By Simon Atkinson
Business Reporter, BBC News
For some it is about bands - for others a chance to kick back with friends.
For many, a drink and a dance is an important part of a music festival
But for John Mills, the start of the UK music festival season is all about a £4m gamble.
That is how much the Gaymer Cider Company's managing director has committed to spending over the next three years as his firm tries to make a real success of one of its products.
It is a huge commitment for the Shepton Mallet-based brewer.
But Gaymer is just one of the alcohol companies pegging its hopes on the festival circuit being a way of growing tiny brands into significant market players.
The firm launched its "unisex" Gaymers Original as it tried to piggy-back on the success of rival Magners, which saw sales surge after promoting it as a drink to serve from pint-sized bottles and poured over ice.
And when it came to marketing it, music quickly emerged as "the perfect fit", Mr Mills says.
The company's target market is drinkers aged between 18 and 30 - both men and women. "The two things they are passionate about are sport and especially music, mainly British, cutting edge music," Mr Mills explains.
The upshot is that at several of the summer's biggest events - from Reading and Leeds festivals to Lovebox and the O2 Wireless Festival, the only cider that punters will be able to buy on-site will be Gaymer's.
It is also the official cider at Glastonbury - held just 10 miles from its factory - being served at most of the site's 27 bars.
Tuborg does not want to be known as just a festival beer
The so-called "pouring rights" have been locked in until 2010 at several festivals, as well as at Mean Fiddler and Barfly music venues - making a hefty dent in that £4m budget.
Getting its drinks into the hands of festival-goers is "not cheap", laughs Mr Mills.
"But the whole point is to make the brand accessible to our target audience and getting them to try it in an atmosphere that they are comfortable with.
"It's a massive opportunity for people to try our products, hopefully love it and then, when they go to the pub or the off-licence, with a bit of luck they are going to buy it."
The efforts are being backed up with advertising and a website, which will include video footage from four small "Grassroots" gigs. These are where established bands play shows in their hometowns to about 200 people, a series culminating with The Wombats in a Liverpool pub this week.
The firm will not be drawn on how big a growth will be acceptable, but says sales are "rocketing", though admittedly from a low level.
And it will be how the product performs in the competitive environment - when it is not the only cider available - that will be key.
"It's long-term commitment and it is not enough to just sell at the festivals," Mr Mills concedes.
"If we don't then go on to really increase sales then it will have failed."
Also trying to ride the festival wave is Tuborg - arguably best remembered for its TV commercials of the late 1980s rather than its impact on the UK lager market.
Festival-goers in Europe have been supping the stuff for years - where it has strong links with events including Denmark's Roskilde and Serbia's Exit Festival.
Gaymers says its Grassroots Gigs help build its music associations
And after a low-key launch last summer, now the brand's owner, Carlsberg, has done deals similar to Gaymer to get it served at some of the biggest music events in the UK.
These again include Leeds and Reading festivals - which observers see as a big coup given they had become synonymous with Carlsberg's rival, Carling, which had festival naming rights.
And it is also sponsoring the second stage at the O2 Wireless Festival - something which head of sponsorship Gareth Roberts says "really brings home the association with the music".
Carlsberg had long been keen to have a beer that it could tie in with music, Mr Roberts says.
"Carlsberg lager is very much intertwined with football, while Tetley has strong links with rugby, but Tuborg targets a different market, so it does not really have an impact on any of our other products."
Last year the equivalent of about 6 million pints of Tuborg was sold. The aim is to double that in 2008.
"Despite being successful elsewhere, the brand never really got established in the UK, so the festivals give us the base to drive it forward and add sales," says Mr Roberts.
"It's a captive audience and that's what you're buying with the contract of exclusivity.
"But what we need to do is not just make it a festival beer but something that, when they leave the festival site, they go in search of.
"We want to make it part of more people's repertoire of drinks, but for that to happen they need to find it in the pub or supermarket so we have a job to do. The distribution needs to get better."
The festival route to marketing can do wonders for building a brand, says Matthew Langley, marketing director of Brothers Cider, which began with a small stall at the Glastonbury festival in 1995 and last year sold hundreds of thousands of pints of its pear cider at the event, and others including Bestival and The Big Chill.
Brothers is targeting a wider audience.
"Festivals are great for us because you can completely engage with your customers and have a proper conversation with them," he says.
"So it's brilliant for brand awareness, far better than putting up a billboard."
And there is tangible evidence that its impact lasts beyond the festival fence.
"The product reach has exploded since this time last year," Mr Langley says. "And a lot of that is to do with leveraging off the festival which really helps create demand.
"We get inundated with e-mails from customers. Some are individuals ordering a case or two and others are bar owners and traders who want to know where to get our products.
"And as summer draws closer, we're getting busier, with people ordering on our website saying they want to get into the festival mood."
"As well as the sales it is also a great story to tell to the supermarkets and off-licences - to show that we have got a latent audience."
In the past year, Brothers' products have been stocked in several pub chains and supermarkets and, as the firm's website boasts, it has even popped up behind the bar in the Queen Vic on EastEnders.
This year it is focusing on one-day events and festivals with more specific target audiences - from students at Beach Break Live in Cornwall this week to families at Guilfest and more regional events such Live at Loch Lomond.
"We can pick up consumers because of the way the festival market in the UK is so fragmented," Mr Langley says.
"We have not really been a consumer brand and need to develop this. We've got to get beyond being a Glastonbury brand."