Premium Guest Experiences Are Destroying the Festival Scene


But now back to AEG! Which owns Goldenvoice which is in a joint-partnership and may or may not own a controlling stake in Red Frog Events which produces Firefly Festival in Delaware. This Firefly of course is not to be confused with the exquisite Firefly GATHERING in Flagstaff, which many of us are waiting anxiously to return from hiatus.

Yes, a friend shared an article with a jarring headline:
Music Festival: Pay Us $500 to Shoot Concert Photos for Us.

It’s a bit of an overstatement, or an oversimplification. Firefly decided to offer, as one of its premium experiences, the opportunity to “play photog” for a set. They’ve since taken down the offering, maybe realizing that the direction was all wrong. It was someone’s good idea on a marketing call, and they didn’t think through the implications. It happens.

But is this any different than any other number of premium options that festivals are trying to capitalize on? West Coast festivals are eagerly hyping up educational experiences, premium VIP camping, fancy ass meals or wine or spas or weed or… The list goes on.

As to whether what Firefly was offering was different…
It is, but only by a few degrees.

I watched at Lucidity Festival as participants in the InnovationWorks track learned from Bamboo-wizard Gerard Minakawa. They spent almost a week building one of the installations, a bamboo temple, and learning how to work with the material. Yet, essentially, they paid to help us build the festival. The space wasn’t a core component of the event (say, the commissary or a stage), but nonetheless, they were paying to work on the build.

It got me thinking, what else could we convince people to pay us to learn how to do? Would participants take a week to learn conscious cooking and catering with Collision Cuisine’s kitchen, essentially paying us to cook? Could they learn how to provide festival medical services, earning hours toward an EMT license? Or could we teach a budding photographer how to develop their festival photography brand?

The difference was that Firefly was like, “yeah, we don’t actually want to *teach* anything, we just want you to pay us a bunch of money.”

That’s the difference between a consumer experience and a truly engaging offering. It requires very little vulnerability between either party. You pay us. We give you. End of transaction.

It’s more or less the same disease that destroyed Fyre Festival. You pay us lots of money. We give you status. Unearned status, by the way, except for the fact that you’ve got the money. It’s the same disease that infects some Burning Man pay-for-play camps. It created a sense of Holier-than-Thou at Further Future… It’s those PREMIUM EXPERIENCES that seem to buy your way into something that you aren’t.

(We’ll have to talk about Fyre here once the heat’s died down. It’s a trendy topic that no one inside the scene will be hurting from in in six months, at which point it will ACTUALLY be useful to mine it for knowledge).

Here’s an example of a premium experience that’s priced appropriately and truly is what it says it is: hot air balloon rides at Oregon Eclipse. Or riding the ferris wheel at Coachella or EDC.

But in the cat-and-mouse game of hand-wringing investors, festivals are really trying to think outside of the box to find additional revenue streams. That’s all this offering was. If the goal was to provide incredible EXPERIENCES, they would have offered this as a giveaway. Or a contest. Or a lottery for people who buy their tickets between certain dates.

Firefly offers a lot of premiums: equipment rentals, travel packages, a spruce up zone with A/C restrooms and a lounge. 79 bucks per person. Just to make it feel less like you’re camping. A “Carefree Camping” package for four for $500. Collectables.

VIP AND Super VIP, just to make sure your VIPs don’t feel special enough.

The shitty part is that I know this isn’t the Firefly that the production team sees day in and day out, but they have to keep the lights on and the money flowing. Their marketing is heavily reliant on being “fan-curated,” and they’ve got some cool initiatives. For example, they’re pulling in fan mail for all of the artists on the lineup and will drop it in their dressing rooms. Cool! But like, also, whatever.

DSLR cameras aren’t allowed in for guests at Firefly. Same goes with Coachella. Hell, last year, Coachella told its media that they could only use their in-house photo pool. Anyway, I digress.

The problem comes to the forefront when a festival confuses EXPERIENCES with ACCESS.

To contrast, Bumbershoot in Seattle offers (or offered, I’m waiting on a confirmation) a photography TRAINING PROGRAM for youth, where they’re partnered up with media professionals to learn the tools of the trade in an amazing environment.

No, Firefly offers premiums like:
• Stage Wing Seating for Two
• Soundboard Seating for Two
• Shoutout on the Big Screen
• Experience the Festival as if you were an artist (rider, concierge, etc.)

