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Music festivals are selling out as YOLO-mania takes over post-pandemic

June 30, 2021, 11:00 PM UTC

Summer has barely begun, yet every large music festival announced for 2021, and many for 2022, have sold out in record time and at higher prices than prior to the pandemic. After more than a year of lockdowns, music fans are ready to party and are racing to book “you only live once” YOLO adventures.

At the top of the bucket list are lavish VIP experiences that include Michelin-starred bites, free-flowing Dom Perignon, spa treatments, and private performances. For an industry that raked in $10.9 billion in U.S. live music revenue in 2019, according to PwC, strong demand bodes well for a quick recovery.

Caviar anyone?

That certainly seems to be the case for BottleRock, a festival in Napa, Calif. that sold out in under two minutes for all ticket types, including 500 platinum passes priced at $4,350 each, and 90 suites that cost up to $100,000 a day, co-producer Justin Dragoo told Fortune.

Set in the heart of Northern California’s wine country, the three-day festival will welcome 40,000 attendees daily over Labor Day weekend and will feature 80 artists across five stages, including top acts like Megan Thee Stallion and Foo Fighters. Buyers of VIP packages will be wined and dined by celebrity chefs and can socialize with the bands.

“We offer four premium tiers and are seeing unprecedented interest,” Dragoo said. “People want to spend on these meaningful once-in-a lifetime experiences.”

Across the bay in San Francisco, there’s Outside Lands, which holds the Guinness World Record for being the world’s top-grossing music festival. (Coachella, near Palm Springs, Calif., held the title until it stopped reporting financials in 2018.)

The three-day Outside Lands bacchanal will host 70,000 people daily in Golden Gate Park over Halloween weekend. Special experiences include Grass Lands, a legalized marijuana area sponsored by cannabis delivery platform Eaze, and Find Your Festie, a game to help attendees make friends, sponsored by the dating app, Bumble.

And while Outside Lands took two hours to sell out (except for its top-tier tickets, which are getting a revamping), its sister festival, Life Is Beautiful in Las Vegas sold out in just 40 minutes, according to Allen Scott, co-founder of Another Planet Entertainment which produces both shows.

“There was so much demand for Life Is Beautiful, we could have easily sold a second weekend,” he said.

Room for more

As luck would have it, Life Is Beautiful and the iHeart Radio Music Festival wound up getting booked for the same weekend, in the same city, with the same headliner—–Billie Eilish. But iHeart’s co-producer John Sykes, cofounder of MTV and chair of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, said he’s unfazed.

“We don’t see them as competitors. We produce our tentpoles, not just for the 14,000 people in the arena, but for the millions who listen on the radio, watch on television, and enjoy the livestream,” said Sykes. “Doing our shows on the same night illustrates how strong demand is for live music right now.”

Yet boom times for large festivals may mean more hustling for smaller shows.

Jordan Kurland, co-producer of San Francisco’s Noise Pop, a small club festival, and former producer of the now defunct Treasure Island Music Festival, is cautiously optimistic. He manages bands Death Cab For Cutie, Postal Service, She & Him, Best Coast, Tori Y Moi, and The New Pornographers.

“Not every festival that’s gone on sale has sold out—outdoor shows are moving more quickly than indoor ones—and we’re beginning to see crowding on the calendar,” he said. “If you announced six weeks ago, shows were selling faster than ever, but now every band in the world is trying to get back on the road and it seems like a glut is inevitable.”

Whether a shakeout happens depends on the market and how cleverly producers innovate.

Another Planet presents 700 shows annually, mostly in San Francisco, the nation’s third-largest concert market. With that volume of events, Kurland said independent clubs have started to install cameras to allow for paid livestreams.

Unfestivals are also gaining in popularity like Park City Song Summit taking place Sept. 8 to 12 in Utah. There, fans are paying up to $2,500 each to gather in intimate venues to connect with artists like Mavis Staples, Father John Misty, and Fred Armisen while sharing stories in the round.

A new dawn

“It’s going to be three years since we had a Coachella, having been cancelled twice during the pandemic,” said Gary Tovar, founder of that festival’s producer, Goldenvoice. “When it returns next spring, my sense is that people will have a greater appreciation for how magical an experience it truly is.”

Primavera Sound, also postponed twice, plans to make up for lost time next June in Barcelona with 10 days and nights of performances by the world’s biggest bands, culminating in a massive celebration on the beach.

“These events are always known for their energy which is quite palpable at a 60,000 person festival where you can hear the roar of the crowd and feel that vibe,” said Tom Russell, co-producer of The Governors Ball, New York CIty’s big summer music festival that got pushed to the fall. “We’re entering an incredible time of musical output as folks had time to write a lot of songs during the past year. With so much coming, it’s an exciting time to be a consumer.”

Lollapalooza, which kicks off the season at the end of this month in Chicago,  is expecting 100,000 fans daily over four days. Its co-producer, Charlie Walker said: “What we’ve learned from the pandemic is that the live experience is irreplaceable, and fans are more excited than ever to be back. So many of our upcoming festivals including Austin City Limits and Bonnaroo are already sold out, and from what we can tell with current ticket sales, 2022 will be a non-stop year that continues roaring into 2023 and beyond.”

Correction (July 1, 2021): This article was updated to clarify that iHeart’s John Sykes was previously cofounder of MTV.

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