In this excerpt, experienced festival organizer Robby Black offers advice on how to plan your festival in such a way as to reduce stress for both the organizers and attendees, creating a festival experience that is safe, green and, of course, enjoyable.
Now let's get to the nitty gritty, breaking down every aspect of your festival to make your event stress-free and easy to attend. I have collaborated with Robby Black, Director of Festival Solutions at Vendini, to share his library of experience on the different topics.
Arrival and exodus
Getting attendees to and from the festival as easily as possible needs to be a major focus.
- Limit traffic by reducing the amount of vehicles that come to the venue in the first place.
- Use Ryde, a service that crowdfunds charter buses to come from neighboring cities. For every bus delivering people to the venue, 50 cars are taken off the road. Check out www.RydeThere.com.
- Provide a rideshare board. And to encourage rideshare in the future, charge a fee (suggested $20) for any vehicle occupied with less than three people.
- Consider selling early entry passes to generate additional revenue and stagger arriving traffic.
- Also, consider extending the time frame to exit the venue so traffic can be staggered on exodus as well.
- Put spotters in cherry pickers to radio updates to traffic operators.
The box office
The box office is often your festival’s first test of organization. If festivalgoers wait in line more than five minutes, they will think the festival is understaffed or disorganized.
- Queuing. Leading up to the box office, use metal barriers (such as bike racks) that help maintain line integrity and prevent others from cutting in line. Be sure to set up enough space to fit your peak crowd. Have each line clearly labeled (i.e., Will Call, Cash Sales, Credit Card Sales, Media, Artists, Volunteers). Make sure to post signs describing documents festivalgoers need to have ready.
- Mobile box office sales. Give your staff tablets with ticketing software and credit card swipers so they can easily get last-minute attendees through the gates quickly. The cool thing about a mobile box office, is that you can have staff placed at multiple gates.
- Will Call. When it comes to will call, there are four things you should keep in mind:
- Make sure there is a separate section of the box office for will call.
- Consider dividing the lines alphabetically by last name.
- Require that festivalgoers present IDs at will call. This will help ensure the person picking up tickets is truly the ticket purchaser.
- Post clear and visible signage at the event—and in advance on your website—with the location of the box office and will call.
Guest list spots
Every booked artist at your festival will want the ability to bring guests (and thus, complimentary tickets). Make sure each artist knows how many guests they are allocated. Have a way to track the guest list—I recommend a cloud-based tool that is updated in real-time with requests. Within the software, you should be able to approve guest-list requests and allocate the appropriate credentials.
Wristbands are the currency of your festival. So you’ll want to have tight controls for distribution. Designate a person to be responsible for the inventory within the box office (typically the box office manager). Have that person sign for the wristbands they oversee and inventory the wristbands at the beginning of each day. At the end of the day, count the wristbands and make sure inventory matches actual and expected sales.
Let’s face it. Customers who pay with cash at the box office can sometimes be a pain for the cashier because it takes extra time to find the right bills and dispense correct change. To cope with this, create a separate cash-only line at the box office. Also, be sure the cashier has an organized, sufficiently filled register at all times.
The security searches at your festival need to be fast, thorough and friendly. These elements should not be ignored. If the line to get into your festival takes more than five minutes, then you need to add more security guards. Remember, security team members are often the only representatives of your festival team that the average festivalgoer will come in contact with. Make sure your security teams know this and do their best to positively represent your organization.
- Have a separate line for festivalgoers who do not have bags that need to be searched.
- Clearly list what is and what is not allowed through the gates. Cover this on social media and e-blasts prior to the event so there are no last-minute surprises.
- Play music at the lines to keep staff and festivalgoers happy.
- Have a place for attendees to empty their water bottles so they don’t dump it on the ground.
Lost and found
- Take this area seriously and create an efficient system for festivalgoers to get items back.
- Create a database for attendees to list what they’ve lost and include their contact information to reach them when their lost item is found.
- Have a “key tree” so festivalgoers can easily spot their keys.
- Have a Rolodex ready to organize turned-in IDs and credit cards.
Take special care for recovered phones
While it’s sad to think there are people out there who attend festivals with the intention of stealing cell phones, it’s a reality. Follow these steps to make sure you get the phone back to the rightful owner if and when it’s returned to the lost and found.
- Have phone chargers for iPhone 4, iPhone 5/6, micro USB so you can charge the dead phones people return. Plug the phone in and respond to any text messages once it’s turned back on.
- Use the phone to take a picture of the person who returned it. The owner will be forever grateful to this stranger.
- When someone comes to claim the phone, make them unlock it or show themselves in a photo. It’s vital you return the phone to the rightful owner.
Running an information booth requires your staff to have access to necessary information. They don’t have to know everything, but they do need to know where to find an answer.
- Provide them with an FAQ binder with organized answers to every possible question you think they could encounter.
- Make sure each information booth has a walkie-talkie so they can contact someone to find an answer to a question that’s not in the book.
- Each booth should have plenty of programs and blown-up maps clearly marked “YOU ARE HERE.”
A well-designed program is an attendee’s best friend, and a poorly designed one is a nightmare. Design the program from the festivalgoer’s point of view. Its only purpose is to show the festivalgoer who is performing, what is happening at what time and where it’s happening. If you want to put in additional pages for sponsors and other information, don’t let it get in the way of the reader’s ability to figure out who is playing. And plan to have a digital version, too.
