Our unique little fest, The Great Blue Heron Music Festival (GBH), is in it’s 25th year and I thought it would be good to see what’s happening out there in the great big festival world, so I stepped out of my comfort zone to attend the International Music Festival Conference (IMFCON) in San Diego.
Here’s what’s I learned…
Niche festivals, (like ours!), are being sought out by people who have attended huge music festivals, maybe even as their first live music experience. Once attendees realize they like the festival experience, many find the huge ones too impersonal. Fans are looking to find festivals with a more intimate, soulful experience. SXSW‘s Hugh Forrest “preached” that festivals fill a role that traditionally was the churches’ to bring people together and build community. Some festivals have taken on an important role to positively impact the world in this way. I think that GBH gets a high five in this department!!!
There were lots of conversations at the conference about how important it is to know your fans, to nurture fan loyalty and connect with them year round. Fan loyalty is driven by love, support, commitment and compassion; aspects that need to be part of any successful business. I think GBH is on the right path!!!
Next thing I learned was that sponsorships support most all festivals and the details on how those relationships are created & maintained was mind boggling to hear about. GBH has never pursued these supporting funds, mostly because we didn’t want corporate presence or hoops to jump through. I learned a new phrase this week that would describe GBH, “100% attendee sponsored”, from a festival called Shambhala. Checkout this cool festival on a ranch in Canada! VERY similar in many ways to GBH. They serve a “One Mile Burger”! We could call ours a “1/2 Mile Burger” since our 100% grass fed beef farm is so close to the festival site! Shambhala has 10,000 attendees, 3 days, $300+ per ticket, & is mostly EDM (electronic dance music). They are probably smart to ask attendees to “sponsor”/support their event to a greater degree than we do. We’ll be at $100/ticket this year and our margins are thin. Maybe their band budget is higher? Maybe their young fans (millennials) are used to spending more?
My sister Andrea came to the event too, mostly to explore some new techy solutions for our ticketing and data management issues. We visited with reps from Mercato, & Eventbrite, who we have since signed on with. They offer amazing on-line technology, but it’s a challenging puzzle to put all together! It’s obviously the wave of the future. Is GBH and our crew ready to evolve with the times? I think so.
Marketing ideas I came home with: Ask your talent (bands) to reach their fans on your behalf. Find out what’s unique about your fans, so you can find more of them! Your fans have determined your brand as much as you have, so listen to them and learn! Do surveys!
Last point I took home was to create an amazing experience for attendees beyond the music with wow & surprises every year. Provide “immersion art” where patrons become part of the experience, or pop-up art, music or theater, allowing for spontaneous things to happen, and being open to fun ideas that people offer that can enhance your event. Always add value to the fans experience and they will keep coming back from more. GBH can thank Logan, Skye, Nick, Nathan, Frenchy and their crews for adding art & wow power the last few years.
I also learned that our festival would be considered part of the “Americana” genre. Maybe next year I’ll attend a conference more suited to us, but it was fabulous to be amongst the organizers of these great festivals for a moment: Bonnaroo, Burning Man, Oasis, SXSW, Life is Beautiful, Snow Globe, Electric Forest, SunFest. Check out their websites folks, there’s lots to explore!