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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