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The Rise of the Music Festival

Austin City Limits music and arts festival finished last weekend, effectively marking the end of festival season here in the US. A months-long celebration of musical talent and culture, festival season usually begins in early April and continued throughout the summer until late September, with 1 day, 3 day, and even weeklong celebrations taking place all around the country. In the past 5 years or so, festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Chicago’s own Lollapalooza have skyrocketed in terms of popularity and attendance, leading to festival expansion and tickets selling out in seconds. So, why has the music festival become so popular?


Lollapalooza in Chicago’s Grant Park

Music festivals originated in the UK and are historically rooted in rock music, with Reading and Leeds festivals dating back to the 1950s, though they were the location of classical music gatherings going all the way back to the 1800s. From there, the music festival model has spread all over the globe; these gatherings are rooted in experience, culture, and youth, and are unexplainably fun. But they are also absurdly expensive, congested, emotionally and physically taxing, and dangerous in terms of drug use and thieves (phone theft is a notorious festival issue). With all of these negative factors, why do people continue to flock to festivals by the hundreds of thousands?

In short, a weekend spent at a festival is an experience unlike any other. And though it means pinching pennies all winter in order to afford a ticket come springtime (excluding travel and lodging expenses), it is an adventure that everyone should take at least once i their life. In following modern youth culture, many music festivals are now EDM-based, one possible reason for their rise in popularity. Social media is also partly responsible, as photos and videos of festival experiences spread like wildfire, and with celebrities taking part in the festivities, it seems worth the money and stress.

I myself have fallen victim to the festival hype: I’ve gone to Lollapalooza four years in a row now, a streak that I don’t plan on breaking any time soon. But I would like to expand my festival horizons a little, and maybe travel to Bonnaroo or Outside Lands within the next few years and eventually make my way to a UK festival. I think that a variety of factors have made music festivals the biggest events of the summer and a staple of youth, but from the largest fests like SXSW to the smallest like Pitchfork, they’re worthy of the hype. A weekend where hundreds of thousands of people can come together and celebrate art, while supporting  the creators and local economies, is a weekend well spent.


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