Music Festivals Attract Variety of Fans; despite Heat, Humidity, Crowds and Costs, the Shows Are Becoming More Popular

By Schwartz, Karen | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), May 12, 2013 | Go to article overview

Music Festivals Attract Variety of Fans; despite Heat, Humidity, Crowds and Costs, the Shows Are Becoming More Popular


Schwartz, Karen, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


GULF SHORES, Ala. * Karen Pery doesn't consider herself a jazz fan. Yet for each of the past four years, she's spent $3,000 and flown nearly 4,000 miles round-trip to attend the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

"It's humid. It's hot. It's crowded," the Los Angeles resident, 42, recalled. But, "It's so much fun, and it's such a great experience."

Music festivals are nothing new, but they are more popular than ever, attracting millions of fans. There are about 270 festivals of various types annually in the United States, and worldwide there are more than 800 in 57 countries, according to Pollstar, a trade publication covering the concert industry.

Yet, given that most bands tour, what would prompt someone to invest the time and money in traveling far afield to hear music they could hear closer to home?

For Pery, it's a combination of the people big headliners like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Robert Plant and Simon and Garfunkel exposure to new bands, great New Orleans food and a reason to spend some time in the city.

"It's like homecoming. Everyone is super friendly. It's this sense of, 'We're all in this together,' " said Pery, a life coach. "I have amazing stories from the Port-A-Potty lines."

Last year, the music lineup was so impressive that she and her husband attended the first weekend in late April with their children, ages 8 and 10, then flew home for a few days before returning the following weekend to meet friends from Boston and Philadelphia.

"There is one direct flight from LA to New Orleans, and it's at 9:30 a.m., and it's a party on a plane," she said. "Everyone is going to the jazz festival."

The New Orleans festival attracted 450,000 people over seven days last year, a lower daily attendance than some of the other major festivals. Since the city itself a tourist mecca, it's hard to say how many traveled specifically for the jazz festival, entering its 43rd year, versus how many were in town for another reason and decided to take in a day's music.

But head a couple hundred miles east along the coast to the summer resort of Gulf Shores, Ala., and it's much easier to see the draw that a music festival can have. That's where the Hangout Music Fest which debuted in 2010 amid the Deepwater Horizon oil spill holds its annual event on the beach.

After the inauspicious start, the festival took off, selling out all 35,000 tickets each day for the three-day event and winning the 2011 Pollstar Music Festival of the Year award.

Between fans and the festival's 5,000 workers, the population of Gulf Shores-Orange Beach nearly triples for the weekend before Memorial Day.

"We've had people travel from all 50 states for the festival definitely opening up our typical eight-hour drive market," said Missy Zak, spokeswoman for Meyer Vacation Rentals, which manages more than 1,500 properties in the area. …

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