FestForums Conference 2023 | Credit: Lisa Osborn

Massive festivals like Coachella are iconic and attract thousands of music lovers. But rising ticket costs are pricing out average fans. Others may now feel comfortable only among smaller crowds. This is causing live event organizers to rethink their strategies and downsize. 

FestForums Conference 2023 | Credit: Lisa Osborn

Niche events are the wave of the future, or at least that’s the consensus of a panel of festival industry experts in town for FestForums, a conference attended by people who put on live events, and the partners who provide services ranging from ticketing, security, and staffing to accessibility and AI-powered concierge service. There’s also an art and self-care element, including a calm lounge featuring hot tea, aromatherapy, and massage.

“Niche festivals are becoming more prevalent, be it more boutique, genre, or age-demographic specific” said Joe Litvin, founder/president of the Just Listen Company, speaking on a panel discussion about the future of festivals. Going niche allows event organizers to focus on delivering a more immersive experience to a specific audience.

“Most of us aren’t offering anything broadly appealing, and that’s the gem,” said Ash Hoyle, a programmer for the Sundance Film Festival. Hoyle also advised attendees to be selective when creating opportunities for advertisers. “Be careful to be guided by your vision and not just sponsorship interests.”

The pandemic pause provided an opportunity for producers to stop and consider what is essential to the audience they serve, as well as where they could scale back without cutting the quality of the experience.

FestForums Conference 2023 | Credit: Lisa Osborn

Now in its sixth year, FestForums provides an engaging experience for attendees to network and learn. With a very cool vibe, FestForums is a unique blend of conference/trade show, visual-rich art and cultural experiences, and live music from notable performers.

The Music Academy was this year’s base, with evening parties and concerts at La Lieff Tasting Room, MOXI, and the Lobero Theatre. This year’s theme was “Get Together,” with a concert honoring iconic festival leaders, with music from Jesse Colin Young with Jazzie Young, Chris Stills, Teddy Jack, The Tribe, Skip Martin of Kool and the Gang, and a special presentation by renowned music photographer Henry Diltz. Artists who have performed over the years at FestForums include John Anderson, Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Ray Parker Jr. and more. 

“The event goes on for two days and brings together festival producers from all over North America, from Coachella, Sundance, and the smallest boutique festivals who are all here to learn and collaborate,” said Laurie B. Kirby, owner and founder of FestForums. Kirby lives in Montecito, and the event has almost always been based in Santa Barbara.

In predicting the future of festivals, panelists throughout the conference agreed that virtual events would not replace the live experience because of serendipity — the magic that happens at in-person gatherings; for example, having that conversation that could change your life. “We just need to adapt it to the moment” was what the FestForums delivered. 

For more information and a video report of the event, click here.

FestForums Conference 2023 | Credit: Lisa Osborn

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