Creating a new festival is no easy task, especially in today’s congested market. While some believe that the music festival industry is fading, it is simply going through a period of natural selection where on the fittest survive. This makes it even harder for a new festival to come on the scene. However, one type of event has seem to have found instant success in this market. Artist run or curated events have become the exception to the rule when it comes to starting a music festival. Artists like Chance the Rapper, Bon Iver, Bassnectar, Post Malone, J Cole, and many more are breathing life into the festival world.
Whether it’s filling a unique space with their imagination or delivering unheard of line ups, they offer something different for fans to enjoy. To attendees, these events represent a break from the corporate festival world and a chance to experience a unique event curated by their favorite artist. Seeing that their favorite artists is going to have full reigns on the entire event is enough for some fans to dish out money without a line up or even travel out of the country.
“There is something artist-driven happening with festivals, even if I don’t think it’s clear where we’re going with it yet,” Adam Voith, a longtime booking agent, says to Pitchfork. “Artists are much more excited about these events than standard festivals now, because there’s a recognition that it’s music-forward and collaborative from the jump. But it’s going to take a lot of smart people to figure out how to make these viable long-term.”
The Advantages for Artists
Artist run events have three main advantages, the pull of a loyal fan base, lower talent costs, and the allure of appearing less corporate then other festivals. Through social media and other online platforms, artists can interact with their fans more than ever before. This has allowed them to build loyal fan bases in new ways. By cultivating a strong community of supporters, artists give themselves a huge advantage when it comes to curating their own events. The internet has allowed artists to be more open with their audiences. It also have given them a chance to recommend music more easily. That way fans know, even without a line up, that they can trust whatever musical acts the artists puts together because they have already had a taste of it.
A musician also has the advantage of being able to save on talent cost since they would be the biggest headliner. Those who own their own label can even use it as an opportunity to elevate lesser known artists that they have. The final advantage that an artist curated event has is that it represents a unique experiences for fans. People are more inclined to dish out money not only to see their favorite artists perform but even more so for the chance to immerse themselves in the creativity of that musician.
Success Stories of Artist Curated Events
Post Malone will be throwing his first ever festival on October 28th in his hometown of Dallas, Texas at Dos Equis Pavilion. “Posty Fest” sold out within two hours without any sort of a line up. It will also be the first major festival that Dallas has ever hosted. Selling out an event is an incredible feat, and nearly impossible for a first year event in a city that has never hosted something like it before. However, the simple weight of Post Malone’s name backing the event was enough to make it sell out so quickly.
Chance the Rapper held Magnificent Coloring Day in the heart of Chicago’s South Side at White Sox’s Cellular One Field. With over 47,000 in attendance it was the first time that the park had ever sold every single seat. The event was wildly successful, not only from an attendance perspective but musically as well. Performances by Skrillex, Kanye West, John Legend, Lil Wayne Alicia Keys, and Chance himself made this one day event stand out. The event also celebrated local Chicago businesses, a tribute from Chance to his hometown. Local restaurants like Harolds and Haire’s Gulf Shrimp as well as businesses like Chicagoland, Jugrnaut, and Fat Tiger Workshop were present at the festival. What made the event unique was that it was Chance was able to deliver an impressive line up and create a tribute to his hometown. A line up with names like this would not have been possible without Chance backing up the event.
For the first time in it’s four year history, Eaux Claires Festival, which takes place along the Chippewa River, did not announce its lineup until July when the festival took place this year. The event is curated by Justin Vernon, also known as Bon Iver. Despite not knowing what musical acts would be present, loyal fans like Cindy Moraitis and thousands of others still bought tickets as soon as they went on sale.
“There was no hesitation,” Moraitis tells Pitchfork, who also frequently sees bands recommended by Vernon in her home town of Los Angeles. “There have been very few things that he has recommended that I haven’t liked.”
The festival is not only a culmination of Vernon’s musical taste but also an event immersed in his creative vision. The event has featured art installations like a giant wire-mesh sculpture of a baroque pipe organ designed by Italian artist Edoardo Tresoldi, massive musical moments like the tribute to the Grateful Dead, and a unique venue that makes attendees feel like they are at a hipster, but somewhat posh, adult summer camp.
“It’s not just having bands come, play their sets, and get a paycheck,” says Vernon to Pitchfork. “That’s what is not cool about something like Lollapalooza, which says, ‘Hey, be what you were, and we’ll pay you.’ This is about people coming together and creating something new for themselves. The audience gets something out of that, too.”
