The cultural, socio-political and economic impact of Britain’s festival season reaches far beyond the summer months and event locations, according to a new report from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

From interactive arts festivals to world-renowned headliner acts, the 21st Century has seen a boom in British festivals, according to a UEA report released today. ‘From Glyndebourne to Glastonbury: The Impact of British Music Festivals,’ will be presented at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival by UEA’s Dr Emma Webster and Prof George McKay. It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Connected Communities programme, in partnership with the EFG London Jazz Festival, and is based on a critical literature review of more than 170 books, papers and reports.

On the surface, London’s Notting Hill Carnival may appear to have little in common with the Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival. But whether large or small, new or old, jazz, rock, folk or classical, the British festival phenomenon helps create feelings of belonging between like-minded people while enhancing social cohesion, according to the report.

‘Festivals are often sites of multicultural and multigenerational music consumption, where…fans (including families) can congregate and socialise,’ the report said.

Glastonbury is arguably the most famous festival in the world while Glyndebourne and The Proms export a particular notion of Britishness, said Dr Webster, a post-doctoral research associate in UEA’s School of Art, Media and American Studies.

An accurate economic picture of British music festivals is difficult to state, according to Dr Webster, due to the individual assessments used. However, based on music tourism figures from UK Music, music festivals generate major amounts of direct and indirect spending – £1.7 billion – attract high numbers of music tourists – 2.2 million – and sustain more than 13,500 jobs.

Moreover, the UEA study said festivals ‘provide volunteers with learning and development opportunities’ and ‘can improve the skills and knowledge or practitioners and help them develop professional networks.’

Prof McKay, a professor in media studies in UEA’s School of Art, Media and American Studies, has been writing about festival culture for two decades, most recently in his 2015 collection, The Pop Festival.

Prof McKay said: “When you think about it, it’s extraordinary that the music festival has become such a dominant feature of the seasonal cultural landscape, especially the outdoors pop festival.

“With vagaries of the typical British summer there’s often mud, toilet facilities are usually not the most pleasant, traffic jams in country lanes, crowds on site everywhere, watching bands playing in the distance. And yet, festivals thrive today. Why? Because, while culture and life may be ever more fragmented, festivals speak to our need for community and belonging, they can offer us an intense, special space-time experience, often in a beautiful landscape, surrounded by the music we like.”

On a larger scale, festivals influence the appetite for and the ways in which music is created and consumed; bring social and political issues into focus; and ‘generate funds for external charitable or not-for-profit organisations, either directly or indirectly via awareness campaigns.’ This carries on a tradition established at early rock festivals: the first Isle of Wight festival in 1969, the UEA report said, was organised to raise funds for a local swimming pool.

The UEA report found:

Creativity: music, musicians, art and design: Performance at particular festivals can enhance musicians’ status and increase the chances of further festival bookings – festivals can act as showcases and platforms for exporting musicians abroad. For some musicians festivals have become an essential income stream. The record industry now launches new albums at the start of the festival season, and ‘breaks’ new acts through key festival appearances. Festivals can also be sites for musical experimentation and hybridity, as well as leaving a rich legacy of art and design through posters and promotional materials.

Politics and power: The frivolity of festivals sometimes masks deeper issues around race, religion, class, sexuality, and gender – line-ups are often white and male-dominated, for instance – although music festivals have been sites for social and political debate, and sometimes action. Notting Hill Carnival as a key cultural means of articulating black British identity in the 1970s, or Glastonbury Festival and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament movement in the 1980s, for example.

Place-making and tourism: Festivals have become ubiquitous within tourism and place-marketing campaigns. They are vehicles for celebrating, constructing and maintaining national or cultural identity, such as the flag waving at the Last Night of the Proms constructing a particular notion of Britain. Music festivals often contribute to a positive image of a locale, both to its residents and to visitors, and hence attract people to live in the place and tourists to visit.

Environmental: local and global: Festivals have environmental impacts – locally via a temporary increase in population and in the production of waste, and globally via the increased carbon footprint of touring international artists. But they’re often also sites for exploring and teaching about alternative ways of living, particularly around energy usage and waste. Glyndebourne, for instance, installed a wind turbine in 2012 that provides 95 per cent of the organisation’s electricity needs.

Mediation: Multiplatform mediation on television, radio, press and online pushes the festival concept into the national consciousness and exports ideas about and images of Britain and Britishness around the world. For instance, most people today experience Glastonbury via BBC coverage rather than at the festival itself.

Health and well-being: Festivals are either associated with well-being and wellness – healing fields and the psychological benefits of being outdoors, or even just fancy dress – or with negative health issues such as over-consumption or injuries.

‘The Impact of British Music Festivals’ takes a broad definition of events to include outdoor festivals and those that take place in concert halls, as well as street-based urban carnivals.

Dr Webster said: “We hope our report will be useful to the festival community and to policy-makers as a means of showing the impact of British music festivals, economically, socially and culturally.”

‘From Glyndebourne to Glastonbury: The Impact of British Music Festivals,’ will be presented at 16.30 GMT on Friday, 29 May at the 2016 Cheltenham Jazz Festival.


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