Making Music Taste Better: Music Festivals Embrace the Culinary Obsession

Talent-laden lineups draw vast amounts of people to music festivals every year, providing attendees with the opportunity to see all their favorite artists in one magical location. This year alone, copious amounts of people swarmed to Coachella, with numbers exceeding a record-setting 125,000 attendees (LA Weekly, April 17, 2017).

They come to hear the music and see the art installations – as well as to be seen themselves. While musicians used to be the primary draw for such high attendance, the new culinary experience at music festivals may be the newest trend that increases attendance while enhancing the fan experience.

Explains Alex Machurov, Sr. Director, New Business & Partnerships, Superfly, producer of Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, Lost Lake and other festivals, “Producing a successful festival doesn’t start and stop with programming the musical acts. In this day and age, fans are asking for full 360 degree experiences from their festivals, so providing robust, well curated culinary & drink offerings is now almost as important as what bands are playing.”

The phenomena of “foodies” and food festivals can be seen in social media in the last decade as images of waffles, eggs benedict, cronuts, seafood and farm-to-table dishes. These food images swamp Instagram and every day new events pop up tailored to niche food tastings. Always seeking to expand the attendee experience, it is no surprise that gourmet cuisine is seeping its way into many music festivals like Coachella, Outside Lands and Bottle Rock, to name a few.

Celebrity Chefs such as Dakota Weiss, Paul Khan, and Perry Cheung were featured in a variety of culinary events at Coachella throughout the two weekends.  In the leadup to Coachella’s newest culinary addition to the festival, Food and Wine Magazine gushed about Coachella’s “Outstanding in the Fields” events (four-course sit-down dinners with some of LA’s top chefs). “Imagine a gigantic communal table with elegant plateware, cocktails, wine pairings and food that actually merits the term ‘farm-to-table,’” wrote Andy Wang for Food and Wine.

Every year more music festivals take advantage of this “foodie” fascination by using it as a marketing tool to increase their festival attendance and experience.  Some have even melded these two creative industries into one festival creating a “foodie” and music lovers event that attracts people from all over the country.

BottleRock in Napa Valley, for example, executes this blend of music and food perfectly, marketing both as the stars of the show. Always bringing the best of the best, this year, BottleRock paired artists such as Macklemore, Maroon Five and the Foo Fighters with celebrity chefs Martha Stewart, Jose Andres and Iron Chefs' accomplished Masaharu Morimoto.

BottleRock was a sell-out in 2016 and 2017, totaling approximately 120,000 attendees for the three-day festival. BottleRock clearly displays how combining the music and culinary industries draw a wider audience to festivals, allowing numbers to increase every year.

Festival producers now aspire to create lasting culinary-music experiences where chefs perform demos alongside live musical acts onstage as they do at Outsides Lands in San Francisco. States Machurov, “It’s also a perfect opportunity to differentiate your festival from the pack by choosing great regional food vendors, pouring craft beers, and partnering with local mixologists to serve elevated cocktails. The days of pizza, hot dogs and pretzels are over and are being replaced by lobster rolls, Korean tacos, and artisanal sweets."

While popular TV cooking shows, cooking series, dedicated culinary magazines and social media websites have driven the popularity of the food and wine industry, music festivals are incorporating more exquisite eats into the core of their events to keep their festivals relevant and farm-to-table fresh.