Another big draw to the festival is the exclusive on stage collaborations that take place during the weekend. Attendees never know who they may see on stage playing or singing together. This creates a one of a kind experience that can only be found at Eaux Claires. In 2016, Chance the Rapper, who was not even on the line up, surprised everyone by jumping on stage with Francis and the Lights and Vernon for the closing set. While that created a massive moment, many of the collaborations present at the festival are much more intimate. They are usually jam sessions between like minded musicians, sharing their musical talents and creating a unique sound together that can only be heard in that moment at the festival.
Shovels and Rope’s festival, High Water Fest, is another example of a successful artist curated event. Duo, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, created the event in 2017 at Riverfront Park in Charleston, South Carolina. The group brings together people for a “celebration of music, food, and libations curated by Shovels and Ropes”. After playing at festivals themselves for so many years they decide to take the dive into hosting their very own finally. Their attention to making sure that the event does not feel overcrowded, curating a favorable line up, and choosing a location that is underserved in terms of festivals has proved to be a winning formula for the duo.
“Charleston is a destination city for many reasons, but due to routing issues, it’s not always a stop on the normal tour schedule of bands. We want our band to benefit the already growing music trade in Charleston while also serving the community that is so supportive of us.” Shovels and Rope tells Hypebot.
Not only did they want to choose an advantageous location, they also wanted to be sure that it was a place they could integrate themselves into. A large portion of their ticket sales also go to directly to their charity partners, The Charleston Waterkeepers, The Green Heart Project, and Water Mission. Hosting an event that also has a positive social impact is a great element for a festival to have regardless of whether or not it is run by an artist.
Tools to Success
Lorin Ashton, more familiarly known as the electronic artist Bassnectar, is one musician that leverages the power of the internet to actively engage with his unique fan base. Through his heavy usage of Reddit’s AMA (Ask Me Anything) threads, he has developed a strong bond with his supporters. By opening up online and answering follower submitted questions, he has created a close connection to his fans which he calls family. His cult like following has been generated by the relationships he has created online. This community has been furthered in recent years from just the internet to in person events curated by Ashton.
While Bassnectar can be seen multiple times in a festival season at events all around the country, many fans have commented that his curated events represent a chance to see a different type of set from the musician. Not only is the musician able to host several events throughout the year in the United States, from his major festival Basscenter to his smaller more intimate Freestyle Sessions, for the first time he will be hosting a festival in Mexico next year. Deja Voom is a three night tropical experience that will take place in Riviera Maya, Mexico next spring. Many packages for the event are already sold out after less than a month of being on sale.
It’s not easy for every artist to catapult their following into new experiences. Above & Beyond attempted this year to hold a festival in Mexico as well but recently canceled it citing that fans complained that it was too expensive and subsequently sales reflected that. This shows that its important for artists to do their research before diving into a new event. It’s not enough to have a loyal following. It’s also key to choose the right location and price point.
Utilizing Sponsors at Artist Curated Events
The attitude of having sponsors at these types of events is mixed. In the beginning, the Roots did not go about getting sponsors for their curated event, The Roots Picnic, but in recent years they have paired up with Live Nation. This year their sponsors included XFINITY, Monster, and others. However the decision to bring on sponsors can be a tough one as some artist believe that it takes away from the overall goal of the event.
“It has to be about the experience as opposed to the cash,” The National Aaron Dessner tells Pitchfork. “We want the audience to have time and space to not be bombarded by a ton of things.”
The biggest pull for wanting sponsors is that they do make a significant difference in the financial health of an event. The corporate or “sell out” feeling can be curbed by curating sponsors that are in line with the artists messaging. For example, Chance the Rapper collaborated with local business to support his hometown of Chicago in addition to locking in larger sponsors like Bud Light and H&M as well.
In a market that in recent years has seemed to become over statured, starting a music festival right now does not seem like the smartest business move. However, when artists like Post Malone sell out a new festival within two hours of tickets being on sale without even announcing a line up, it is clear that there are some advantages to hosting a music festival with a major musician backing it. They can sell tickets without a line up because they have have a loyal fan base that loves the music of that artist and trusts the musical tastes of the artists. They also have a group of supporters that are eager to be further immersed into their creative world. These events are a chance for fans to get an experience that can’t be created a generic, all genre festival. They get the opportunity to see the type of art, location, and vibe that the artist creates when they have full reign over the event.