Music Festivals are a Symbol of Privilege

There was a time when music festivals were inexpensive affairs. The cost to attend Woodstock ’69 was 6.50 for one day, $18 for all three days. Adjusted for 2016 dollars that translates to $42 for one day and $116 for all three days.

These days, many festivals cost a lot more than that. But it makes sense — things simply cost more in general.

But the one thing that rings true is that, in order to attend a music festival, you must have attained or been conferred some sort of privilege, or adjusted your priorities such that attending this festival is something that you will make happen no matter what.

These days, many major festivals such as Ultra or Firefly, do not offer options to purchase passes for only one of the multiple days they are offered. You pay close to $300 or more with fees, just for a ticket. I am going to use my recent trip to this year’s Ultra Music Festival as an example for the rest of this piece to illustrate why it took me most of my adult life to even be able to consider attending one of these events.

For context: I grew up in a working-class family and was considered “low income” for most of my life. In order to have a chance at accessing even half of the things that my peers had access to, or to have a chance of clawing my way to conventional professional success as an adult, I knew that I would need to be disciplined, work hard, and stay the hell out of trouble. Music festivals were extremely low on my list of priorities as far as things that I was actively working toward — they were expensive, non-essential, and therefore considered luxury. Perhaps, in a sense, I was indirectly working toward such a goal (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts self-actualization at the top, and it appears that music festivals would fit in that category), but it was not the focal point of my endgame.

The focal point of my endgame is professional and personal success that will lead to me being able to meet my biological, psychological, and safety needs (on Maslow’s hierarchy) without feeling the stresses that poverty brings. By no means am I a 1%-er [LORDY nowhere near it, I work for a non-profit in a support role], but I have placed myself in a position where I can meet my basic needs and have a small amount left over to pursue outside interests if I save money and budget correctly.

In other words, I have attained a lower level of privilege.

It is important for me to be able to acknowledge this and what this means. I have improved upon my own situation to the point where I can indulge in something that others do not financially have access to. I must recognize that simply because I can now afford something does not mean that anyone can at this literal moment in time. I must remember that it took me 28 years to get to this point and I must never forget how hard it was to get here.

How much does it cost to attend one of these things?

I will use my own example of attending Ultra Music Festival 2016. I know that I likely fall into a middle of the road category with how much I spent. I did my best to cut costs when possible, but at times it was difficult because prices can go up when demand is high or if you didn’t plan as far enough in advance as you thought.

What I needed

In order to attend, Ultra, this 3-day music festival, I needed to take one day off from work.

I am fortunate enough to have a job that gives me paid vacation days. This is something that not everyone has.

I do not live in Miami. I live in Los Angeles. I required a flight to get from my city to the other city.

Unfortunately, I could only take one day off from work because I had not yet accrued more than one day of paid vacation. This meant that I needed to fly specific times and dates. The flights were also suspiciously expensive that particular weekend (high demand) and so between that and my scheduling needs, the flight was very expensive at $675.

I then needed to book a hotel room for myself and two friends.

I booked everything 2 months in advance, however, this apparently was not advance enough (and duly noted) and hotels notoriously upcharge during the festival. I had a friend that I could have asked to stay with, but they had a very full house for the weekend and it would have been hard for us all to fit. Many of the traditionally reasonably priced accommodations, like hostels, actually worked out to be more expensive than what we would perceive to be traditionally more expensive options and many of the budget options were sold out. I was able to find an Embassy Suites hotel and each of us paid $330 for a three-night stay. However, we were able to cut costs: on breakfast because this hotel offered a free buffet breakfast, a free open bar happy hour, and a free airport shuttle to and from the hotel. The three of us each got our own bed and a nice two room suite. Had we booked a hostel, which is traditionally thought to be the cheapest option, we would have (shockingly enough) had to pay more per person and shared a 12-person room without the other complementary amenities. Cost analysis is an important thing to take the time to do.

We then needed to pay for tickets.

Because apparently two months was not enough notice, I had to buy mine on StubHub at $480. This was not terribly far off from the face value with fees, but still, my mistake for hesitating on the ticket.

Then, there were transportation costs to and from the venue each day.

The cheapest and most efficient way for us to get to and from the venue was Uber. Public transport was cheaper on money, but not on time (a 15 minute drive took an hour by public transport). However, surge pricing for Uber coming home from the show was unpredictable. I left the show an hour early each day to avoid it and save money (plus I was tired anyway). I wound up spending a total of $50 on transportation between the venue, plus a few other outings, including one to South Beach and another to visit a local friend.

I also needed to purchase a clear tote bag to take items into the venue.

If your bag is bigger than the size of your hand, you need to either check it or not bring it in. The exception is if you have a clear bag. This is something that I will definitely use in the future, but it cost me $22.

All in all, not including food or alcohol because I did not eat at the venue and would have spent similarly had I stayed home + I didn’t really drink or partake of anything else except for the hotel happy hour, this affair cost me $1507.

I planned everything just over 2 months in advance. I see that I could have absolutely saved money were the ticket, the flight, and the accommodations — 2 months advance was not far enough. It might be enough for some things, but for a music festival, it is not. I didn’t know that since I had never been able to plan this before. That is why I say this is an average expenditure — many people are just not great at planning, and while I often am, I made a pretty average error this time around. People at my hotel told me that every year they have people try to show up and book something the day of and find themselves without a place to stay. People buy tickets at the venue right outside on impulse.

What would have happened had I planned earlier?

Well, I might have bought an early bird ticket and saved maybe $150 if I had to guess. I might have asked to stay at a friend’s house sooner instead of a hotel and saved the $330. My flight, however, would not have been much cheaper — I had been looking at flights earlier than 2 months, and the prices hovered around the same place. I could guess if I got lucky that I might have saved $100 on that. I could have avoided purchasing the purse, but had I done that, I might have needed to spend $5 a day on water bottles in the venue, I wouldn’t have had clean toilet paper on hand (I don’t know about you, but that is pretty important to me), and we wouldn’t have had a safe place to keep our wallets and tickets, so this would have been a wash. I could have used public transport, but what I might have saved in money, I would have lost in time. Even so, 1507–330–150–100=$927.

So, in perspective: spending $1507 and a paid vacation day from work on a 3-day concert is a privilege. But spending $927 on a 3-day concert is also a privilege.

I had the privilege to be average when it came to my planning, which is something that still blows my mind because it cost me a lot extra. But to even have $927 and no paid vacation day available (or no need for one because they are a student or have outside financial help) to spend on such a luxury would have also been a privilege and something that most people simply do not have at this very moment.

Let’s remind ourselves that going to an event like this is a luxury.

The fact that you and I might be able to go to one implies a level of privilege. If you have been able to attend any sort of music festival, don’t assume that the people who waited until later in life to do it did so because they thought they were better than you. The starving artists and hardworking people who pinched their pennies and hustled to get there earned themselves a privilege and that is a great thing. Don’t judge people for going to one type of festival and not another. Don’t assume that what you perceive as “cheap or inexpensive” is actually the cheapest thing available.

Acknowledging our own privilege helps us to be happier and better people because it frees us from harshly judging ourselves and others.