Technology at Festivals

The days of festivals where fans hop from stage to stage, food vendor to food vendor, and relax on the grass for hours with friends and family are fading away as technology plays a bigger role in today’s festival experience. To that end, it has becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the impact technology has had on festivals all over the world. 

Due to the massive influence of Snapchat, Instagram, and other social media platforms, young generations are visually driven. In order to create visual memories that  entice the audience, we live in the age of experience where attendees now report the overall experience matters more than the actual acts. Instead of going to festivals just to listen to your favorite band or spend a nice weekend outside, people want experiences that will give them something to remember and talk about with their friends for years to come— and the limitless power of technology can do just that. Cutting-edge technology is playing an increasingly active role in strengthening events in a number of ways, from campaign engagement beforehand to the actual onsite experience at concerts and festivals. 

  1. Festival Apps and Beacons: By taking advantage of the trends of increasing attendance at events and the proliferation of mobile technology, festivals and event-focused tech companies can introduce new ways to measure, manage, and enhance the attendee experience. With an official app for attendees to view lineups, personalize schedules, access maps, and more, attendees no longer need to worry about the hassle of trying to hang onto a piece of paper throughout the festival or trying to remember specific set times and stages. Additionally, when a user downloads the app and enables the right permissions, they automatically open themselves up to the ability to interact with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons that are placed strategically around the festival grounds. These beacons connect themselves to the apps in order to collect data on people’s movements around the festivals— including how many people were at any one show or which food vendors brought in the most customers. As one of the top technologically advanced music festivals, the Coachella app lets users link their Spotify accounts to build a playlist based on artists they visited through remembering the beacons they interacted with to remember their time at the event. 

  2. RFID Wristbands: Say goodbye to the hassle of carrying a paper ticket or worrying that the attendee didn’t bring enough cash to the festival because wristbands have become a near ubiquitous replacement for tickets and creating a cashless experience. They help expedite the check in process and eliminate queuing, which consequently generates better business opportunities for merchandise and food vendors. The cashless payments that are directly connected with the RFID chips increases revenues by making it easier to buy a $10 beer without the inconvenience of fumbling through a bag to get cash out of your wallet. It is also being used to improve event security by cutting the use of fraudulent event tickets— as RFID chips are nearly impossible to replicate— and it can function as a “secure wallet,” allowing attendees to leave wallets and purses locked up in their hotel room. As one of the first festivals to implement these RFID wristbands, Tommorrowland’s wristbands offer another angle for further development. Meet a new friend? Simply touch wristbands and pals are connected  via Facebook. This idea opens up a wide range of possibilities to unite social media with real friendships.

  3. LED Wristbands: In regards to the onsite experience, tech is being used to enhance the pure joy of human experience. One significant way tech companies are adding onto this experience is by providing fans with LED wristbands worn by the audience that can be controlled by the lighting operator for the event to synchronise with a particular moment, song, or lyric. Companies like Hurdl are using these devices to contribute to the energy of the event. As shown by Coldplay’s use of Xylobands during their tour, they offer an interactive experience for the audience to be part of the music, lightshow, and overall performance. The resulting Instagrammable images provide an immediate boost in the audience’s social media presence and a shout out to the bands and tech companies. 

  4. Chat Bots: As festival attendance grows, so does the amount of information required to help festival-goers navigate and enjoy the event. But with festivals attracting such a broad demographic, the needs of the audience are many and varied. There isn’t even staffing for one-on-one  attention and the needs too varied for an online FAQ. Therefore, chatbots, which are frequently powered by Artificial Intelligence, are being used and praised for their capability to deliver attendee support for events via a computer program that simulates human conversations— which can be an immense time and money saver for organizers. For example, chatbots can be customized to answer attendee and exhibitor questions about parking, food, or lineups as well as communicate speaker information and collect feedback surveys post-event. 

  5. Holograms/Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality: The things that seemed impossible just 10 years ago have now become a reality for the festival experience. But the developments in hologram, VR, and AR have just scratched the surface of a movement that is destined to expand as innovation moves forward. Since the hologram of Tupac Shakur released its debut album at Coachella in 2012 and Roy Orbison’s hologram tour in the US, interest in the use of holograms have quickly accelerated. The desire to be something more than just a spectator has inspired event/festival producers to continue to push the boundaries of AR and VR. Virtual reality and augmented reality have the power to transport attendees to delve into a whole other experience, while still ensuring that they remain connected to the main event. From scavenger hunts to exhibitor promotions, augmented reality has a plethora of purposes it can offer that can be tailored to any event. With VR, a music concert can be a 360-degree virtual experience;  perhaps even one day even be experienced from the comfort of one’s home with groups around the world!

  6. Honorable Mentions from Glastonbury:    

    1. The Festival Phone: For attendees that want to get the full experience of a festival, the fear of losing or getting phones stolen in a heaving mosh pit or a crowded area is a constant concern. Glastonbury fixed that problem by providing the option for serious festival goers to purchase a cheaper festival phone to use during the festival. 

    2. Free Power Bank Swaps: During festivals, attendees are constantly taking pictures, texting, calling, live streaming, posting, and creating user generated social media. But that is only possible when people have power in their devices. At Glastonbury, they kept the crowd connected by offering free power bank swaps. When all the power is used up and their devices are fully charged, the user can simply take the battery pack back for a fully charged replacement

    3. Urine Powered Lighting: Glastonbury tested out a highly unusual piece of technology— a toilet area for up to 25 people with lights powered by urine thanks to microbial fuel cells. This experience was used as a testbed for Oxfam for refugee camps in Africa and India which concluded in generating energy for free— without having to rely on the grid or other fossil fuel-based technology— and also cleaning the urine so that it is suitable for agricultural use. In most refugee camps around the world, light is needed at night. According to Andy Bastable, Water Sanitation Manager for Oxfam, “the microbial fuel cells light up patches in the camp and this is important in regard to women’s safety at night. Another bonus of this technology is the ability to charge mobile phones. There is potential for us to develop charging centres that would be particularly beneficial in refugee camps where families get split up.” 

All over the world, all year round, festivals keep artists/brands and fans connected and help create everlasting memories for millions. The insurgence of technology at festivals has perfected the creation of an amazing festival experience for attendees as they provide the perfect playground for emerging tech companies to try out new ideas with a young and tech savvy audience that is open to giving almost anything a shot. As long as technology continues to improve the experience aspect of festivals, the opportunities to expand are endless.