Rules for making a schedule
The festival schedule runs from the opening day of the event until there is a clear break. If the festival runs 24 hours a day, your schedule should run from the opening activity until 6 a.m. the next day. Then the next day’s activities start at 6 a.m. and go until the next 6 a.m. (So if a show starts Saturday at 2 a.m., it would still go on the Friday schedule.)
- Activities start at the bottom and go up.
- List stages in order of location, starting with looking at the main stage and going clockwise to the right.
- Make the program foldable so each day can face out for easy reading.
Charging station options
- Provide phone charging stations where festivalgoers can bring their own cable and plug into an outlet to charge their battery.
- As a bonus,have secure phone charging stations where your festivalgoers can drop their phone off and come back when it’s charged. This can even be an additional form of revenue if you desire.
- Bring in a company like www.Chrgr.co that rents mobile power banks that festivalgoers can use to charge their phone.
Festivalgoers need very distinct landmarks to navigate easily.
- Name each walkway and label it so your venue has its own cross streets.
- Find a way to mark your stages with a grid: A, B, C, D. 1, 2, 3, 4. This makes it easy for festivalgoers to communicate their location. “I’m 10 feet in front of speaker tower A3.”
- Color coordinate different locations to designate general areas of the festival.
Having the right amount of waste and recycling bins is vital to the success of your greening program. (See Chapter 14 on Waste.)
- Mark bins clearly for each type of waste and NEVER LET YOUR BINS OVERFLOW.
- Make sure bin areas are lit up at night.
- Use cardboard bins in music viewing areas to avoid the possibility of a festivalgoer considering tipping over plastic/metal bins to stand on for a better view.
When people attend your festival they are entrusting you with their lives. One of the basic necessities you need to provide is instant access to clean drinking water. If there is a line for water stations, then your festivalgoers will not want to wait for it and will instead risk dehydration. Here are a few ways you can maximize the water experience:
Place full-size water silos around your venue and bring in a water truck to fill them up. This allows you to have water for anyone on the premises without worrying about direct access to a water supply.
Souvenir water bottles
Providing your festivalgoers with their own branded water bottle is a great way to keep promoting your brand long after the festival ends.
Charge a water tax
Individual water bottles are horrible for the environment and make up at least 50% of the waste your festival produces. It’s time the industry steps up and stops selling individual bottles of water. To make up for lost revenue put in a water tax on each ticket.
Follow this equation to determine how much the tax is:
((W-X) - Y)) / Z = Water Tax
W: Dollars you made selling water last year
X: This year’s water sponsor
Y: Money you spent on the water, the cleanup of the bottles, and cost transporting it to the recycling facility
Z: Total number of attendees
Example: If a 3 day festival had 10,000 attendees then 5,000 would buy their water. If the average person drinks 4 bottles of water a day (12 total) at $2 each, the total income (X) would be $120,000. There would also be 60,000 bottles that would need to be purchased ($13,200 at $.22 each after recycling fee), which would result in 60,000 pieces of trash you would have to deal with. If 75% of it ends up in the trash, then that leaves 15,000 pieces of trash your team would have to pick up. If a worker can pick up 150 an hour it would be 100 hours of work ($1,000 at $10 an hour). You also have to pay for all of the bottles that are filling the trash cans to be removed and transported to the recycling center ($3,000).
In exchange for the water tax attendees should expect there to be water available at every stage INSTANTLY without any sort of line. Everyone benefits because the venue will instantly become 50% cleaner. If you put in a reusable cup program like Bonnaroo did this year you can cut out the plastic cup waste as well. This alone eliminates a great deal of trash to worry about.
Find a water sponsor
Work with your sponsors to brand your water systems with their branding. This not only makes the sponsor look great, but it allows you to turn water stations into a source of revenue. Common water sponsors: Camelback or Mio Water.
Your festival needs to make money to keep going. Festivalgoers need a clean festival. So removing plastic water bottles from the equation will instantly improve your festival and the tax will compensate for the lost water sales revenue.
Equipment and infrastructure
To host an amazing festival, a few crucial pieces of equipment are recommended:
- Internet/servers with ability to store all of your customers’ basic information.
- RFID readers and wristband activation kiosks on-site. Kiosks should be weatherproof and easy to spot.
- High-speed Internet access at all box office locations.
- Dedicated static IP addresses or enough DHCP addresses for each device that will be connected to Wi-Fi.
- At least one access point within 50 feet of every scanning location.
(See Chapter 10 on Technology.)
Catering for staff and artists
To keep your staff and artists fed and happy without spending a fortune, there are a few ways you can be smart and strategic. While it’s important to find a caterer with reasonable prices, it’s even more important to find software to manage logistics and access control so you don’t overspend.
Tools like Vendini Logistics Manager keep track of exactly how many individual meals are needed per mealtime per day, and the dietary needs for each person. For efficiency, think about scanning meal tickets or RFID wristbands to make sure everyone who is supposed to be eating eats and that those who are not permitted don’t impact your bottom line.
Food vendors at your festival play a vital role. Bring in a variety of world class food options and your festivalgoers will happily spend money on them. (See Chapter 6 on Food.)
- Get people in and out of your festival as smoothly as possible.
- Organize box offices and lines according to will call, cash-only, etc.
- Monitor guest list request and wristband distribution. Streamline security services, lost/found and information booths.
- Provide charging stations, detailed maps and programs.
- Consider water-distribution options like water towers and sponsored dispensers. To reduce plastic-bottle trash, add a water tax to ticket prices.
- Provide catering for staff and artists, and food vendors for the festivalgoers.