Essay About Music Festivals

The 2011 Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, Illinois is over. All that remains are the lingering campers too overwhelmed the weekend’s activities to travel home and the photographs and memories.

The crowd enjoys moe. at Summer Camp Music Festival

Weathering storms

It sure was an adventure this weekend. The weather, which was not horrible, did dump two rainstorms on the gathering. This turned the already saturated farmlands into a mud pit. It did not dampen the enthusiasm of the music revelers as they emerged from the woods and continued to enjoy the music.

Great mix of music

The yearly festival has a great mix of music although it features jam bands and electronic rock music.  There is also a nice array of blue grass, folk, rock, Irish music, and rap, so there truly is a genre for everyone at Summer Camp.

The crowd gathers to check out moe.

The music is only half the experience, so tomorrow’s photo essay will concentrate on the camping experience.  With 10-15 thousand people camping out in close proximity it definitely leads to an interesting time.

Summer Camp Music Festival music photo essay

moe. at Summer Camp

moe. at Summer Camp Music Festival

Greensky Bluegrass Band at Summer Camp

Greensky Bluegrass Band at Summer Camp

Part of the amazing light show by STS9 at Summer Camp Music Festival

Gaelic Storm violinist Jessie Burns is so fast on the fiddle she is a blur

Violinist Jessie Burns and Peter Purvis from Gaelic Storm


Check out their webpage for more information and for more current lineups.


I received a complimentary pass to Summer Camp, but this fact does not impact this post. This post just chronicles my adventure and the music. My thoughts, opinions, and photos are my own.

Adventure on!

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You fetch up at a festival, bop to the bands, get trashed and then hunker down in your sleeping bag for a nice bit of shut-eye. It's been a heavy night, and you wait for the inevitable hangover to arrive. As the smell of frying sausages drifts across the early morning damp of the camping field, how do you reckon you feel when an academic researcher comes knocking on your tent flap asking if it would be all right to ask you a few questions?

Though he doesn't say how many retreated swiftly, Dr Andrew Bengry-Howell, visiting fellow at the University of Bath, confirms that he and his team managed to persuade 98 people at four of the UK's largest music festivals to have a chat.

Prompted by his earlier research into how alcohol is marketed and consumed, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, these breakfast conversations made up part of Bengry-Howell's study examining what festival-goers get out of attending this kind of live music event.

"We became interested in the sponsorship of festivals by large drinks companies at the end of the previous piece of work," Bengry-Howell explains.

As the number of music festivals soared by over 70% between 2003 and 2007, various big brands, he continues, began exploring what they call "experiential marketing".

"The idea is that you can attach a brand to a particular experience, like music festivals, where that experience is quite intense," he says. "People then – the marketers hope – associate the brand with that experience."

When Bengry-Howell was planning his research, "quite a few festivals were completely branded by beer companies," he explains. However, after the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and Alcohol suggested in 2006 that sponsorship of festivals attracting under-18s should be banned, the alcohol industry started to shift away from completely branding events – a notable exception being T in the Park, sponsored by Tennents Lager. Instead, they focus on sponsoring bars at festivals, and certain companies, including Tuborg Lager, have bought up the "pouring rights" at festivals so that they are the only beer that can be sold there.

As well as visual reinforcement of the brand around the festival site, the enforcement of pouring rights can be strict, with security guards searching festival-goers' bags to ensure that no alcohol is brought in from outside.

Most of the major festivals operate this type of sponsorship restriction, says Bengry-Howell.

"We were interested in how this very regulated environment was being marketed to people as a place where they could be free. But we were also interested in how people perceived that environment, in the context of going to festivals, which are traditionally seen as anti-corporate."

The University of Bath team mapped out where and how brands were profiled on each festival site, and noted how they were being marketed and sold.

"A lot of brands were making great claims about their ethics and how those ethics resonated with the values of the festival," says Bengry-Howell. "Brands were consciously positioning themselves within festival culture."

While his interviewees downed their first cup of coffee of the day, Bengry-Howell quizzed them. Did they mind that big companies had become so deeply embedded in their festival experience? What did they reckon to having just the one choice of beer for which they had to cough up £4 a pint? How did their hopes for the festival experience compare with the reality when they arrived?

"We found... that a lot of the younger people didn't really care or see it as an issue," he says.

"A small minority were irritated by the cost of brands. Some moaned that they had to pay so much for a lager they didn't particularly like. I think some people did feel ripped off, but had resigned themselves, because they felt sponsorship kept these events going."

Dispiritingly for the companies themselves, who pour millions into sponsorship, it looks as if some of this could be going down the drain. In follow-up focus groups, Bengry-Howell found that some interviewees had "ended up going away not having the sense of it being a branded event".

What most surprised him, however, was the way people talked about why they chose to go in the first place. Having expected them to rave about the music, the message he got was that festivals were a way to help them to cope with their increasingly dull and stressful lives.

"One person said that without music festivals there'd be no point in living in this country at all," he recalls.

"Others talked about freedom and being able to totally forget about your rubbish job in a call centre. Many started talking about the pressure they felt under ... and about seeing festivals as havens."

There was a sense of release in being able to drift aimlessly and not feel guilty while inside the protected "world" of the festival site. Some said they tried to "disappear" into a festival and would purposely leave their mobile phones at home.

The overall message was that festivals provided an escape for young people who felt ground down by the competitive nature of finding work that wasn't either satisfying or enriching, the constant pressure to achieve and the sense they got from society that it was their personal failure if they didn't manage to make the grade – financially, socially and on the career ladder.

"I'm interested in this idea about festivals being where people go to experience a kind of freedom, and that they feel so restricted even though we now have more freedoms than ever," says Bengry-Howell.

If that all sounds rather sombre, Bengry-Howell notes more optimistically that his interviewees were also consciously using their time at these events to develop a sense of belonging and community with other like-minded people.

A possible new area for research is the post-event flurry of social networking that now occurs – a way for people to maintain the communities they start to build while at the festivals and to deal with the festival "come-down", he says.


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