From Glyndebourne to Glastonbury: The Impact of British Music Festivals – Emma Webster and George McKay

A new report, written by Emma Webster and George McKay and published online last week, highlights the impact of British music festivals and shows that festivals are now at the heart of the British music industry, forming an essential part of the worlds of rock, classical, folk and jazz. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Connected Communities programme, the report is based on a critical literature review of more than 170 books, papers and reports.

The sheer breadth of perspectives about festivals was surprising: from the economic impact of the Edinburgh Festivals to the experience of performers and audiences Gilbert and Sullivan Festival to the impact of a chamber music festival on a bat colony, the literature on festivals highlights the way that they have captured the imaginations of researchers across the world.

The following offers a brief summary of the report – to read the full report and the accompanying annotated bibliography, click here.

  • Economy and charity: Festivals are big business – they have significant direct and indirect economic impacts, although a lack of consensus about the methods for working out just how lucrative festivals are for the local area makes comparison between festivals difficult.
  • Politics and power: The frivolity of festivals sometimes masks deeper issues around race, religion, class, sexuality, and gender – line-ups are often white and male-dominated, for instance – although music festivals have been sites for social and political debate, and sometimes action – the links between CND and jazz festivals in the 1950s, for example, or the role of Glastonbury in raising funds and awareness about political issues.
  • Temporality and transformation: Music festivals allow for intense production and consumption of music over a relatively short period of time in a particular place, and are sites for the intensification of ideas and even behaviour. Motivation for attending music festivals is not purely about the music; other factors may be social – renewing old ties, for example, or (less so) making new ones.
  • Creativity: music and musicians: Performance at particular festivals can enhance musicians’ status and increase the chances of further festival bookings – festivals can act as showcases and platforms for exporting musicians abroad. Festivals can also be sites for musical experimentation and hybridity.
  • Place-making and tourism: Festivals have become ubiquitous within tourism and place marketing campaigns and are vehicles for celebrating, constructing and maintaining national or cultural identity – the flag waving at the Last Night of the Proms constructing a particular notion of Britain, for instance. Music festivals often contribute to a positive image of a locale, both internally to its residents and externally to visitors, and hence attract people to live in the place and tourists to visit.
  • Mediation and discourse: Multiplatform mediation on television, radio, press, and online pushes the festival concept into the national consciousness and exports ideas about and images of Britain and Britishness around the world, as well as being a useful means of audience development.
  • Health and well-being: Festivals are either associated with either well-being and wellness – healing fields and the psychological benefits of being outdoors – or with negative health issues such as over-consumption or injuries; festivals can also put pressure on local health services.
  • Environmental: local and global: Festivals have local and global environmental impacts – locally via a temporary increase in population and in the production of waste, and globally via the increased carbon footprint of touring international artists.

We also examined how academic research has also impacted on festivals – from providing economic impact assessments to providing opportunities for public engagement, research collaboration and debate.

Finally, we made a number of recommendations for further research, because even though there has been an increasing amount of academic interest around festivals and impact from a variety of disciplines, there are still many gaps within the current literature. Perhaps surprisingly, there appears to be more work on the impact of festivals within the folk and pop literature (rock, jazz, ‘world’, etc.) than from the classical/opera literature, the latter of which has traditionally been concerned with musical works and composers rather than concerts and performances. Also, there is a relative lack of literature about the impact of festivals on musicians, both in terms of the impact on how they tour but also the creative and economic impact of festivals.

We hope that the report will be useful to other people studying festivals but also to the festival community and to policy-makers as a means of showing the impact of British music festivals, economically, socially and culturally at local and international levels.

This blog post was first published on the Impact of Festivals project website here.

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