Page last updated at 07:55 GMT, Friday, 30 May 2008 08:55 UK

Are British festivals still booming?

By Ian Youngs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

With hundreds of festivals promising music and mayhem across the UK this summer, the scene appears to be booming. But has the festival frenzy passed its peak?

Festival fans
Festival fever: Every summer is packed with live music events
Between now and September, each weekend is crammed with dozens of events ranging from mega-gigs to boutique gatherings.

The biggest names - like Glastonbury, Reading and the V Festivals - are well established.

Others, like Rock Ness (on the banks of Loch Ness), Wakestock (music 'n' wakeboarding) and Bestival (nautical fancy dress optional) are trying to build up to that status.

And many small events have sprung up in recent years, finding new niches to fill - some more personal or sophisticated, others selling themselves on certain themes.

Unquestionably there's been a boom in festivals - in the last 20 years it's been very considerable
Melvin Benn
Festival Republic

Fancy a festival in a safari park? Try Zoo8. Want a weekend of 1980s pop? Retrofest is for you. Feel like singing along to your favourite anthems but without the crowds? Glastonbudget is the place for tribute bands.

It is a far cry from 20 years ago, when there were just two festivals - Glastonbury and Reading - according to Festival Republic managing director Melvin Benn, who now runs both events.

"Unquestionably there's been a boom in festivals," he says. "Certainly in the last 20 years it's been very considerable."

The scene began to grow in the 1990s, he says, and really took off at the turn of the millennium when Glastonbury TV coverage took festivals into the front room.

A monkey named "Baby Ronnie" at Port Lympne
Zoo8 fans can watch Mark Ronson then meet a monkey nicknamed after him
More than a million people now go to festivals every year, fuelled by a recent boom in smaller, esoteric and personally-curated festivals, he believes.

"It was a response to what wasn't in the market, and what wasn't in the market was niche family-friendly festivals and festivals that were medium in size."

One of the new festivals on this year's calendar is Zoo8, which will be held in Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Kent - although the lions and tigers will be well away from the stages.

It is the first festival for organiser Matt Dice, who wanted to branch out from promoting club nights.

"I've always wanted to do a big summer outdoor event," he says.

"There's a lot of competition out there. Everyone's fighting for that market but we feel we've got a unique selling point. There's not many festivals you find at a zoo."

Another new event is A Day at the Hop Farm, run by former Reading boss Vince Power and headlined by Neil Young.

Because of the way the music business is changing, the festival circuit is the main source of income now for a lot of bands
Vince Power
Festival promoter

"I've been looking at UK festivals and there seems to be a resentment towards the branding and sponsorship that goes with every festival now, which as far as I'm concerned doesn't have any benefit for the customer," Mr Power says.

"The Hop Farm is going to be without sponsorship, without branding, no guest areas. Everybody gets the same treatment and everybody's looked after the same way. It's a sense of inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness."

There are more than 400 festivals this year, he says - and they are becoming more important for the bands.

"Because of the way the music business is changing, the festival circuit is the main source of income now for a lot of bands."

Glastonbury 2007
Glastonbury tickets still have not sold out, eight weeks after going on sale
He believes there has been "a huge growth" in festivals over the past few years - but Neil Greenway, founder of the eFestivals.co.uk website, does not agree.

"The peak of the boom was three years ago," he says. "It held its own the following year. Last year things fell but it was hidden by the rain, and this year they've fallen even further.

"People go to festivals for a few years and then they tend to stop doing them. Those ones have moved on and there haven't been the numbers coming through to replace them."

Some events have suffered slower ticket sales this year - notably Glastonbury, which still has not sold out eight weeks after going on sale.

The number of festivals being cancelled has also risen, Mr Greenway says. "There have been 16 cancelled and we haven't even started yet."

It's the generic ones that will have problems - they're all sharing the same acts
Neil Greenway
eFestivals.co.uk

Two of the main casualties - Forgotten Valley in Cumbria and Wax:On Live in Leeds - have both blamed the credit crunch for causing investors to pull out.

So which events will survive? "The ones that have a good reputation, are good at what they do and perhaps have a unique selling point will continue to go fairly strong," Mr Greenway says.

"It's the generic ones that will have problems. They're all sort of sharing the same acts so in one way a lot of them have got the same line-up. Why should you choose one above the other?"

Mr Benn agrees that the market is "saturated" - but he is still planning a new, small-scale event next year.

Mr Power, meanwhile, is looking to Europe for the next phase of growth.

"I was in Lithuania looking at a festival, to start one there," he says. "They don't have a festival there. So maybe we should all go to Lithuania."


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