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"Since Coachella has gone on, there are countless festivals around the [United States], and we're now into our second generation of kids knowing how to go to festivals," says Lyman. "We didn't have that, unlike Europe, where there are third and fourth generations of kids going to festivals."
Explosive festival growth in Europe has sprouted 2,500 to 3,000 festivals yearly and 670 in England alone, a 73 percent increase since 2003. That's a lot more than here and cause for suggestions of over-saturation.
Last year, it reached a breaking point. More than a dozen major English festivals shut down (Big Chill, Sonisphere, Cloud 9), thanks to the EU's ongoing financial troubles, Olympic competition (Glastonbury cited an expected shortage of portable toilets), and a very rainy summer. Market saturation combined with the difficulty of finding acts big enough for fans to justify expending the equivalent of several hundred dollars only exacerbated the situation.
"The economics are always difficult, in part because if there isn't an established festival, you have an awful lot of competition for that talent," says Bongiovanni. "There are certain weekends, especially over the summer, where there are so many major festivals going on in Europe, and it's amazing there's enough talent to spread around through them."
In America, there's the added challenge that any independent concert promoter is competing with Live Nation and AEG Live, which have added leverage because they can promise additional gigs at area amphitheaters and clubs under their control.
"We're in a situation of David and Goliath, where the larger festival is run by very big music corporations," says MMMF's Largay. Nonetheless, Phoenix's MMMF scored a stellar lineup this year featuring the Roots, The Shins, Les Claypool, Heartless Bastards, Deer Tick, Edward Sharpe, Dr. Dog, Umphrey's McGee, and Yonder Mountain String Band.
"When you invite 40 bands to play, you don't have a total say in your ending lineup," he says, acknowledging that MMMF almost got all its top choices this year. "We're very excited with the bands that elected to play this year, to a point where we're maybe a little lucky from that standpoint. Maybe our relationships with the agents are good and maybe they understand why we're doing it."
The concert industry is about 60 percent the size of the recorded-music market in the United States. But that didn't prevent a number of bigger music festivals from shutting down during the last pew years.
Among them are South Florida's Langerado, New Jersey's All Points West, and Denver's Mile High Fest, the latter two created by Goldenvoice/AEG Live. All but Langerado failed to survive past their second year, testament to the difficulty in getting a new festival off the ground, even for established operators.
Melvin Benn, director of the UK promoters Festival Republic (Reading and Leeds, the canceled Big Chill), described it as "gambling in its crudest form," since a promoter usually promises to deliver the goods without knowing whether people will show. The bigger companies may have even more incentive lately to pull the plug than smaller promoters, who can tolerate smaller margins and a slow build.
"I don't think the climate to lose money to build a festival is out there anymore, because most of the companies that are behind these festivals are beholden to something," says Kevin Lyman. "They're beholden to a Live Nation, to their stockholders, and it's hard to justify going out there and losing a million bucks."
This has opened the door for local promoters to launch festivals in secondary and tertiary markets that don't get the biggest acts. Music festivals' sometimes sketchy economics scare off the big boys. Bongiovanni reports this is still an area of great growth.
"There are a lot of these events, and they're quite successful, but they're not looking to sell 100,000 people," the Warped Tour founder says. "Obviously, it's easier to do 20,000. The economics work a lot easier, too."
That's good news for nebulous area upstart Liquid Sol 13. And another new festival may also be on the horizon. Paid Dues was in Mesa in 2007, and Murs considered creating a satellite festival this year but couldn't get the dates to work. This year's Paid Dues was on the Saturday before Easter. Though he could've bused the performers to and from Phoenix, doing a show the day before or after — on Good Friday or Easter — just didn't make sense.
"I'd love to revisit it, and I'm still friends with the promoter in Arizona," says rapper Murs. "It's going to take some working, but it's definitely something we've talked about."
The Phoenix area's festivals are in the hands of people who have spent their life in the industry or who understand how to build something from nothing almost overnight.
"We've seen this in the late '80s and early '90s, where festivals popped up all over the place, and then they went away because it takes a lot of cash to operate [them], and there's a growing period before you see any profits," says Andrews. "So it's an investment. It's not like a grocery store, where if bananas don't sell well, you can lower the price. You have two, three, four days for your event, and then you have to wait another year to make changes."