Commentary: Too Much More — Four Day Festival Exhaustion (2023)

Are four-day music festivals too much of a good thing?

Aftershock, Sacramento

Do you remember when big music festivals lasted for three days? I do. It was just a couple of years ago, before the covid-19 pandemic. Ah, the good old days.

All major music festivals were cancelled in 2020 because of covid, so when the next year rolled around – and we were still facing covid restrictions – festival promoters had the idea that an extra day added on to the festival would be a nice bonus because we all had missed out completely the year before. That sounded pretty good at the time. More bands, more beer, more food, more music. And it was pretty good. The first year. 2023 is the third year in a row where four-day music festivals are commonplace, and it is starting to wear me down.

The thing about four-day festivals is they are really long, an expensive. For fans, that is an extra day they have to take off work, an extra day in a hotel (or camping), and extra day of food and drink expense. It adds up. For some people, like me, the third day was a bit wearisome, having spent day one and day two hitting it hard. A fourth day can test your limits of endurance, and if it does that, the fun really starts to slow down.

So why does the fourth day persist? I can think of a few reasons off the top of my head. For one thing, there is the illusion of value. Prices have gone up for festivals, but they did not go up 33% as we might expect for that extra day. Four days then seems like a good deal to people (setting aside those extra day expenses I mentioned a second ago). Most importantly, the fourth day persists because there really isn’t any choice, is there? If you are going to a festival in the area where you live, you probably don’t have three or four different ones to choose from every year with the kind of music you want to see. So, you take what’s available.

Heavy Montreal

From the promoter’s point of view, four-day festivals make more money because they sell food and booze and merch for an extra day. The rental of the festival grounds might be a little higher, but the biggest expenses are fixed cost – the headliners, the stages, etc. – so an extra day does not add to those costs much, if at all. They would have to pay more bands to play, if there were more bands playing. You might have noticed, though, that many of the big festivals have reduced the number of acts per day as they added an additional festival day. Are there really more bands? Not many.

I think the situation is that four-day festivals have become expected, so scaling back might be perceived as a loss in value and quality. Therefore, we might just be struck them for a while. Personally, one of my favorite festivals was always Heavy Montreal, and that is a two-day festival. It was paired with the one-day ’77 event (a punk festival), so you could easily opt out or in, depending on what you wanted to do. Psycho Las Vegas has the optional add-on Psycho Swim on the Thursday before the festival, making a nice separating option. That’s a good way to go, too. The only thing you can do along these lines for most four-day festivals is by one day at a time, which is priced to be considerably more expensive.

Sunday Afternoon at Louder Than Life, Louisville

I hate to miss out on the big festivals where heavy metal bands play, but I am worn down by the four days. This year, I am going to concentrate on the smaller events (one- and two-day metal fests) and the ones that kept it to a tight three. For the most part, anyway. I do expect to be at Blue Ridge Rock Fest this year, and probably Aftershock, but otherwise I am capping it at three days. So, that’ll be Psycho Las Vegas without the swim (I’ll be there on Thursday but look for me sitting at the tables), Metal Threat, Heavy Psych Sounds, Hell In The Harbor, Rock Fest, and festivals like that. I love music festivals. I just don’t want too much of a good thing.

Photos by Wayne Edwards

© Wayne Edwards

Commentary: Too Much More — Four Day Festival Exhaustion (2023)