We all know that festivals are a huge portion of the live entertainment business. Whether it’s a local festival drawing hundreds or a major music festival drawing hundreds of thousands of attendees, there are important considerations when it comes to festival events and planning for them.
Location Is The Key Consideration in Festival Production
Location selection, next to budget, is probably the main decision in festival production. The space you select is the blank palette on which you will paint the total experience for those attending your event. Remember that what keeps people coming back to festivals or outdoor concerts is the total experience at the event, not just festival entertainment. Too often the space selected to hold festival events is done based on expediency or what’s easy.
There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to festival production. The question you must answer during the site selection process is whether or not a particular location supports or impedes those factors required for a good festival or outdoor event. Festival event. Remember it all starts with what your target audience if would want in the way of festival entertainment, activities, and amenities.
Safety Is the Number One Requirement When Selecting a Festival Location
Festival production begins with planning to assure the safety of all participants, whether they be attendees, staff, volunteers, or entertainers. To assure the safety of everyone involved the location must provide for the following:
The success of a festival heavily relies on various factors, with one crucial element being the capacity of the venue. Capacity refers to the maximum number of people that a space can accommodate comfortably and safely. It’s not just about how many people a Fire Marshall says you can cram into a space or safety regulations. It’s about having enough space to place all the amenities, festival sponsorship assets, food and merchandise vendors, toilets, watering stations, first aid stations, customer service stations, stages, entertainer lounges, VIP amenities, etc.
What you want is for the location you select to accommodate all the various facilities you need for with good flow between them for a great fan experience. Capacity directly impacts the overall experience for attendees, but also other components like the financial viability and logistical feasibility of the event.
There are several factors that influence festival planning for capacity. They include the arrangement of the overall space to accommodate stage placement, entertainment viewing areas, stage sound separation, sponsor activations, food stalls, merchandise booths, toilets, watering stations, medical aid services, parking lots, public transportation access, etc. The space design should also include good dispersion of these activities and clear paths between them to allow festival-goers to move freely without feeling cramped.
Good capacity planning for festival events avoids overcrowding, long queues, accessibility issues, restricted stage viewing areas, and inadequate viewing areas. It also minimizes safety issues that can happen with overcrowding such as accidents or injuries. Failing to do capacity planning may lead to many challenges, including safety issues, diminished attendee satisfaction, legal troubles, and damage to the festival’s reputation.
Calculating Capacity: To calculate capacity, you must connect the activities and amenities that will occur besides the number of people attending the event. After all, attendee satisfaction is about the total experience for them, including immersing themselves in the various activities and culinary food and beverage options available. It also about avoiding long lines for admission, food, beverages, customers services, activities, restrooms and other elements of the event. The capacity must include enough of these functions spread out across the site to avoid long walks and long lines.
There are rules of thumb for calculating the space needed for a certain size crowd. For instance, for a standing crowd, the rule is six square feet per person. I prefer seven myself to allow for additional movement as the performance takes place. For a mixed seating and standing crowd, the rule of thumb is eight to nine square feet per person. For festival events planning, these guidelines should be used for the stage viewing area and not for the total capacity of the festival space itself. That’s because these guidelines do not take into consideration the other amenities and activities taking place. They are useful for estimating the specific viewing areas for stages. The main stage and headliner viewing area should have viewing capacity for the total number of paid attendees since most if not all of your attendees will want to see the main headliners and other stages will not be utilized while the headliner is performing.
For example, an outdoor festival expecting 10,000 people should plan for a 2-acre minimum stage viewing area. An acre is 43,560 square feet. That’s about 8.7 square feet per person and fits the guideline of 8 to 9 square feet per person for a mixed seated and standing crown. Remember this space is for the unobstructed stage viewing area and not for the entire festival grounds. Is you are laying out the viewing area in sections, you can get approximately 22 100 X 200 sections in one acre.
Add to this the various activities and amenities that are part of a festival and you can see why larger festivals take place in venues comprising 30 acres or more. Parking has a huge impact on the space needed for a festival. Using Coachella as a reference. The festival itself is hosted on 78 acres, but when parking and camping are included, its footprint grows to 642 acres!
Wise festival planning should include adequate space for a larger audience in case the turnout is a little larger than anticipated. However, policies should be in place to avoid selling more tickets than can be adequately managed by the event space.
Managing crowd behavior is vital for safe in-person events and the event venue should facilitate crowd management tactics. Based on your projected attendance, the site must allow for adequate entrances and exits. Remember during an incident requiring attendees to evacuate the site, there must be ways that a large crowd can quickly exit the festival grounds without people getting jammed up with the potential for injuries. Entry and Exit Points are sufficient to safely egress crowds quickly in case of an emergency.
Does the festival space lend itself to emergency evacuation routes? Can emergency vehicles reach the venue without having to sit in traffic at the festival entrance?
Does it allow for adequate traffic flow, parking and access to public transportation?
The space should have enough capacity to prevent potential congestion points and allow festival organizers to strategically place barriers, or markers to prevent bottlenecks throughout the event space.
Are there perimeter fences to prevent people without tickets from crashing the event? Existing perimeter fencing is a plus, eliminating the need to bring in temporary fencing.
Environmental issues will have a significant impact on the overall experience of attendees at your event. Festival site selection should include examining how the proposed space will help with weather and other environmental issues. Depending on the location and date of the event weather can have a substantial impact on the event. Whether it’s heat, cold, or storms, the site should have adequate space and resources to deal with any issue that may arise.
I have already addressed the need for adequate egress during an emergency, including storms with lightning. Other environmental issues to be addressed with the venue include:
Is the capacity large enough to provide for relaxation or chill out spaces for attendees to enhance the festival environment?
Is the location a potential heat island or does it provide shady and grassy areas to help keep the temperature lower? Are there secure and sturdy shelters where attendees can take cover in case of severe weather?
Is there adequate capacity to set up shade awnings, cooling stations, and hydration stations to help prevent heat-related health problems?
Other venue environmental factors include whether power or other facilities are available at the site for lighting and other needs. Having things like power, restrooms, and other amenities already available saves both revenue and the resources needed to put them in place. That’s why many festival organizers use already existing festival or fairgrounds for their events.
The festival site capacity, crowd management ability, and environmental factors have everything to do with festival production. Selecting a setting for your festival should include an analysis of these factors for each potential festival site as part of the festival events planning process. The festival venue must match the festival entertainment, the inventory of festival sponsorship assets, planned activities, and other amenities planned for the festival.
Remember the festival location and site features will be a big part of the festival experience for those attending it. If you want people coming back year after year, it’s critical that you pick the right location for your event with capacity enough to have all of the services and comforts people want without the issue of long queues to access them.