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How Live Events Are Turning Non-Venues, Into Great Festival Venues

Breaking away from the norm, more organizers are turning to non-traditional venues for their live events. As the informal culture in today’s society has grown and hit the mainstream, the trend has begun to be seen in the live events industry.

Breaking away from the norm, more organizers are turning to non-traditional venues for their live events. Comedy Show festivals on the grass of baseball stadiums, music festivals at waterparks, and concerts at abandoned waterfront warehouses have become more popular in recent years. Disneyland Paris even joined the the trend by hosting an EDM festival, Electroland, on its grounds this summer.

All around, the formal culture as it was known has been fading. Rather than taking a traditional taxi cab, people are hopping in the cars of non professional drivers to get around town. Instead of booking a hotel room, they are staying in people’s homes. Even businesses are feeling this, a study found that in 2016 the amount of business travelers expensing Airbnb accommodations grew by 44%. The populations shift towards informal systems has been due to technology accommodating new innovations and increasing a person’s desire for a unique and one of a kind experience.

What these companies have done is taken underutilized resources and turned them into billion dollar industries. The same is now being done in the live events industry. American Express found that the demand for non-traditional meeting places will increase by 18% in 2018. As the music festival space has become more and more saturated, the need to be different in a way that gets attention is necessary for the survival of an event. Some organizers have found success by adding ancillary experiences to their musical line up to make the festival stand out in a sea of seemingly similar events. Others have utilized non-traditional venues to attract festival goers.

Why Choose Non Conventional Venues for Events?

Non-traditional venues open up an event to a world of possibilities. No longer is an event organizer confined by the parameters of a traditional hosting space. A blank canvas can help planners create new and exciting experiences for attendees. As the market has become more saturated, it is very important that an event find ways to stand out and attract a loyal audience.

Choosing a place that is being underutilized is also a way that an event can save money. As more events begin to pop up, a lot of the amphitheaters and typical event locations are either booked are come with heavy price tags. Getting creative by selecting a venue that is not a venue can give an event not only an edge when it comes to attracting an audience but it can also avoid fighting over coveted space.  Selecting a location that is naturally beautiful can also simplify things for event organizers. Why add decorations when the earth has already done it for you?! National parks, nature reserve, and other lands with natural beauty provide attendees with a chance to enjoy the great outdoors and their favorite artist.

The Drawbacks of Creative Spaces

The main drawback to choosing a non-traditional space is that a little bit more testing may be required. Ensuring that there are no sound bleeding between stages, knowing that there is enough parking for patrons, and placing bathrooms in the rights spot are key factors when it comes to designing a new space. When choosing a more conventional location most of these aspects are already predetermined. This can be good in that it is one less thing to plan but it can also be confining. A unique venue may take a little bit more work on getting the basics organized but it can be worth it in order to construct a unique experience.  

Sometimes hosting an event at an unusual location does not always go as planned. Dirtybird Campout, a house music festival debuted its East Coast version of the event at a remote nature preserve in St. Cloud, Florida about an hour outside of Orlando. Unfortunately the event had a few hiccups. Thursday evening, the first night of the event, the county received several noise complaints and pulled the festivals permit. On Friday the gates were closed for three hours and those traveling to the grounds were told not to come. Luckily, event organizers were able to call on their network and get the event back on by Saturday morning.

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Brittany NO FOMO

“We battled tooth and nail to pull Campout back from the brink,” Claude VonStroke tells Billboard. “We had everyone calling the county to help us, senators, governors, lawyers, even Pitbull! The music is back on, everyone is inside. The fans were amazing last night, and kept smiling throughout.”

This could have been detrimental to the events success, however, despite all the complications, the reviews following the festival were actually pretty positive. While there was no music going on, attendees engaged in other camp like activities and small (less loud) sound camps popped up hosted by campers to keep the party going until the big speakers were turned on again. It is unclear if the event will return to the same location in Florida or not next year. One thing is definite, the event organizers appeared to have learned their lessons about working with the local community closer. In live Facebook video session discussing their West Coast rendition, which has moved to a new location this year, the head of Dirtybird Barclay Crenshaw (also known as Claude Vonstroke) made it clear that they would be following California noise requirements and shutting the music down at appropriate times as to avoid any shutdowns. He also indicated that other late night activities like BINGO would still be happening.

Examples of Venue Transformations

Camp Bisco takes place every July in Scranton, Pennsylvania at the Montage Mountain ski and water resort. The event, hosted by the music group the Disco Biscuits, has created a unique atmosphere by putting the stages right near the wave pools and water slides. Marc “Brownie” Brownstein the bassist of the band especially loves the unique venue they have chosen to host their festival at.

