Two-weekend festivals become more prominent, but is it a trend?

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Last year was one of firsts at Coachella®. It was the first time it brought a holographic singer to the stage. More than that, it was also the first time it spread to two weekends. Although the first first is not likely to come back, at least for now (one of companies involved folded shortly after), the second was apparently successful enough for other festivals to adopt it. This year the Ultra Music Festival did it in March, and the Austin City Limits Festival® will do it in October.

Although it's the in thing right now, this practice actually originated much earlier than last year. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage FestivalTM, for example, has run two weekends since 1976. So there was some precedent for this before 2012 — it just took a while for other festivals to catch up.

Given that Jazz Fest has been spanning two weekends practically forever, and since Ultra was reportedly all the better for doing it, will it become a trend? That largely depends on if festival organizers feel that the extra work to make it happen is worth it, and then even if they think that, only if there are not too many obstacles.

There are both pros and cons to expanding:

Pros Cons
Greater access to festival Loss of exclusivity
More attendees Logistical nightmares in some cases
Same bands, two weekends (option 1) Scheduling troubles
Different bands on each weekend (option 2) Attendees must decide which weekend to go

Greater access, but loss of exclusivity

As with any venue, there are simply limits to capacity at a festival, both for safety reasons and basic logistics (more on this in a moment). With two weekends, more people have a chance to attend and experience the festival. However, some festivals rely on a certain atmosphere of exclusivity that surrounds their event. Bonnaroo® is a good example of a festival that has this effect on people. Veterans very much treat it as a yearly four-day community that has its own magic and allure. Four days and then it's done until the following year. By expanding it to two weekends, it could lose its appeal for some people, so organizers have to weigh whether or not adding a weekend means alienating some of the festival's biggest champions.

More attendees, but logistical nightmares

Like discussed above, two weekends allows more people to see the festival, but there are logistical considerations that must be handled. As it is, any concert, never mind a festival, requires a lot of coordination. This is particularly true when it comes to working with police to monitor the extra traffic coming into the town of city where the festival is held. There are also always concerns about a rise in crime committed during the festival, noise pollution, physical pollution, and a whole list of other things. Dealing with this for one weekend is a lot to ask, but to ask the surrounding town or city to deal with it for two may be too much. Indeed, Ultra dealt with these issues when a Miami commissioner attempted to block the extra weekend of that festival this year. Now it's awaiting approval for another weekend next year, but a positive experience this year means that it's more likely to move forward.

That's all well and fine for Miami, a large city, but not every festival is held in such a big place. Bonnaroo®, for example, is held in relatively tiny Manchester, Tennessee. As it is, the off-ramp to the city is backed up for miles a couple days every year as cars are searched before being allowed to enter the campground. Then there's the extra noise and pollution generated at the festival. I imagine the cityfolk there tolerate it for one weekend but what about two? I don't know for sure, but what works in Miami may not find favor in Manchester. How well two weekends works depends in large part on location and the ability of the city to handle the extra, temporary population.

Same bands both weekends or different lineups?

A two weekend festival can also be a chance to give potential attendees opportunity to participate, should they not be able to attend the first weekend. That seems to be the goal Coachella® organizers had by expanding it to two weekends. Can't make it the first weekend? Fine, then attend the second weekend and you miss out on nothing. Of course, organizers have to actually be able to schedule the bands for two weekends. In that span of time, the band could have gone on to other gigs instead of staying put. So convincing bands to stay is one challenge to be met. That might be possible for more popular festivals, but probably not newer, lesser-known ones.

If the organizers can't book all bands for both weekends, there is the option of making different schedules for each weekend with different bands. That's how things were handled at Ultra, which had a somewhat different lineup both weekends, albeit with a great deal of overlap. Of course, now attendees must decide which weekend to choose based on which artists will be performing. However, this may not be such a huge issue if there are only a few folks you really want to see, anyway, or if you're local. The New Orleans Jazz FestTM has a different schedule between its two weekends, and it's thrived that way for a long time.

So, coming back to the original question, will two weekend festivals become a trend? Perhaps, but it's not for all of them. While I can see some bigger festivals going for it, it can only really work in a large city where logistics are slightly easier than a small location. Also, organizers will have to ask themselves if they'll hurt the festival brand by expanding. If so, then it's not worth it. If it won't harm the brand, then it may very well become a trend, assuming there are no logistical or scheduling issues, and no protests from the city.

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