You’ve been in line for an hour. You’re anxious. You’ve already met dozens of people and smiled at triple that amount. Your I.D. has been checked, ticket scanned and you’ve been patted down by security. You walk through the gate. You’re overwhelmed with excitement. You see lights, art, people. People laughing, singing, dancing and having the time of their lives. Your body is reverberating from the music that surrounds you. A feeling of bliss sets in.
You belong here.
Music festivals are a growing part of our generation’s culture, and with their rise in popularity comes a great impact.
Kimberly Rudolph, a 22-year old student, traveled to Bonnaroo and was inspired to research the reason music festivals have such a large impact on our generation.
Her study, which looks into the importance of these festivals and their ability to aid in identity formation, says music festivals provide a community environment to form identities as well as a welcoming space for spiritual experiences.
Building a community within the festival
The lure of a music festival seems obvious. Going out with all your friends, dressing up (or down in some cases), dancing all day or night to your favorite music in a carefree zone.
But what makes it feel like a community?
The answer is in the environment these festivals provide. Strangers camp next to each other, sing and dance to the same songs in unity, participate in activities such as yoga, silent discos, and arts and crafts together.
All of these experiences provide opportunities for people to grow and connect with people from all over.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made eye contact with a complete stranger as the beat dropped and just went nuts dancing with them, or a girl has come up to me, complimented my outfit and given me a hug before skipping away to the beat of the music.
Research finds that participating in music festivals can have a positive impact on the festival go-er’s emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment, according to Adam Croom.
These festivals usually promote ideals as well, such as Bonnaroo with positivity and EDC with ‘PLUR’ which stands for peace, love, unity and respect.
Attendees ooze these ideals at these festivals and I believe that just the belief in these alone creates enough of a common ground to support the idea of a festival community.
“Through music as a global language mega music festivals become nations, as the populations start forming their identities around these festivals,” said Rudolph in her conclusion.
Festivals as a Spiritual Experience
I have long compared music to religion as I have never been much of a church go-er and don’t identify with any organized religion. Alternatively, I have always religiously listened to music.
Festivals are providing my generation with experiences that can be directly compared to the experience of those going to church, arguably providing spiritual experiences for us.
Rudolph explains how music festivals are like a church service:
“Some find the power of music to heal them spiritually just like the biblical message during church. People go to festivals to be a part of the community and feel a sense of freedom and belonging—just as some attend church to be a part of their community and desire freedom through the death of Jesus Christ.”
Rudolph argues that just like attending church you could be attending just to say you went or because of the reputation it has of being life-changing, so too can attending festivals. Either way, people form identities around these events, and that is quite an impact.
Every festival I set foot in I am blown away at the fact that so many strangers can unify in one place to create memories and express themselves freely. It really does feel like setting foot into a giant, music-loving community.
So whether you attend just for the fun of it or to experience yet another spiritual awakening in your favorite place, just know you’re not alone.
Fun Fact: One of my favorite DJs, Tchami, is always dressed as a catholic priest and many of his sets begin with church bell tolls. Appropriate? I think yes.