“One thing that makes it so unique is the water park that creates a surreal vibe when you have a concert going on and people are in the wave pool or on the mountain, or could be dancing anywhere. When we walk through the waterpark and see kids flying down the waterslides, it’s amazing,” Brownstein said to The Weekender. “It’s super unique, and we don’t take that for granted.

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Photo from Camp Bisco Facebook

The group, who is from Pennsylvania, moved the event from various New York venues in 2014. They also began working with Live Nation, the mega event promoter and producer. The Disco Biscuits have also focused on working with closely with all groups surrounding the location, including the city of Scranton and the local authorities.

“There’s so much you learn from previous experience that allows you to make the experience better each time,” Brownstein said to The Weekender.. “What we’re doing is walking around looking for ways to improve the festival. It’s not just the venue and the people who own the land, the people in the city have welcomed Camp Bisco in a way we hadn’t been experiencing before. It’s a big event but not too big for Scranton. We feel they not only can handle it but want to handle it. The way we’ve been welcomed by local authorities has also created that vibe.”

Continuous improvement and good relations with the city are two keys components when running any event but are especially important when utilizing a non-traditional event. Camp Bisco festival has found success at their unique venue by focusing on both of these.

The Gorge Amphitheater is another example of a unique venue turned live event success. About three hours from Seattle, the location was formed by one of the most recent geological catastrophic events. Approximately 50,000 years ago an ice dam broke in Canada and sent waves of water down the Columbia River, carving out the Gorge in just two short years. Today it is one of the most scenic and iconic music venues in the world. Originally, the land was purchased in 1980 by neurosurgeon Vincent Bryan II and his wife Carol to start a winery. As it turns out the latitude, soil, and climate are similar to the growing regions in France. Once Champs de Brionne Winery was up and running the owners began to plans way to bring patrons to the vineyard to try the new wines. One day on a hike, Dr. Bryan discovered how perfect the acoustics of the bowl of the gorge provided. When his friends were at the bottom he could hear every word they were saying. Thus sprung the idea to bring music to the vineyard and construct a little amphitheater in this space

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Photo from Cave B Estate Winery

The Champs de Brionne Summer Music Theater was a success. People came, enjoyed wine, and listened to music. After just a few short years, it grew from a small stage to hosting 20,000 concert goers per show. The mesmerizing landscape continued to grow in popularity and musicians like Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan performed there. In 1993 the property was purchased by MCA concerts and transformed into the Gorge Amphitheater. There are still vineyards on the property by now the section where the acoustics are just right are host to massive concerts and festivals. Today legendary musical groups like Phish and Dave Matthews Band host massive multi-run concerts at the venue. The grounds next to the amphitheater have been transformed into campgrounds to allow for accomodations for multi day events. Sasquatch Music Festival called The Gorge home for 19 years until announcing this year that it would not be returning.  

Envision Festival in Costa Rica is one example how transforming a non venue into a venue has actually benefited the land. The event is held at was once an abandoned cow pasture. The event organizers have reformed the area into a jungle oasis where music and life are celebrated for four days every February. Over the years the festival has planted over 10,000 trees revitalizing the area and regrowing the expansive jungle near beach. The trees add to the overall aesthetic of the festival, creating a lush green backdrop for the stages and common areas of the festival. They also help to add much needed shade to protect festival goers from the blazing Costa Rican sun. The area has also begun to welcome wildlife back in. Just last year a family of monkeys was found to have moved into the trees. Birds and other creatures have also begun to populate the grounds. Envision Festival has partnered with Community Carbon Trees, an organization that focuses to “stabilize and repair damaged lands to prevent landslides, preserve local species of rare native trees and medicinal plants, to improve growth rates and carbon sequestration, and provide Costa Rican landowners with a way to earn good income off their land without engaging in destructive farming practices.” For live events, partnering with nonprofits and focusing on social responsibility can drive engagement and increase attendance. They also received great cross promotion by working with a local organization. Community Carbon Trees also calculated that over the course of 8 years, the festival has potentially offset 40 tons of carbon through their tree planting efforts. Not only has the event transformed this desolate land into a tropical wonderland but it has also improved the space it occupies.

Transforming a nature reserve, parking lot, or water park into a venue to host a concert or music festival is no easy task. It requires a solid relationship with the local city or county, diligence in ensuring that it has the proper infrastructure, and team dedicated to creating a unique experience. The pay off can be highly rewarding as unconventional spaces lead to more creative events that will attract and retain a loyal and engaged audience. A live event can take advantage of underutilized spaces to produce incredible events that wow their audiences and keep them returning year after year.  

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