Chip Conley at IMFCON: The Festival Comeback

posted by Laura Baker-Finch on December 11, 2014

Chip Conley at IMFCON 2014 by Marjana Jaidi

Austin, Texas -- Like most music conferences, IMFCON featured an Opening Keynote. Unlike most music conference Opening Keynotes, IMFCON’s had the unique privilege of avoiding the pessimistic discussions of a failing recording industry, a yet-to-prove-sustainable streaming model, and a grim future for musicians and industry professionals alike. IMFCON has the pleasure of dedicating itself to music festivals and no one is more qualified to talk about why this topic can bring such uplifting energy to the music industry in 2014 than Chip Conley

For those of you that are unaware, Chip Conley boasts a laundry list of successes and qualifications. Currently the founder of Fest300 and Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy for Airbnb, Chip has also authored four bestselling books, is the founder and former CEO of Joie de Vivre, and a featured speaker of the TED Conference, just to list a few. 

Chip Conley brought these accomplishments (not to mention his passion for travel and festivals) to the International Music Festival Conference, the aforementioned IMFCON, in Austin December 7 for the conference’s Opening Keynote. Here, among personal antidotes and more than a few jokes, he detailed the four reasons why music festivals have been in resurgence and have experienced such a comeback in popularity. Of course festivals are nothing new, their root in religion and popular music extends back centuries, but as our societies become increasingly digital, the more ritual we crave and need. 

Chip elaborates on this fairly straightforward fact, attributing the reasons for resurgence to four facts about festivals: they redefine vacation, satiate cultural curiosity, provide opportunities for tribal travel, and are inherently the spirit expressed. Let’s elaborate. 


The BPM Festival 2014 by Marjana Jaidi

As the root of the word suggests, people often ‘vacate’ themselves during a vacation, which many will argue is the point. In an increasingly digital world, however, a vacation just takes a person from lounging on a couch staring at a cell phone to lounging on a pool chaise staring at the same cell phone (with the occasional tilt of the head upwards to see the ocean). 
Festivals allow us to rethink this definition; instead of ‘vacating’ ourselves on a vacation, attending a festival as a vacation allows us to ‘activate’ ourselves. This holds true whether you select a local music festival, like Governors Ball for us here in New York, a destination spot like Outlook in Croatia, or a non-musical festival such as Spain’s El Colacho, a baby jumping festival (seriously). 


Festivals also allow its attendees to get to know ‘the other,’ a curiosity inherent in our nature. This can run the gambit from exploring a different music subculture to a different religion. At IMFCON, Chip used the example of his attendance at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival as the “curious white boy” in addition to his visit to Morocco for the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, where he explored his curiosity of both Morocco and myriad world religions. 

Many music festivals incorporate a variety of genres, but some stick to a niche. Try and get out of your comfort zone with a new genre and its accompanying scene. Punk rock kids, try your hand at The BPM Festival. Underground electronic aficionados, get your butts to Riot Fest.

Riot Fest Chicago 2014 by Laura Baker-Finch


This reason is at odds with cultural curiosity, but not all four apply to every festival nor the desires of each festivalgoer. Many are drawn to music festivals because they bring people with common interests together, fostering a collective joy (or “collective effervescence” as Emile Durkheim described it in the early 1900s) that comes from communal experiences. As these festivals create a collective joy, they are in turn lessening each individual’s ego, something we can all afford a little less of in our social media-reliant world (at this point, who hasn’t taken a selfie?)


Finally, festivals provide spaces for spiritual expression and transformational experiences. Festivals may have had their root in religion, but the ritual aspect carried on even when strictly-religious elements fizzled out. Festivals of all kinds can lead to transformations, though there’s a specific set that tend to do so more than most - or their attendees are more vocal about their transformations at least. Think of that investment banker friend you have that spent a couple days at Burning Man, or your close-minded sister you took with you to Shambhala. They’re not the same, are they? 

Lightning in a Bottle 2014 by Oliver Correa

Every individual festivalgoer has their own reasons for attending festivals, and thus most likely has their own reasons to attribute to festival resurgence. Whatever the complete list of reasons is, we can all agree we’re damn glad it has lead to the scene we get to be apart of today. 

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