There are some other cool opportunities, like having your own beach house bash or some other kind of Party in the Woodlands prior to the gates opening. But it’s run-of-the-mill stuff, no? “Wine tasting… Beer pong tournament… Karaoke…”


How about MAYOR OF FIREFLY for a day? You command a small battalion of city employees to enforce your (legal and silly) edicts. All attendees will spin until they fall down. How about your own pimped out golf cart filled with water bottles and thousands of snacks to give out. I don’t know, I’m just vamping here.

Again, ACCESS vs. EXPERIENCES. There’s such a big difference.

The festival industry wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the free work of attendees. Festivals literally could not turn a profit without volunteer programs, or “Interns,” or “Apprentices,” or “Lightning Teams,” or “Dream Makers,” or whatever you want to call them.

But a good volunteer program is *WORTH IT* for certain kinds of folks. You don’t just get access (in the form of a ticket or working backstage or sorting trash), you meet lifelong friends, learn new skills, arrive early, stay late, and become part of the very fabric of how that festival is seen to the rest of the world.

Idealistic, I know. But this is how festivals should approach their guest experiences: how will this be a life-changing moment? That’s where you make your fortunes.

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Can Insomniac Pull Off a Camping Festival?


Hear Ye, Etc.

C3 Events and Insomniac teamed up for a monster collaboration on Middlelands. It makes sense for them to work together: C3 knows Texas better than any other company. And they bet big with this one, putting on an EDC-level production deep in Texas, about an hour from George Bush Airport in Houston.

For the remainder of this email, I might just be using Insomniac and C3 interchangeably. They have the same parent company (Live Nation), so it’s hard to tell exactly what the difference really is.

In a tiny city, in a tiny county, on a 55-acre property that hosts the nation’s largest renaissance faire. Not your typical EDM wonderland.

So you’ve got an interesting combination to start with: Insomniac is the gold standard of mega-raves. And C3 puts on some of the world’s best city-oriented festivals (Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, Voodoo in New Orleans).

And they’re smart; they have a venue that’s been hosting the Texas Renaissance Festival for 40 years. That’s four decades of event procedures in place, built-in plans for water, power, parking, camping. And it was a necessary hedge to the risk of throwing this kind of event out in Texas, because it was a camping festival. Insomniac estimates that 15,000 attendees camped at Middlelands. And 90,000 attended.

Those are some serious numbers. And I wanted to root against it. I’m always rooting for the little guys, but these big guns are still the entry point into smaller boutique events. Coachella leads to Lightning in a Bottle leads to Lucidity leads back up to Burning Man leads to buying land or joining a monastery.

And that’s all I want from consumers, is to drop out completely and shave their heads and take a vow of celibacy from corporations. Sarcasm.

The difference is that Insomniac wants to keep their fans inside of the sales funnel. They’re smart. They have Big Data on their side. Once you opt-in to an Insomniac event, you’re subscribing to the rest of Live Nation, to C3 (which Live Nation also owns a controlling stake in), and you’re hooked on the vibes. On the hot chicks and the DJs. On the RUSH and the thrill.

Have you considered that you’re already addicted to the good vibes?

They want to get you hooked on their smaller events (Beyond/Nocturnal Wonderland or the poorly named Audiotistic) and drive you forward to city-wide, multi-day events like Lolla or Life is Beautiful or campouts like Electric Forest or Middlelands).

You’re sold to advertisers. That’s the cost beyond the ticket, and for the level of production they provide, the WOW factor is worth it for hundreds of thousands of fans.

So back to Middlelands and where those write-off-able risks really came in. It’s one thing to create a safe container for tens of thousands of people to come in the afternoon and leave sometime before sunset (see EDC). It’s no small feat on its own, and Insomniac has failed many times, especially in the early days. How would they handle a 96-hour straight party when it’s target population might not have a lot of experience with camping festivals?

These aren’t production companies that have a lot of “gettin’ natural” in their DNA.

But you have to remember that Pasquelle and Co. have a major camping festival in their bullpen: Electric Forest. This wasn’t a festival Insomniac built from the ground-up, but they’ve been absorbing the knowledge for the past three years of operations.

