Large Music Festivals Are OVER. Here’s Why…

About two weeks ago I arrived back home from FORM, a 500-person weekend festival put together by Hundred Waters. The festival took place at Arcosanti, an “urban laboratory focused on innovative design, community, and environmental accountability”, just over an hour north of Phoenix.

Last week I was on Randall’s Island between Brooklyn and Manhattan for Governors Ball, a 55,000-person weekend festival.

Both festivals are extremely young. This was FORM’s second year and Governors Ball’s fifth year.

I had no intention of pitting the two against each other, but there was a stark difference. One festival was extremely inspiring and the other was incredibly draining.

Governors Ball


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Governors Ball

Governors Ball had an incredible, diverse lineup and the weather was pretty great, but 55,000 people was overkill for the island.

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Take Björk’s set: we couldn’t hear because every drunk attendee was loudly talking to their friends.  We had to weave forward through the crowd for about 30 minutes to be able to hear.


Björk at Governors Ball. Can you even see her?
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Björk at Governors Ball. Can you even see her?
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Björk at Governors Ball. Can you even see her?

Overall, the trek to Governors Ball was worth it, but I’m not planning on returning.  St. Vincent and SBTRKT’s performances were incredible, but there were just so many negatives.

When I first arrived to pick up my press wristband, the media line was moving incredibly slow.  It wouldn’t have been a big deal, but when I got to the front of the line the guy working seemed stoned.  He forgot to put the wristband on my wrist and had to call me back, then he forgot to give my ID back and I had to reach over the table and get it.  Little things like this add up, dragging out wait times.

Areas became extremely overcrowded around peak performance times.  We tried leaving a vending area near the stage where Florence + the Machine was scheduled to come on.  We ended up squished like salmon for about half an hour.

Attendees were way too drunk and drugged.  We saw a girl puke, then someone promptly slipped and fell in the puke.

I’d also like to suggest that Governors Ball follow in the footsteps of Glastonbury and ban Native American headdresses. There were far too many and it was incredibly offensive.



Pharmakon at FORM Arcosanti
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Pharmakon at FORM Arcosanti
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Pharmakon at FORM Arcosanti

Now lets go back to FORM. The festival was free, but prospective attendees had to fill out a questionnaire to receive an invite.  This is a barrier, as not everyone was invited, but Governors Ball’s $275 price tag is also a barrier.

The questionnaire helped weed out those who weren’t serious about experiencing the weekend.  Everyone there cleaned up after themselves, kept their inebriation in check, was respectful, and was eager to help and share with other attendees.


Kodak to Graph at Arcosanti
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Kodak to Graph at Arcosanti
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Kodak to Graph at FORM Arcosanti

Dropped your phone?  Someone would run after you to give it back.  Having trouble carrying your gear?  Someone would step in and help you carry it to your campsite.

It also helped that the lineup was more focused, ensuring an all around great time for those in attendance.

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The crowd practiced attentive listening.  There were many well-deserved standing ovations, and almost all the performers thanked the crowd and Hundred Waters for a great weekend.

Comparing FORM to Governors Ball seems wrong.  FORM was an inspirational retreat, while Governors Ball is a music festival designed to make money.  However, it does show that the future of music festivals lies in smaller, specialized festivals that provide a great experience for both fans and artists.

FORM’s Facebook group was swamped with people thanking the organizers, artists, and other attendees. How often does that happen!?  One attendee is even composing a piece of contemporary classical music inspired by FORM.

I can’t wait until FORM 2016.  Check out some videos of the performances here.


Nina Ulloa covers breaking news, tech, and more: @nine_u

22 Responses

  1. Sam

    I must have missed the part that explains how the good stuff is the future? No one gives a shit about good or bad. Money always wins. Period. The future is in more things that make more money at the expense of art & culture. What good thing has ever won over money? There’s no trend that money will quit being king.

    Festivals aren’t for music fans anyway. They’re for festival fans – and there’s very little crossover.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Sam, part of what you’re saying is true, because money is often a driving force. But your viewpoint is very black-and-white, your cynicism is sad.

