with their recovery from the day. If someone is looking for a an ultra elite experience they can choose to “Roll Like a Rockstar” at Bonnaroo. One of the most comprehensive VIP packages, the offering features the option to glamp in a luxury tent with air conditioning complete with a front porch and fully stocked mini fridge or a luxury tour bus complete with two luxury lounges inside the bus. The package also includes a 24 hour on call concierge, mobile concierge, multiple open bar locations, pre-stocking of buses with “with your favorite goodies as per your request”, exclusive viewing areas, gourmet catering, private ground transportation to and from the airport, 24-hour golf cart service, a Rockstar lounge where one can get pampered, and many more exclusive amenities.

Transformational Experiences at Live Events

In recent years, many festivals have expanded their line ups to include yoga, workshops, and panel discussions. A new category of festivals has emerged in recent years. Transformational festivals like Burning Man, Lightning in a Bottle, and Envision have community, self growth, and sustainability focused ethos that create a life changing experience outside of the music. These events seek to incorporate learning, art, discovery, music, community, and yoga into their daily offerings.

“We’re not just trying to give people a place to go and dance and listen to music. Instead, we’re trying to inspire people to gather, celebrate and learn in a responsible and healthy way so they can inspire change in the world when they leave.” Dede Flemming, Lightning in a Bottle

Envision Festival down in Costa Rica has an extensive list of yoga and flow artists that contribute to its event. In it’s yoga village they bring together world renowned teachers and instructors to provide a multitude of classes and workshops. Their yoga program has grown so large that some travel to the festival primarily for it. The festival also hosts a large amount of panel discussions and workshops on a wide variety of topics like permaculture, indigenous empowerment, female empowerment, homeopathic medicine, sustainability, spirituality, community, and other topics. Over the years they have begun to attract a loyal audience that is invested in both the musical offerings as well as the other transformational activities.

Brands Creating Experiences at Live Events

More and more brands have found the key for marketing to millennials is through creating experiences at music festivals. As more companies break into the scene, it is becoming more important for them to create unique and engaging activations that allow attendees to interact with the brand while having a memorable experience. These activations can come in the simple form of a lounge or be fully immersive, one of a kind spaces.

HP is notorious for combining technology and art at music festivals to create exceptional activations. At Panorama Music Festival, HP had a setup so grand that it won the inaugural 2017 FestX Award (hosted by XLIVE+Everfest) for Best Brand + Festival Pairing. The massive exhibit, called “The Lab”, featured multiple immersive activities like digitizing visitors bodies into color particles on a screen while a live drummer played and a 70 foot dome where audiences could lay down and receive a show on the massive screen overhead. By partnering with HP, the festival not only received sponsorship dollars but they also were able to provide their patrons will a unique experience outside of what the festival alone could provide. Not only does the brand receive an increased amount of impressions by creating a buzz worthy activity, but the festival will also garner more mentions since they are the hosts.

LG partnered with Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival this year to provide a free laundry and vintage clothing exchange at this years event. Festival Goers got to enjoy an air conditioned lounge while their clothes were washed, dried, and folded for them by LG washers and dryers. The brand got to display their product in action while also providing a valuable service to attendees. This created a lot of buzz both on site with over 7,000 people passing through the lounge over the course of four days and online as multiple media outlets picked up the story. In past years, Bonnaroo has struggled with attendance numbers, its numbers almost dipped by half in 2016. In recent years they have been working to add more ancillary experiences, like offering free laundry, in order to attract and retain a loyal audience by providing a fuller festival experience.

From over the top VIP experiences to an expansive offering of food vendors, festivals have been adding more ancillary experiences to their events to create a more well rounded experience for attendees. As more festivals begin to fade out, Sasquatch in Washington just announced that after 17 years it will not be returning, it is becoming more and more critical for events to stand out. Gone are the days where a solid line up and a couple hot dog stands were enough to keep festival goers happy. Now attendees are looking for a full 360 experience with decadent food offerings, engaging activities, and other memorable experiences in addition to catching some of their favorite musicians.

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