How Electric Forest came to be in the Insomniac/Live Nation family is a whole other story. Needless to say, producing the premiere camping festival in the Midwest, with some 45,000 attendees, Insomniac has learned how to create a safe-enough all-night experience.

I have to say that I have wondered out loud to many friends whether they could pull it off. The reviews have been mostly positive. 42 or so arrests, some noise complaints, traffic problems, the usual for a big event in a community that’s never seen the likes of a rave in their backyard.

And it was a rave, have no doubt about it. But it blurs the line. The camping changes it all up. In reviewing the coverage, I see domes and sound camps, I see “Leave One, Take One” boxes, albeit with kandi and a Bud Light.

And I see the payoff of CAMPING, of being able to go back to your tent and relax, and to meet your neighbors.

Ultimately, it’s still a rave. It looks like a rave, it smells like a rave, and it’s drawing the PLUR’d-out fans of Insomniac to a truly immersive environment, much in the way that Electric Forest has gone over the last few years of Live Nation ownership.

And just like when HARD Events banned kandi and glow sticks to adjust the optics of the experience (without addressing the actual safety problems: free water, safe medical routes, etc.), it will require more than just putting up signs or flow zones to turn Middlelands into a net-positive for the community of Todd Mission and beyond.

The production team and the land owners (who surely made a mint) will be meeting with the community on May 18th. In their press release, they offered that:

“Middlelands has the potential to be a fun—and safe—destination for locals and travelers, not to mention a huge economic boost for our community, and we look forward to working with local residents and business owners to make this a successful experience for all.”

As is the case with these, they’ll either need to figure out a way to greatly lesson the impact or grease the community coffers in some tangible way. Unfortunately, the agreements tend towards the latter: a scholarship fund or payments into infrastructure or some other civic bribe in the form of an entertainment tax.

So here’s an opportunity for Insomniac and C3 have to boost the local economy in a way that would have a lasting impact. Beyond updates to the Ren Fair site, what ideas might drive Middlelands to become the Electric Forest of the South?

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2017: A Call to Hearts

Blog, Writing Samples

So it’s time to organize. It’s time to buy the ticket and take the ride. It’s time to mount up, put your hand over your heart and pledge allegiance to one another.

This year, I’m editing and curating the Lucidity Festival blog: Dream Journal. Here’s one of my first articles for this marketing cycle, “A Call to Hearts.”

Captured by Kaylie ‘Violet’ Starkey of Violet Visions

Alright you Lucid rainbow warriors. We got clobbered. Swept up. The world turned upside down and we lost our footing.

Now what? It’s a new year. It’s a new world. We’re back in the counter-culture. So let’s dig in. Let’s act like we have a message and we believe in it. Let’s organize and support one another in deeper, more meaningful ways.

I’ll tell you this, in 2016 at Lucidity, I didn’t talk about Trump once. He never came up. I even mentioned it on a panel and almost everyone in the audience had had the same experience. He didn’t exist.

It wasn’t even about whether it was a possible reality. It just didn’t change the reality we were creating together. He doesn’t. We weren’t afraid. And that’s all that needs to be said about it right now.

It just doesn’t change the reality we are creating together.



My favorite way to write is to start in a library of any size or shape
and to pick the literature off the shelves in a hap-hazard meander
Pulling fruit from the ripe vine of those with the audacity and tenacity
to publish, to share
To put their name on the spine of something permanent

I build a fortress for myself, a fort of thoughts and ideas
I shield myself in graphic novels, in mythology and cooking magazines
Like shopping at a grocery market where I needn’t check out any of the food
And no manager admonishes me for
running my hands through the produce

I share that quiet space with the others who seek solace
Some homeless, some students, some yearning for access to the internet
And I flip through the random assortment of text whenever the inspiration falters
Reference to the obsessives who have determined their lives work to such minutiae as
the yarn work of the Appalachians
the letters of Freud to his dog
or the grand promises of
Understanding What God Means

New Start-Up LBRY is Complex Solutions to Simple Problems


I’ve spent some time trying to work through this popular AskMeAnything today from the creators of LBRY: We’re the nerds behind LBRY: a decentralized, community-owned YouTube alternative that raised a half million dollars yesterday – let’s save the internet

What’s the Problem?

