The Youth Lab


It certainly feels like a very long time since going to a music festival was part of the norm, a lot has changed for the past two years. Now, as we near the long-awaited start of festival season, the excitement is palpable. In the US, everyone’s getting outfit-ready for Coachella, a festival held in the hot California desert host to 150,000+ people. For others, it’s been a waiting game for the annual pilgrimage to Glastonbury, the celebrated festival that has been going strong in Somerset since 1970. This week’s 52INSIGHTS explores the big trends for the fast-approaching festival season and into the future.


The business of music festivals is BIG. Revenue from festivals is now expected to grow year on year from 2022 by 11.43% (to an expected value of $41million in 2026). From small independent food, art and music events to the big, almost heritage, festivals that have been running for years, to totally branded/brand-owned festivals and fairs, there’s a niche for everyone. The demand is there for choice and for access to different experiences, whether you’re going for one day in your city or committing to a techno festival in the woods.

As young festival-goers stress out over nabbing tickets to highlight coveted events, organizers are busy figuring out how things are going to come together and overcome post-pandemic challenges. Looking into the near future, many in the industry are crying out for support for the live entertainment and arts industry - Paul Reid, CEO Association of Independent Festivals, illustrates the challenges ahead for smaller festivals - “...the absence of festivals has been felt keenly by artists, the wider supply chain and of course audiences…this year will not be a case of ‘back to business as usual’ without critical support for festival organisers.” This feeds into supply chain and workforce shortages impacting the organizers’ confidence and ability to return seamlessly - especially when it comes to smaller arts & culture players.


Festivals are all about the thrill of chasing your favorite headliner or waiting to enjoy a niche genre experience live. Maybe your thing is to explore comedy, talks or get lost in the corners of smaller stages. Be it a big festival experience or an alternative one, for youth audiences the value is embedded in the collective experience - something we’ve all been starved of. Many new and specialized festivals approach curation as holistic experiences - looking beyond the line up to branding the theme, energy and atmosphere. Body & Soul is one independent example - looking to curate ‘the festival of the future’ full of surprises with an intimate reduced capacity. Tickets for a sold-out AfrikaBurn (a regional weeklong Burning Man interdisciplinary cultural event) are also highly coveted. It’s all about enhancing the fan experience in new ways with surprises and attentive curation.

For brands looking to find their place in a rich festival landscape, it’s time to connect and get creative according to Mike Adamson, CEO, Live Nation Ireland: “Festivals are the ultimate escape from your everyday - the stresses and strains of life, routine and monotony. They are an incredible festive forum for people to reconnect with themselves and their friends. A summer of outdoor live music and entertainment is something I think we all need.” The festival stages supported by Live Nation create trusted holistic experiences that consistently prove to win over the hearts of young crowds with powerful line-ups at the likes of Lollapalooza or The Great Escape (with a focus on new music & discovery). For a lot of festival goers, it’s about being able to see stellar headliners and enjoying hit after hit surrounded by thousands of people singing along - and then discover your next new musical obsession an hour later.


The environmental impact of festivals can’t be ignored. During the pandemic, there was space for everyone involved to reassess what a great festival experience really is and how that translates into a climate-oriented festival experience. Now that things are reorganizing, new innovations, ideas & pilots are emerging fast. The VISION:2025 committee report stated that the impact of festivals in the UK alone results in 24,261 tonnes CO2 emissions per year. The organisation is driving a pledge to reduce festival related greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2025. Some festivals focus on offering only vegetarian or vegan food, a real plus for some - “the only thing better than a music festival is one with vegan tacos” via Twitter. Others are running on solar power. For festival organizers, it’s important to facilitate solutions for attendees, such as easy-access to water refilling stations and eliminating single use plastic, encouraging collective action without being too worthy or impacting on joy-optimisation.

A brand that truly understands festival culture is Heinken, always delivering unforgettable experiences year on year. Mark Noble, Marketing Manager, Heineken Ireland, is looking forward to creating even more epic greener experiences. “After nearly 3 years, we cannot wait to enjoy that first sip of Heineken at Ireland’s biggest and best festivals. We know that music fans the length and breadth of Ireland will be excited to experience the thrill of live music again – and so we are determined to do everything we can to make the experience even better! Expectations have evolved since 2019, so there is a need to rethink how brands turn up at live events. We are leaving no stone unturned to make 2022 unforgettable – whilst looking to see how Heineken can make events a little Greener every time.”


"[I used to take for granted] just being able to rock up, not worry about the accessibility, having a spot where I could see the actual show, not having to think about the bathrooms…" Jacob Cremen-Darkin, wheelchair user.

As enhancing the fan experience becomes an even greater spotlight for organizers and curators, this also translates into streamlining process and security. Outside of the experience of general layout and planning (nobody wants to get stuck in a traffic jam for hours or miss their fave song stuck in a queue for the loo), what is continuously gaining importance in festival experiences is how different individual and group needs are being supported. A big driver in the festival experience is knowing you’re going to be safe (something Astroworld tragically did not do).

It’s often more than just the music and camping; for many, festivals are about the communities they create and support. Afropunk in the US, is a weekend-long music-led experience that celebrates and elevates black culture, with a big focus on supporting the Black community through the arts and activism. Creating access to festivals is of growing importance for young people. Campaigns like ‘Just Ask’ are helping live promoters increase accessibility and encouraging them to book Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent talent. Celebration of diverse talent will be a bigger part of festivals into the future.


A quality festival experience also considered the digital worlds young people occupy and the wealth of digital experiences now possible. There is the option of going all in on the virtual experience, like a music festival in Decentraland’s metaverse. Advancements in audio visual technology are enabling incredible large-scale, immersive visual feats- from epic drone spectacles to QR codes in the sky. For NFT-loving festival goers Coachella created their own NFT, including unlocking lifetime access to festival passes, bypassing the stress of trying to buy a ticket. Plus, don’t forget the power of PR driven moments that get everyone to take out their phone and share across digital platforms - like this very special one that happened at the Heineken Live Your Music activation even back in 2019.


On how brands will approach festivals in 2022 Mike Adamson, CEO, Live Nation Ireland expects a ‘level-up’ mentality to endure: “[Brands will] Connect in new, creative and really well considered ways with fans who have been starved of the festival experience for 2 years. The anticipation and levels of expectation are higher than ever. Brands will be upping their game this year for sure.” There’s ample opportunity to go wild with creative tech and create visual and sound experiences that people have never seen before. This also feeds into the pressure with inflation, as young people seek real value for money. This means the expectations for a memorable experience are also higher than ever.

Always consider your impact. A quality festival activation is now widely underpinned through the lens of the environmental impact of pop up gatherings and temporary structures. Primary focus concerns being addressed in this area include energy usage, building materials, waste (especially single-use plastic) and travel.

Get inspired with a look back at some of THINKHOUSE’s past festival activations.