We are a long way from Woodstock. Forget the mud, sweat and tears; now fans can go all-VIP at their favorite summer music festival – for a steep price, of course.
But maybe too steep, leading to questions: Are ordinary music fans being priced out of America's most popular festivals? And if they are, what effect does that have on the role of this form of group entertainment in national pop culture?
Besides the Internet, how will music-lovers discover new bands they would otherwise never know about if not for the platform that music festivals provide new musicians?
"We’re getting close to where some people can’t afford a Coachella or a Bonnaroo any more," says Vito Valentinetti, a co-owner of Music Festival Wizard website, which provides information on 600 festivals around the world.
Some fans are already turned off, and not just by high prices.
Madeleine Valley, 24, a graphic designer in Washington, D.C., says most of the festival fans she knows don't make enough to buy tickets.
"It's sad, because when I was in high school I used to look at festival lineups and drool over them and I could not wait until I was in college and I could afford festival tickets," she says. "Then when I was in college prices went up and I thought well, maybe once I graduate and get a job...And now I'm in an entry level position and I feel like I still can hardly afford tickets. ."
Elijah Fosl, 22, a senior at American University in Washington, D.C. and general manager of the college radio station, says he thinks of Coachella as "totally a celebrity experience." .
"I think those kinds of festivals are already irrelevant. I don't want to sound like a crotchety old person, but most people at big-name festivals these days go for the experience and the fashion. That's cool, but it's not exactly a music festival anymore...The only times my friends will go to a big fest is if their job is paying for it."
Coachella in California and Bonnaroo in Tennessee are the two major summer festivals , Valentinetti says, and some of their VIP packages are so expensive they offer installment plans to pay for them.
Why? Maybe it's the helicopters, the private planes, the "Roll like a Rockstar" tour buses. Private viewing areas, private lounges, backstage access and meet-and-greets with the bands. Luxury pavilion tents with real queen beds and real bathrooms. On-call concierge service and catered meals.
Open bars and golf-cart shuttles. Champagne parties and morning yoga sessions.
At Bonnaroo in June, the price tag for a "Roll Like a Rockstar" package for eight people: $32,500. And they're all sold out. But the Glamping Package is still available: $15,000.
Consider a few stats that confront the average fan hoping to attend Coachella, which starts Friday.
The two-weekend festival in 2015 grossed a gobsmacking $84,264,264 in ticket sales from a record total of 198,000 tickets sold, as reported to Boxscore.
- Ticket prices for Coachella this year range from about $400 for general admission to $900 for VIP tickets, according to Lindsay Lyons of Goldenvoice, which produces Coachella. A VIP package including a weekend festival pass and a four-course sit-down dinner in the Coachella Rose Garden costs $1,124 per weekend. VIP parking is an extra $150.
- Tickets on the secondary market are pricier: According to ticket search engine SeatGeek, average resale prices have nearly doubled since 2011. This year, fans will have to pay around $550 for a general admission ticket for the first weekend of the festival, and just under $500 for the second weekend.
- Not even Craigslist is a bargain: A VIP package for sale on the site (four VIP Coachella tickets plus use of a luxury home with pool and jacuzzi within walking distance of the festival) runs as high as $8,000.
- Accommodations: To rent one room in nearby Indio, Calif., during the festival, the average price is $474, with prices climbing as high as $689 per night, according to Expedia. According to AirBnB, to rent a home or apartment for four people in Coachella during the festival, the price ranges from $1,283-$1,603 for the two weekends.
- Transportation: Rental-car prices run from $35 per day to $168 per day, according to Expedia. Uber prices for a 10-mile radius around Coachella can range from $250 to $500 for a single trip, due in part to surge pricing.
- VIP Transportation: Uber announced a new perk this year: UberChopper will fly fans from Los Angeles to Indio for $695 a seat and you can make reservations for up to six people.
So it goes at some of America's most popular summer music festivals in the 21st century — an all-encompassing experience never imagined by those mud-spattered hippies at Woodstock in 1969 .
No one wants to return to those bedraggled old days but VIP perks ("glamping = glamourous camping") aimed at the 1% crowd has become de rigueur on America's increasingly crowded summer festival schedule.
