Does bigger equal better? Small vs Large Festivals
Festivals are now an integral part of British culture, with summer being known in the music industry as ‘festival season’. When we think of festivals, many of us picture sprawling pop-up cities in the middle of the countryside, like Glastonbury or Reading festivals. These are two of the most well-known festivals in the UK and around the world. But there has always been a tight-knit community of small, independent festivals, with this number growing in recent years. The difference between small and large festivals is a transient one, and many festivals that started off as tiny club nights (Bestival is a good example) have grown and grown to become huge events.
The main advantage of large festivals are the line-ups. Because of the sheer amount of people that attend these festivals (135,000 for Glastonbury this year), the organisers can book some pretty hefty acts. Usual big hitters are US stars from the Hip-Hop and Rock scenes, with names like Cardi B, Travis Scott & ASAP Rocky all gracing this July’s Wireless line-up, while Reading & Leeds have secured rock gods Foo Fighters, alongside new generation rockers The 1975 and Twenty One Pilots. The acts don’t just stop there; the rest of these line-ups are always crammed with the cream of musical talent, with large festival like Glastonbury have arenas dedicated solely to underground dance music.
Large festivals tend not to be limited to just music as well. At many of the large UK festivals, you’ll find stages devoted to comedy, cabaret, theatre, and even arts & crafts. Glastonbury is famous for its hundreds of different areas dedicated to these different sections of creativity. This can also be the most enjoyable area for families at festivals, as large festival stages can be intimidating to young children.
One of the major complaints about large festivals, however, is their size. Camping areas may be a rather long way away from the stages, and in bad weather conditions, this can be particularly problematic. Mud and rain can really hinder peoples enjoyment of festivals (although we think there can be advantages to this HERE), and if you have to trek through what could be miles of Somme-level mud, it can dampen the mood.
Although not an inherently bad element of large festivals, their size means that you’re going to have to miss some of your favourite acts to see other favourite acts. It’s a tough world out there, when you have to make such important decisions!
Small festivals are instantly more charming than their big brothers. They have more character, are less commercialised and usually have a more dedicated fanbase. Although not limited to all small festivals, they tend to be run by independent promoters, or even by communities in some cases. They tend to focus on more specialised genres of music, or themes. One example is the Green Man Festival in Wales, which focuses on folk music, and the English cultural heritage of the Green Man. Without going into too much detail, it’s a festival celebrating English folk culture, and is known for being particularly immersive. Because smaller festivals (on the whole) tend not to have the same budgets to book big acts as larger ones, they prioritise experience and atmosphere over heavyweight line-ups.
Another advantage, as mentioned above, is the fact that organisers can focus on specific genres, and attract much more die-hard fans to come, which in itself adds to the atmosphere of a festival. This is especially true in the dance world, and there are several great small or ‘boutique’ festivals to choose from: Gottwood, Balter, Strawberries and Creem, Houghton, Lost Village are just some that come to mind. Each year, the very best of electronic DJ’s descend on fields hidden away in the English countryside. These small festivals are often the annual highlight for artists and festival-goers alike.
The only problem for small festivals is their limited infrastructure. Although due to financial constraints, this can have a negative effect on the experience of festival-goers. This can mean a lack of toilets, food options, and access to public transport. Festivals situated in pristine rural locations is always a bonus, but gaining access to these areas can be difficult, and can disrupt local villages and communities on the dates of these festivals. Toilets are a common issue at smaller festivals as well, as there is often not an adequate amount of sanitary options!
The aim of this article is not to degrade the great institutions which are festivals, They are simply just the pros and cons of both small and large festivals, and hopefully can inform people on what type of festival to attend. The most important thing to remember about attending festivals is that the positives greatly outweigh the negatives, and that you will most likely have a once-in-a-lifetime experience at festival (unless of course, it’s on an Island in the Bahamas and the tickets cost £35,000).