The Best Summer Festivals For Your Buck

By Michael Deane | April 16, 2010 AAA
The Best Summer Festivals For Your Buck

Since Woodstock in 1969, festivals sporting rock 'n roll's biggest names have become popular all over the world. These festivals can give fans the chance to see more than 100 of their favorite bands at a fraction of the price of 100 different concerts. In the U.S. alone there seems to be one every other weekend all summer, from three-day festivals like Coachella in California and Lollapalooza in Chicago to traveling one-day festivals like Warped Tour. We'll be looking at the cost of these festivals, and breaking it down to find out how much you're paying per band, the cost of staying in the area, and see what kind of value these festivals provide.

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  • Coachella (April 16-18)
    Acts: 134
    Cost: $269

    Coachella is starting this week, and is one of the biggest festivals in the U.S. However, its reputation and the fact that it opens up festival season also means that it's one of the most expensive. Coachella has an impressive line-up, boasting some big names, from Jay-Z to Vampire Weekend, and when you break down the cost per band, you're only paying about $2 per act. When you think that a Jay-Z concert on its own can cost between $60 and $100, you're getting a deal on the music.
    Coachella also offers camping at a cost of $57 per campsite for the festival. So cramming as many people as you can into each tent will lower your costs. As well, Coachella has made their water affordable, keeping the prices at 1996 levels of $2.

  • Sasquatch! (May 29-31)
    Acts: 87

    Cost: $70/day $210/festival
    Sasquatch! kicks festival season into full gear, bringing the bands north to Washington. Sasquatch! has a smaller line-up and costs less than Coachella. Boasting performers from indie-rock darlings Pavement to political rap giants Public Enemy, Sasquatch! has a diverse and slightly less mainstream roster than Coachella.
    This festival has the bonus of selling one-day passes, but if you get the three-day pass you're paying $2.41 per band. Camping is more expensive than Coachella - at $99 - but the view at the George Gorge Amphitheater is unbeatable. (The paradigm in the music industry has shifted away from big contracts and toward "360 degree" deals that include touring and promotion. Don't miss Facing The Music: The Recording Industry's Power Struggle.)

  • Bonnaroo (June 10-13)
    Bands: 161
    Cost: $249.50
    Bonnaroo is a four-day festival, which gives it the most value for your buck when it comes to the multi-day festivals. Not only that, but this Manchester, Tennessee-based festival's ticket price also includes camping fees! So, not only are you paying $1.54 per act to see Dave Matthews Band, Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, Kings of Leon and more, that also includes your lodging for the four-day fest. Now you just have to figure out how to afford the overpriced food and water that accompanies this type of event.

  • Pitchfork (July 16-18)
    Bands: 41
    Cost: $40/day, $90/festival
    Pitchfork Festival is curated by taste-making music website Pitchfork Media. This event is the least mainstream of the festivals we mention, and is more for the music fan than the festival fan. It occurs in downtown Chicago and its $90 price tag shows that Pitchfork really stands by its intent to provide a diverse and affordable music festival. Even though it's smaller than the other festivals, there are still big acts like Modest Mouse, Pavement and Broken Social Scene, and you're paying around $2.19 per band.
    The other good news about Pitchfork is that the number of bands/stages isn't overwhelming, so over the three days you'll be able to see every band you want. The one drawback to the Pitchfork Festival is that it occurs in a city and offers no camping; however, there are nearby hostels (ranging from $25-$112 per night depending on desired rooms) and hotels at higher rates.

  • Lollapalooza (August 6-8)
    Acts: 119
    Cost: $210
    In the '90s, Lollapalooza helped re-launch the rock festival format, after organizer Perry Farrell put together a successful touring concert that featured many alternative, punk and rap groups. Now the festival is a three-day affair held in Chicago, and it might be the biggest festival of the summer. With headliners Lady Gaga, Green Day, Soundgarden, The Strokes and more, Lollapalooza might provide the best bang for your buck - considering how much it costs to see these bands play on their own.
    Because there are so many stages, you're bound to run into some scheduling conflicts, but you're only paying about $1.76 per act. Just like Pitchfork Fest, the drawback here is that there's no camping, and festival-goers will have to rely on hostels and hotels. (Summer blockbusters are big business, find out how big in The Economics Of Summer Blockbuster Movies.)

  • Warped Tour (Various Dates)
    Bands: 77
    Cost: $33
    Warped Tour is a bit different than the other festivals. It's a one-day music and extreme sports festival that travels across the U.S. and Canada. It started as a punk rock and skateboarding festival, but has expanded to become more diverse. We are just looking at the first date of the tour in Los Angeles, where 77 bands will play for $33 on June 25 – making it the cheapest festival at around 43 cents per band.
    However, in some ways you get what you pay for. As this is a fairly niche group of music, you won't get the big names, but you will get punk classics like FEAR and GBH, and mainstream crossovers, Sum 41 and Face to Face. The good news about this festival is that you don't have to worry about camping or hotels.

The Bottom Line
Each of these festivals offers its own benefits, from Pitchfork's amazing affordability to Bonnaroo's excellent value to Warped Tour's niche bargain. It'll depend on where you live and which bands you want to check out this summer. Overall, each festival gives amazing value when compared to going to a normal concert, but you'll have to balance that with the price of lodging and the ever-present overpriced food and drinks.

Check out last week's business highlights in Water Cooler Finance: My iPad Beats Your Toyota.

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