  2. Sandy

    I think you mean large music festivals are over for YOU. There’s nothing in your article to support the contention of your headline that large music festivals are over.

  3. GGG

    If this was your first festival with drunk and drugged out people and/or someone falling in vomit, you’ve been going to some pretty tame festivals.

  4. Name2

    Tibet Freedom 1997 was on Randall’s Island and they did a smashing job. The Tibet Freedom organizers even managed to make RFK Stadium in DC (1998) a bit of a paradise.

    NEWSFLASH: A crowd of 55K is going to be draining.
    NEWSFLASH: When you’re not cutting every corner and shoving in every possible body, and you’re taking steps to ensure the safety and comfort of attendees, it’s appreciated and remembered. Being treated like cattle? Also remembered.

    But this is the “live music scene” now. Overpriced, overcrowded parties for the overprivileged.

    Even back in 1984 Lou Reed himself suggested going to a movie or play instead.

    Someone please start a thread about how we all have to be charged more for everything because Free Market.


  5. Bill Graham

    Festivals have been going on for decades. You sound like a whiny amateur.

    • Versus

      What exactly would constitute a professional festival-goer, as opposed to an amateur?
      Is it someone who attains a license to festival?
      Does it require practicing walking in vomit while high without slipping, vocal exercises to allow continuous yelling into cell phones and/or “friends'” ears for the duration of the event loud enough so that others around cannot hear the music, arm endurance exercises to hold said cell phone aloft for 12 hours at a time to make sure to block others’ view?

      • Anonymous

        For starters, understanding festivals with 50k+ people have been going on for decades and have always included drunk people, people on drugs, people barfing, people falling in barf, etc. And that won’t end anytime soon. If Woodstock 99 didn’t kill large festivals, dumb hipsters in headdresses isn’t going to either.

  6. D'Michael

    What do you considered a LARGE festival? Over 80 acts but with 200 attendees? Or with a bunch A-List stars (maybe 30) with over 100,000 attendees?

    Not sure what’s this article even about.

    • Anonymous

      i think its about someone who is upset that their press badge didn’t let them meet the stars!

  7. Anonymous

    You clearly haven’t been to Primavera Sound. If you had, you wouldn’t be arguing large festivals are over.

  8. Versus

    I’m with you on this. I never could enjoy large festivals, and the same goes to a lesser degree for most large concert venues even for single acts.

    However, apparently the masses enjoy this sort of thing. Presumably some sort of social herding instinct. These events have little to do with music, it seems; the music is just an excuse for the “social” event.

    It’s just the common weekend pub/bar/club phenomenon writ large. I enjoy such places on the off-nights, but nothing can induce me to attend on a weekend night where one cannot even move or breathe due to the crowding.

    If I go to a music festival, it is to see/hear the performances. As you suggest, however, such festivals oriented towards actual appreciation of the music are generally small. Music itself is apparently a minority interest (elitist!), whereas drunken/drugged foolishness is fun for all.

  9. Anonymous

    I normally don’t troll, but thank you for wasting my time with this completely misleading headline.

  10. Danwriter

    Not sure even where to begin here. You’re using anecdotal information from one person’s experience (your own) at two festivals (out of scores per season) to conclude that “Large Music Festivals Are Over”? Rather than, let’s say, reference data from a source like Pollstar ( which indicates the exact opposite?

  11. danwriter

    Then there’s this: “I’d also like to suggest that Governors Ball follow in the footsteps of Glastonbury and ban Native American headdresses. There were far too many and it was incredibly offensive.”

    The peition that got headdresses banned contained all of 65 signatures —
    If you say “Indian headdress to a Brit they’d likely thought you werre referring to a Bangalore derby.

    • GGG

      As a white male I probably can’t be offended by headdresses from a cultural appropriation standpoint, but I am offended in that people that wear them are dumb. And usually white.

  12. Nissl

    “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” – Yogi Berra

    I’m done with big festivals too, but I think I’m just getting old. I still check out the livestreams if I’m not doing anything else those weekends, as it’s much more interesting than anything on TV. It’s been a good way to discover new bands that I’ll then go check out on their next theater tour.