FESTIVAL GUIDE: The Different Types Of Music Festivals

The music festival – originally a jam-band subculture pioneered by the likes of The Grateful Dead and Phish – is now a mainstream music and media event. For example, South By Southwest (abbreviated as SXSW) in Austin, Texas, is not only a mecca for both unsigned and big name musical artists, but also a networking event for social media start ups and tech biggies such as Google and Twitter. Today music festivals take place anywhere from a 700 acre Tennessee farm to Chicago’s Grant Park to Vail Ski Resort.

As more people venture these gatherings of art and expression, it is valuable to know the different types of music festivals and their pros and cons. Here is a list of them with examples for each:


Camping: A multi-day music event usually in a rural setting where attendees have a pass for the whole weekend and camp out in a tent site next to their parked car. The ticket price includes unlimited access to multiple stages of music, amenities such as bathrooms and food/beverage vendors.

  • Pros: There is a great sense of community once attendees pitch their tents and get to know their neighbors. There is no curfew for the music to stop. Logistics are also much easier when music, food and sleeping needs are all enclosed in one area.
  • Cons: With a permanent outdoor setting, if weather does not permit, it can get pretty ugly. It is difficult to sleep in a tent when the sun comes up at 6AM.
  • Examples: Bonnaroo, Coachella.

City Festival – Municiapal Park: These music festivals take place in city parks such as San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park or Chicago’s Grant Park. Artists play in their allotted times starting the afternoon and attendees gain access to all of the outdoor stages until the festival ends for the night. The park usually has a fence around the edges to keep outsiders without tickets from gaining access to the stages.

  • Pros: Convenience – they are much easier to get to than camping festivals in a rural setting. Also, attendees stay at hotels or apartments – much better than the mud and grime of camping.
  • Cons: There is usually a curfew for city park festivals, as any noise after around 10PM is inconsiderate for anyone who lives right next to the park. Logistics are very difficult once the festival ends for the night, as thousands of people all need transportation to get back to their hotel or apartment.
  • ExamplesAustin City Limits, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands Festival.
City Festival – Venues: These festivals also take place in a city, but instead of in a city park they are in the venues the town has to offer. Attendees get a wristband that grants them access to any venue they want in a given area. These venues host multiple performances from a wide range of artists.
  • Pros: The attendees get to sample many of the host cities’ venues. Sleeping arrangements and amenities are also sufficient.
  • Cons: It is very hectic to book a hotel for the dates the festival takes place.
  • Examples: SXSW, Bumbershoot.

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