"It's a major trend," says Valentinetti. "There's always been VIP ticket pricing but in the last few years it’s started to expand — and there are some crazy perks, even platinum VIP. It's a big market going after the 1%."
And it seems to be working: "Both Coachella and Austin City Limits have gone to double weekends to meet the demand and haven't gone back," Valentinetti notes.
"The spontaneity and excitement have been sucked out of it," she laments.
When music festivals first emerged in America, some five decades ago, they were considered a special event and they especially courted young people, she says.
"Now, the promoters and organizers court sponsors and vendors," she says. "The sponsors and vendors want the attendees to be of a demographic that can help them reach their goal of making the most money. So the festivals charge a higher admission and attract patrons with more expendable income to buy their goods."
Gary Bongiovanni, president and editor-in-chief of Pollstar, says today's music festivals are more focused on celebs and luxury than the old days. But the old days never last.
"It doesn’t reflect on any hippie roots, that’s for sure," he says. "There was a time 20 or 30 years ago when artists wouldn’t allow their names to be on tickets if they were excessively priced. Now they charge as much as they can, because that’s how they make money."
Another reason why prices are rising, Brant says, is the "out of control" cost of hiring the big-name acts, the names that draw the most important sponsors. In turn, she says, fans feed the cost increases.
"Instead of paying a low admission to a festival, as in the beginning, the patron is expected to pay hundreds, if not thousands, to join 'the experience,' " she says. "And they are willing to do it, enabling the promoters and sponsors to continue to charge exorbitant prices."
Fans, she says, have changed too. Many are more interested in being seen than the music, she charges.
"They drink their $15 beverages, eat their $30 fish-and-sprout tacos, buy their $50 t-shirts, take the selfies that prove they were there and they're done," she says. "They feel their cred comes from being in the right place, with the right people, and if the music is provided by a legendary or super-hot band, that's just an added bonus."
But Bongiovanni and Ray Waddell, a senior editor at Billboard who has covered live touring and the festival business for 25 years, are not so worried about the recent trends. They say music festivals represent a good value to fans in terms of the amount of entertainment for the price.
"It’s not that much more expensive than it would be to see a boomer act at an arena and (by contrast) you get an entire day of entertainment or multiple days of entertainment," says Bongiovanni.
True, some fans have "sticker shock" as the cheapest ticket prices top $200, Waddell concedes, but for most consumers the bang-for-buck at a festival is huge.
"Most have up to 80 acts and when you spread that out over a weekend, it works out to be a pretty cheap per-band price for an immersive experience of weekend entertainment," Waddell says.
Moreover, he says, the VIP packages help amortize the sky-high cost (as much as $10 million, he says) of staging a quality festival, thus keeping ticket prices down for most attendees.
"There is always a certain segment of the fan base who has more money, and what they pay for is access, private meets-and-greets or better seats or a package including dinner," Waddell says. "It's a creative business move to make more revenue in a highly expensive endeavor."
Meanwhile, says Valentinetti, there are still plenty of smaller, mid-range or budget-priced regional festivals (and more of them every year) that offer a good value. He cites festivals in the $200 price range such as Summer Camp just south of Chicago, FYF Fest in Los Angeles, Riot Fest in Chicago, and Summer Set in Wisconsin.
Festivals aren't just for the headliners; they're increasingly important for new and young bands and performers to get their music before the ears of hundreds of thousands at a time.
"It used to be radio and MTV told you, 'these are the bands you're going to like," Valentinetti says. Now people learn about music in other ways and one of them is going to festivals to see bands who never would have come to your region, or you would never have gone to see. At festivals you could be listening to music no one's heard yet."
Young people especially have embraced the immersive nature of a festival, says Waddell.
"They're the Ipod generation and they like the Ipod shuffle," he says. "It's the discovery aspect they like, when they go from stage A and to stage B and they stop and listen and get turned on to a new band. The contemporary music experience is all about discovery, whether it's Pandora or Apple, suggesting music for you."
Puente, Maria. "Are Popular Music Fests Pricing out Everyday, Middle Class Music Fans?" USA Today. April 12, 2016. Accessed April 12, 2016. http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2016/04/12/popular-music-fests-pricing-out-everyday-midle-class-music-fans/82747404/.