February is upon us! Sure, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and assured us of another six weeks of winter. Since then, Boston and the Northeast have been pounded by snow storm after blizzard after snow storm. The mountains of Colorado and plains of Wyoming are preparing for a fun couple of days of snow. Heck! They're even talking snow in the deep south (Carolina's, Missisippi, Atlanta, Tennessee) for next week. Despite all the snow, and the seemingly constant rain in the Pacific Northwest, there are many planning for summer. Not just any summer either. I'm talking the summers spent in a lawn chair with the sun umbrella covering you from any potential burn. It's just you, your family and friends and the sound of good music from afar. Well, maybe the music isn't too far off, and maybe you have 30,000+ other friends with you.
That is right! Music festival after music festival is nearing the final stages of securing your favorite band to play your hometown festival. Maybe your hometown festival is a couple hours away, but it is your festival and you can't wait to attend it every single year! They always bring in some of your favorite bands, occasionally you get to meet some of the artists, and you always get to buy a T-shirt (or five) and a couple CD's. So, now that you are getting just a little excited for your hometown festival, did you know there is something wrong with it?
Yes, you heard right. There is something drastically wrong with many of today's Christian Music Festivals. From the smallest and newest upstart festival to the well established attended by the tens of thousands, there is indeed something drastically wrong with them. Most people in attendance don't see it though. Sure, maybe you notice that there just aren't as many people as last year, but maybe they had other things to tend to or they just couldn't afford it. Other than what one sees on the outside, you just don't see what is wrong.
Sadly, today's Christian music festivals are all a reflection of the music industry as a whole. People just don't care. We tend to like what we hear on the radio. Maybe our friend likes a band, persuades us to give them a listen and we like the one or two songs of the band. We decide with all the music we listen to and hear that we just want the songs we know. We head over to iTunes or Amazon (or our favorite digital download site), cop the songs we know and love, and done. We have the music we love. We have effectively supported our favorite artists.
Great, we have supported their music through a purchase or two. But, we haven't purchased their whole album. We only know the radio friendly songs. We don't realize that song 7 on their newest album is the one that reflects who they are as people and a band. But, such is the plight of today's American society - like what we know, get what we like and want, and only have enough attention span to download just the one or two songs. There is always something better to do with our time than download music.
Now, dig a little deeper than just being familiar with an artists music. Festivals are long. Having been to many, I'll confirm they are just long. They start between 9 and 10am and by the time the headline act for the night is walking off stage after their encore, it is 11pm at the earliest and midnight at the latest. Of course, some festivals (no longer around) ran even longer on their busiest days. But the length of time is only the beginning of how long the festival is. Add to that, you have to camp! So not only are you sticky and sweaty from being in the sun all day, you might not get a shower, probably won't go to sleep until 1 or 2am, and then won't sleep well anyway since you're not in your own bed. Repeat this cycle for two to four days, and you have one very long festival. But, this is what makes a festival. Yet, many are just not that into camping, going without showers (maybe getting a washcloth bath), living on minimal sleep and hanging out with thousands of others that are sticky, sweaty and smelly.
Another big hold up in attending a festival is paying for a ticket. Why would anyone want to pay close to $100 (sometimes more) to go be uncomfortable to listen to mostly bands no one knows (unless you are indeed a local or are really into music). This might seem shallow, but it is very true and words I have heard. And really, most people don't want to pay to go to something they might not enjoy as much as they had hoped. Which leads me to: why wouldn't anyone enjoy a festival filled with bands/artists they love? Don't they have other things to do besides just the music?
Yes, there is the skateboarding/bike exhibitions. There are the kids bounce houses and art areas. There is the merchandise tent as well as the seeming miles of non band related merchandise to browse through. There are prayer tents and baptism tanks, basketball hoops, video game consoles and more! But, people are increasingly more apprehensive to pay to get all this and music when they can stay home, do the same activities and listen to the music they like and know as opposed to the lines and music they aren't familiar with.
Yet all the above mentioned aren't the biggest problems facing Christian festivals. With decreased attendance, these festivals are now faced with decreased revenue. This leads to decreased sponsorship money. This leaves less money to bring in your favorite band. Fewer bands with notoriety means fewer people. Vicious cycle. One that many festivals have not found and easy resolution to. Those festivals that have figured it out, are now partnered with larger parent companies.
Years ago, many festivals blamed the economic crash. Today, this excuse just doesn't work. I blame money management, over priced bands (seriously, the just starting local doesn't need $1k, and the nationally recognized hot band of four years ago doesn't need $25k ), Yes, each band deserves to get paid, but are they (or their management) asking to much? Yes, many festivals charge admission to help cover costs, but is that admission to high an asking price? Or is it not high enough? Are people not thinking they are getting value in their purchase? Tough questions, no easy answer. But, there are some great examples festivals could turn to in their quest to maintain and increase success.
1. Free! Of course many cynical individuals believe you can't get good quality for free. But, I know you can. In a sermon on how to reach people, churches needed to employ in reaching out to their neighborhood. Free, food and fun - the three F's. If festivals can't provide free food (vendors would go out of business), the least they could do is make the festival free and fun. One of the largest and most successful festivals is Lifelight Festival. It is free! If you don't want to give them a dime as you walk in the park, you don't have to. But, they do have collection buckets as you walk in, and then again during the evening session offering. Somehow, they have managed to have money for every band and some for the next year. And yes, when I attended there, I contributed at the gate and at the evening offering...just like many others did. If people see a value, they pay for it.
2. Stop hiring a "professional" to fill the roster spots with the favorite bands of today. Wouldn't it be just as easy to have an internal person listen to the radio, watch Radio U or JCTV, and stream music from the major stations across the nation to help determine which bands to book? At the worst, they could cut their costs and leave a little more for the bands.
3. If they can't make the festival free, why not make them much cheaper to attend. Road Show seems to be capitalizing off cheap tickets. Sure, this is a festival and not just a few hours, but make them cheaper (closer to $30 tops).
4. Bands need to work tirelessly to put on a good show. Yes, they are probably running on little to no sleep, but put on the best show you can. People love to be entertained, and you just standing in one spot singing isn't entertaining. Make people want to see you. Make your performance the one people want to see and never forget. Capture us and pull us out of out our ADHD culture placing us in a few minutes of pure bliss.
5. Lastly, even though it is hard, for the love of big hairy smelly people, provide showers for those camping. Sure, it might cost a little extra, but provide that amenity - junior high girls, moms and germaphobes everywhere will thank you.
Finally, what is it that has killed...or is killing Christian music festivals? I don't find just one thing. I see many. Ticket prices, poor band selection, a passive society, bands (or management) seeking to much, boring bands, festival saturation, financial mismanagement and more that I probably have overlooked. All of this spells doom for many a festival. So, if you love your music as much as I do, and you live close enough to a festival (nearly one in every state now), go check them out. Support your favorite bands by supporting the festival. If you're blessed enough to be going, it might just keep that festival afloat.
Good bye to: Purple Door, Tomfest, Rage, Music in the Rockies and Cornerstone. Welcome back Ichthus and Heavenfest. Glad to meet you Soulstock and Elevate. For all the rest of the festivals, best of luck and many blessings to your coming year.