How to Survive Festival Season on a Budget
As the spring air warms, there’s one thing on everyone’s mind—FUN. And if you listen closely, you can almost hear the excitement in the breeze. There are birds, laughter, and wait, is that Gucci Mane?
Yup, festival season is upon us. Coachella is in full swing, and there’s lots more to look forward to—Chance the Rapper at Bonnaroo, The Shins at Lollapalooza, and Anti-Flag at Warped Tour.
There are good reasons to borrow money, and there are bad reasons to borrow money. And concerts are definitely NOT a good reason to take out a loan. But still, from tickets to travel to food, the costs of attending a festival can add up pretty quick.
That’s why we asked some festival experts for their inside tips. Here are four hacks they gave us that can help you see awesome live music without breaking the bank.
1. Join the Team
Festivals are hungry for volunteers. It keeps their costs low, and even though it sounds like a raw deal, tons of people sign up. Why? Because they get to go for free.
You can even finagle a paid position, said Brittany Landers, who works for the promotion company that’s putting on #Fest in Athens, Ohio, this weekend.
“For example,” she said, “at #Fest, in exchange for working a paid shift on, say, Friday, the individual then receives a free Saturday ticket.”
And on top of that, you just might get to rub elbows with some of the stars.
Landers handles social media for Prime Social Group (@PrimeSocial), one of the biggest music promotion groups in the Midwest. She’s a long-time festival goer and knows how to attend on the cheap, or even better.
“I’ve gone to festivals as media or a regular attendee for free,” she said. “This means free tickets, lodging, drinks, and airfare. I’ve met friends at official afterparties for free. In these scenarios, really the only thing I’ve been accountable for was food and a parking pass.”
But she cautions that festivals need the financial support of fans, and she said she’s happy to pay for a ticket that supports the artists she’s going to see. But still, she knows first-hand how expensive festivals can get: one time she spent upwards of $2,500 for a single weekend. Ouch!
2. Think Local
What’s more expensive than festival tickets? Plane tickets. (Well, some festival tickets can be crazy pricey.)
If you want to keep your festival costs in check, choose an event that’s close by. There are hundreds of festivals throughout the country, and chances are, you can find one that’s no more than a short drive away.
For instance, you don’t need to go to New York City for a great summer festival. Look instead to Rochester, New York, which hosts the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival (@XRIJF). The nine-day event in late June attracts 200,000 people annually and features over 1,500 artists from around the world. Three- and nine-day passes go for $160 and $210, respectively, but there are even more affordable options if you’re sticking to a tight budget.
“We also offer over 95 free shows and events, free workshops for young musicians, and free official jams,” said Jean Dalmath, head of marketing for the event.
3. Skip the Hotels
If you choose to travel, one of the biggest costs you’ll encounter is lodging. Hotels are expensive, and this is especially true when 50,000 fans swarm a town that sees, at most, no more than a few hundred wayward travelers for the rest of the year.
Airbnb is one way to avoid this, and if you go with a bunch of friends, you can split costs. Also, many festivals offer camping accommodations, so consider packing a tent. But if you’re worried about lumpy ground and a rain-soaked sleeping bag, don’t worry, because there’s an alternative that will keep you dry without draining your wallet.
RVs are making a comeback. But these RVs aren’t like the one that your grandparents took to Arizona. They’re basically modified vans that are more fuel efficient but come with all the amenities—they sleep four and include a fridge and gas stove.
The savings can really add up.
“Using Coachella as an example,” said Zoe Macfarlane, VP of marketing for JUCY RV Rentals (@jucyworld), “the average cost of a hotel room is $343 per night whereas our packages started at $499 for the whole weekend and it sleeps four!”
JUCY rents a variety of mini RVs, and the company is active in the festival circuit. Last year, Macfarlane attended 11.
“Often food is very expensive at festivals,” she said, “but the mini fridge and gas stoves mean you can cook on a budget so you can attend more festivals!”
4. Name-Brand is Overrated
Sure, everybody’s heard of Coachella and Bonnaroo, but don’t limit yourself to the big-name events. There are lots of great music festivals out there, and if you hunt a little, you just might find one that’ll give you great music without a great big price tag.
For example, Waterfront Blues Fest (@WaterfrontBlues) in Portland, Oregon, offers five days of music in late June and early July. You can see all of it for only $40. (By comparison, a four-day pass for Bonnaroo goes for $350.)
“The festival brings in a wide variety of blues and roots music talent to appeal to people of all ages,” said Myrna Jensen, a communications associate for the event.
In addition, at Waterfront Blues Fest your money goes toward a good cause—it’s operated by Oregon Food Bank, and all proceeds support hunger relief.
So don’t think that fun means you have to empty your bank account. This summer, enjoy some fantastic music and breathe in the fresh air, and if you plan right, money will be the last thing on your mind.
Do you have any festival hacks to share? Hit us up on Twitter at @OppLoans!
Jean Dalmath is President of Dalmath Associates, a leading PR and marketing communications firm based in Rochester, NY. Dalmath Associates has managed PR and marketing for the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival since the festival was founded in 2002. Dalmath has extensive executive experience in strategic marketing communications, interactive media, advertising, PR, and brand strategy. Prior to heading Dalmath Associates, Dalmath served in senior management positions in health care and retail.
Myrna Jensen is originally from Portland, Oregon, but has spent time working and living in Anchorage, Alaska, and Minneapolis, Minnesota. For ten years she worked in television news as a producer and assignment editor. Since 2014, she has been with Oregon Food Bank in the role of public relations. Oregon Food Bank owns and operates the Waterfront Blues Festival, and she’s responsible for working with local, national, and international media who attend and review the event.
Brittany Landers is a social media strategist and media and PR coordinator for Prime Social Group. Prime Social Group, one of the largest music promotions companies in the Midwest, produces #Fest, the nation’s biggest collegiate music festival. In addition, Prime Social Group produces 15 other festivals annually as well as club shows in 15 stateside cities and five countries around the world.
Zoe Macfarlane is VP of marketing and business development for JUCY RV Rentals. A travel industry veteran and festival junkie herself, Macfarlane has been instrumental in implementing a festival strategy for JUCY’s U.S. business, attracting media coverage in Vice, The LA Times, The Washington Times, and more. In 2016 she attended 11 festivals, overnighting six of them in a JUCY van.
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