The best I’ve been able to narrow it down, the main issues that LBRY seems to be trying to address are:
  1. Corporate ownership of distribution channels.
  2. Content Producer’s ability to maintain IP and control over distribution/advertisement of their own content
  3. Content Consumer’s inability to connect with and support Content Creator through traditional forms of paper/non-digital currency

What’s the Solution?

According to the OP, /u/kauffj, self proclaimed Chief Nerd:

LBRY helps move the internet from corporate and government control and back into the hands of everyday users and people.

So… MAKE THE INTERNET GREAT AGAIN? Back to this idealized time, back when it wasn’t in control of the government and corporations? It should be noted that government institutions, more or less created the internet, mainly through universities funded by military contracts. I’m not 100% sure what we’re going back to.
I’ll say what LBRY isn’t saying, since the AMA is being run by self-proclaimed Nerds and not us smooth-talkin’ marketin folks:
LBRY helps move distribution away from the advertisement and personal data-driven marketplace (think YouTube and Facebook) and allows people to support their consumption either through literally hosting content through their ISP or by paying creators in a newly created blockchain cryptocurrency.
These guys are trying to create a blockchain/democratized media distribution platform. I applaud them for that effort.
But… plot hole: why does there always have to be a *MORE COMPLICATED* solution to what is essentially, a very basic problem?
This comes from some incomplete thinking. Basically: there’s a technology problem and we need a technology solution to solve it. But by creating an incredibly complex solution (seriously, just scan through this “ungodly essay”), what is the likelihood of it’s adoption? What is the likelihood of accomplishing your stated goal of “saving the internet?”
In design, we have a basic tenant that SIMPLE = GOOD.
That’s the Steve Jobs line of thinking: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.”
Other theorists claim that Elegant is the enemy of Good. Or that Elegant is a Privilege. Both have a strong argument.
But what matters most, to the Realist, is: Will People Adopt this New Technology? Or, Who the Fuck is Going to See This?

The Mythical “Way-It-Used-To-Be”

The most democratic form of media distribution is oral history. Storytelling. Then, perhaps, carving letters into stone. Soon, though, motherfuckers be charging me for stones and chisels because I’m lazy and I don’t want to carve my own tablet.
Unfortunately, the reality is that communication channels have been controlled by the rich and powerful for a long time. Literacy is a relatively modern invention, and even then, literacy is mostly wasted on the internet. The scribes were paid for by royalty or religious institutions. The art was paid for by the patrons. Even the printing press, a major step forward in democratic knowledge spreading, was controlled by the elite.
Knowledge and language are not inherently democratic. The hackers write that, “information wants to be free.” I’m not convinced. Anarchists want information to be free.
More importantly, the trend throughout history is that Information wants to be hidden, often in jargon or complex equations, in secret languages or offline servers. Luther’s translation of the Bible into German broke apart the seams of society. Our financial systems are encoded in a secret language spoken by those with MBAs and international finance backgrounds.

Information, when left to it’s own devices becomes more complex, not less.

It’s exhausting, no? Why should it be that for Information to become Free, it has to become immeasurably complex? It doesn’t have to be that way, and it hasn’t always been the solution.
I think that LBRY has great intentions but poor execution, because you can explain it to your Grandma and you can’t interrupt a broadcast with it. They need to keep simplifying.

For Inspiration: Hack the System

The first point is to stop fighting technology with more technology. Use the existing tools to create interventions in the here and now, on the distribution channels that already exist.
If the well-educated and now, seemingly, well-funded team behind LBRY went a little deeper, peeled back the onion, they maybe wouldn’t have to create entire new protocols. Rise up, make art, create interventions. These Anarcho-capitalist solutions are so much more insane than the opportunities to create interventions.
An open-source peer-distributed digital protocol hits all of the bingo boxes for a solution I’d be very eager about. I recognize that LBRY seeks to create a brand new means of distribution and that these interventions mentioned above utilize existing protocols and technologies, so it’s not exactly their solution.
Democratic distribution exists: buy a projector. Invite strangers to a space to view your media. Or surprise them in public. Send out free CD’s. Share. But raising capital to create a system this complex?
This is the problem with making an apple pie from scratch. First, you have to invent the universe. Their stated goal is to take back the internet. Is LBRY really the best way to do it?
Wesley Wolfbear Pinkham is co-creator of Optimystic Media, a co-op for nomadic media professionals. He is a graduate of the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures.