Festival Fever - March 2018


What can the attractions industry learn from stand-alone art and music festivals? 

by Juliana Gilling

Theme parks and other attractions across the globe are taking music from the background to center stage. Attractions are increasingly filling shoulder seasons with the sounds of live music, mixed with specialty food and beverage offerings. Meanwhile, some stand-alone music and art festivals are quickly becoming destinations in their own right.

As an example, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s long-running “Real Music, Real Masters” festival kicks off each January with a wide array of live music from pop and country to folk and rhythmic Irish dance. A cirque show also highlights the live performances scheduled Monday through Saturday (Sundays are used to break down and load in new shows for the next week).

“My team is always working to fill our calendar with compelling and entertaining events that make our guests want to visit all year long,” says Jamie Johnson, vice president of entertainment at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

The live music continues in March with the annual “Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival,” where weekend concerts arrive alongside specialty food and beverage items. Signature dishes, together with international cuisines are paired with a selection of wines, craft brews, and cocktails.

“These festivals and events continue to add to our core product of world-class thrill rides and one of the nation’s largest zoos,” Johnson says.

Meanwhile, at Dollywood, music is part of the heart and soul of the guest experience every day. This year, the park located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, is creating a season-long festival: Dollywood’s “Season of Showstoppers” represents an investment of $1 million greater than any prior entertainment schedule in the park’s history.

“I’ve made music my life’s work because I feel each and every one of us has a special song to sing,” says music icon Dolly Parton. “I’ve made sure that here at my Dollywood, we use music to encourage and inspire those songs in each and every one of our shows.” 

With the continued investment in festival-based entertainment, Dollywood says it will host more music-based shows in 2018 than any other theme park. The “Festival of Nations” begins in March, with performances by The Flamenco Kings from Spain, Ladysmith Black Mambazo from South Africa, and the National Dance Company of Siberia. The “Spring Mix” concert series takes over in April with headliners like Crystal Gayle and Amy Grant, and there are several more music-related special events scheduled throughout the remainder of 2018. 

In Europe, Walibi Holland in Biddinghuizen, Netherlands, plays host to several annual music festivals, including Lowlands and Defqon.1 on neighboring event grounds. 

Attractions that have the space, talent, and capacity can generate a spectacle in a safe setting. As stand-alone music festivals known around the world have shown, creating a festival atmosphere can draw new audiences and provide great returns.

Here is a look at three festivals—all of which have become destinations in their own right—and what the attractions industry can learn from them. 


Electric Daisy Carnival, a popular electronic dance music festival, is held annually in four cities around the world and brings together music, art, rides, and whimsical costumes for an immersive festival experience. (Credit: ALIVE COVERAGE FOR INSOMNIAC/ELECTRIC DAISY CARNIVAL)

Electric Daisy Carnival

The Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) is a prime example of a music festival that’s become an attraction. Concert producer Insomniac’s largest touring festival is produced annually in Las Vegas, Orlando, Mexico City, and Tokyo. (Last year, EDC Orlando took place in November, just ahead of IAAPA Attractions Expo 2017.) These live events bring together electronic dance music, traveling rides, zip lines, interactive art, and guests known for their costumes and whimsical attire. The Florida event, held at Tinker Field just west of downtown Orlando, attracted more than 75,000 fans in 2017, with 18- to 34-year-olds as the core demographic. 

“[It’s] a fully immersive experience where fans can come to dance like no one’s watching, be themselves, and be creative,” says Insomniac spokesperson Nedda Soltani. 

Insomniac continues to expand the festival layout and production year after year. Tinker Field now holds three spectacular stages, with massive illuminated backdrops that rival the art found behind rides at Munich’s Oktoberfest. Leisure Expert Group designed the largest stage, named kineticFIELD, which is “a huge attraction for fans,” says Soltani. The stage was inspired by a similar stage at the flagship EDC event in Las Vegas, featuring the Greek Earth goddess, Gaia.

EDC Orlando rolled out new designs for two other stages, named neonGARDEN and circuitGROUNDS. The latter, created by Stephen Lieberman and his team at SJ Lighting, featured a 360-degree design, enveloping the audience in an audiovisual landscape. 

Off stage, popular attractions included the LED-lit “Dream Wheel,” a 100-foot-tall Ferris wheel that launched in 2016.

“It really lights up the night and provides sweeping views of the entire festival,” says Soltani. 

Festivalgoers could also hop on a zip line that stretched across the lake at Tinker Field and enjoy classic rides traditionally found at county fairs.

For those looking for a premium experience, EDC Orlando offered a VIP program, catering to visitors who felt like dressing up—or dressing down. The beauty and body paint bar gave fans a chance to apply full-body makeup using paint. Elsewhere, a unity chalk wall was the place to write favorite memories from past EDCs or inspiring messages to others. In addition, the kandi-making station became the place “where beads and string are provided to deck your arms out in colorful bracelets to keep or trade with new friends,” explains Soltani. 

Tickets for EDC Orlando 2017 started at $169 for weekend general admission (18 and older) and $319 for a two-day VIP pass (21 and older). 

“We also sell single-day passes and provide layaway plans for every ticket type to make it more affordable for our fans,” Soltani says. 


1803_festivals_burning_manBurning Man

Burning Man is one of the world’s most iconic gatherings set to music and free will. Revelers gather annually in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, creating a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. 

“We’ll set up the framework, and then we really give everybody the tools to build the experience there for themselves,” Marian Goodell, founding board member and chief engagement officer of Burning Man Project, recently told MuseumNext delegates.

Essentially, Burning Man is a social experiment, provoking people to engage with each other in the hope they will take that greater sense of connection back into their everyday lives. Likewise, attractions are well-placed to create exciting social opportunities and goodwill.

Famously, Burning Man doesn’t sell anything apart from ice and coffee; participants are expected to bring everything they need and to share freely with others.

The emphasis is on collaborative participation; visitors might need to ride a bike together to get a section of lights working, for example.

The event has come a long way since Larry Harvey and Jerry James first burned a human effigy on a San Francisco beach in 1986. Today, Burning Man draws around 75,000 people. 

Burning Man—which is now a nonprofit—developed organically, guided by “10 Principles” created by Harvey. These include participation, civic responsibility, and gifting. 

The creative freedom found at the event has prompted the emergence of outlandish architecture, surreally styled art cars, global fire performer collectives, eye-catching costumes, and playful experiences. Sculptures like Peter Hazel’s “Bloom,” a 40-foot-tall glowing jellyfish, are interactive and climbable, offering new perspectives on “the playa.”

The event culminates with the burning of “The Man,” a large wooden effigy. 

Burning Man 2018 takes place Aug. 26 to Sept. 3 in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, while Burning Man-inspired gatherings are also springing up from South Africa to Israel and Japan. 



The World of WearableArt is an international design competition joining fashion and art. WOW showcases finalist garments during its signature show. (Credit: World of WearableArt)

World of WearableArt (WOW)

Every year, New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington welcomes visitors to the World of WearableArt (WOW). 

Dame Suzie Moncrieff started WOW in 1987 with the intention of taking art off the walls and putting it on the human body. WOW has grown from a rural gallery show into a multifaceted enterprise that includes a wearable art competition, an annual WOW show in Wellington, a National WOW Museum in Nelson, New Zealand, and an international traveling exhibition program. This year, special celebrations are planned for WOW’s 30th anniversary.

The signature WOW show packs the TSB Bank Arena in Wellington. The venue holds around 3,500 people for each performance, adding up to around 60,000 across the three-week season. Held in the fall, WOW is “the largest, most prestigious wearable art event in the world and New Zealand’s largest single annual theatrical event,” according to Moncrieff. 

Hundreds of designers from more than 40 countries apply to take part; in 2017, WOW selected 104 finalist garments. Anyone can enter the competition, which produces a huge response from fashion designers, artists from the creative and industrial sectors, students, and first-time enthusiasts.

Visitors to the show are treated to a visual feast, with high production values and stunning art pieces, “adding up to an unforgettable night of entertainment,” says WOW publicist Sarah Wilson. 

Finalists’ garments from the previous show are exhibited at the National WOW Museum, which is open year-round, attracting 40,000 visitors. Since 2015, WOW has had an international touring exhibition featuring 32 award-winning designs. In 2017, it visited three museums in the United States: Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii; the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) in Seattle, Washington; and Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. More than 600,000 people have seen the exhibition. Plans are in place for further locations in the United States and Europe this year. WOW’s offshoots show how arts festivals can work with the attractions industry.


Five Takeaways from Festivals

1. Factor in FOMO

Festival marketing campaigns capitalize on people’s fear of missing out (FOMO), especially with the increasing popularity of social media. Build the hype by creating hashtags, Snapchat filters, Instagram stories, check-ins, and event highlights videos. Guests at festivals can even feel FOMO when there are multiple experiences available. Help by telling people how to be in the right place at the right time to get the best experience. 

2. Find Fresh Fusions 

“Power Ballad Yoga” is a hit at the Shambala Festival in the United Kingdom. Crowds of festivalgoers eagerly lunge, squat, and practice air guitar—in pseudo-yogic poses—to the sounds of ’80s rock ballads. Which weird and wonderful combinations could thrill your guests?

3. Chill Out, Man

Punctuate the high-energy entertainment with chill-out zones. Provide comfy chairs and cushions, soothing vibes, and refreshments. Allow people to relax and enjoy the atmosphere, live music, and engaging conversations. 

4. Do Some Good

Burning Man is renowned for leaving no impact on Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Participants must agree to take with them all tents, sleeping bags, used clothing, and waste upon leaving, as if they never attended. Other festivals donate discarded tents to refugees and charities. Glastonbury Festival partnered with the Royal National Institute of Blind People in 2017. It had visitors singing along to “Eye Test Karaoke,” where lyrics were set out in the form of a fun eye test, highlighting the importance of eye health. Artist Ben Glover took a virtual-reality environment to festivals across the United Kingdom last summer. Called “Simple Misunderstanding,” the installation replicated the difficulties deaf people face every day.

Coachella and Bonnaroo are among those educating festivalgoers about global issues and sustainability. Through charitable donations, they support causes including education, music, and arts programs for children and communities. 

5. Strive to Inspire

Encourage guests to anticipate magic and create their own. Conjure up an environment that inspires people, allowing their imagination and creativity to flourish.

— Funworld Managing Editor Scott Fais contributed to this report.

Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling covers the EMEA attractions industry for Funworld. Contact her at julianagilling@gmail.com.


2018 Headlining Festivals at Attractions

Imagica By Night


Adlabs Imagica, Khopoli, India

Guests enjoy an evening of Bollywood, pop, and rock music performances, as well as parades and specialty food.

Lunar New Year

January – February

Disney California Adventure, Anaheim, California

A multicultural celebration filled with music, character processions, authentic Asian cuisine, and an evening water show with fireworks.

Praise Wave

January – February

SeaWorld Orlando, Florida

The biggest names in Christian music create an atmosphere of fellowship.

Real Music, Real Masters

January – March

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Florida

Long-running concert series features live pop, country, and folk music from the 1950s to today.

Mardi Gras

February – March 

Universal Studios Florida, Orlando, Florida

A colorful New Orleans-style parade kicks off a nightly concert with well-known artists from different eras and genres of music.

Dreamland Theme Park Music Festival


Luna Park, Melbourne, Australia

More than 10 performance venues join rides and games to create a euphoric atmosphere.

Festival of Nations


Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Performers from Europe, Africa, and Asia share culture and song.

Boysenberry Festival

March – April 

Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, California

Boysenberry-inspired food dishes created in-house paired with live music.

Garden Rocks Concert Series at the International Flower and Garden Festival

Late February – May

Epcot, Orlando, Florida

Popular bands from the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s perform nightly.

Spring Mix


Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Features classic artists, country legends, and inspirational hits.

Bluegrass and BBQ


Silver Dollar City, Branson, Missouri 

Top names in bluegrass music join rising stars for cool sounds and hot eats.

Barbeque & Bluegrass

Late May – Early June

Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee 

Bluegrass music infused with regional barbecue. 

Summer Concert Series 

June – August

Wild Adventures Theme Park, Valdosta, Georgia

Everything from rock, country, folk, and pop concerts are included in park admission.

EuroMusique Festival


Europa-Park, Rust, Germany

A cultural exchange with 2,600 children and teenagers from Germany, France, and Switzerland perform music together.



Canada’s Wonderland, Toronto, Canada

TobyMac, for KING & COUNTRY, and Hollyn form one of Toronto’s largest Christian music festivals.

Spirit Song


Kings Island, Mason, Ohio

Collection of nationally known Christian music artists create an atmosphere of fellowship.

Lowlands 2018


Walibi Holland, Biddinghuizen, Netherlands

One of the Netherlands’ largest and most famous rock, pop, and dance festivals with eight stages.

Food Truck Challenge

August – September

Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

Go Bucks! Go Big Blue! It’s Ohio vs. Michigan where diners vote on which state has the best taste.

Night of Joy


Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida

Christian music chart-toppers perform at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

Rock the Universe


Universal Studios Florida, Orlando, Florida

Contemporary Christian music artists perform live after park hours.



Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

Christian music fans gather in the parking lot of Cedar Point Shores water park with beach chairs and blankets to listen to live rock from Christian artists.

Southern Gospel Picnic

August – September

Silver Dollar City, Branson, ­Missouri 

“America’s Biggest Southern Gospel Picnic” fills the Ozarks with gospel harmonies and soul-stirring melodies.

Eat to the Beat at the International Food and Wine Festival


Epcot, Orlando, Florida

From Kenny G to 10,000 Maniacs, artists perform nightly.

Winter Illuminations Festival

October – May

Nabana No Sato, Kuwana, Japan

The festival is known for using millions of LED light bulbs to depict scenes of nature from Japan and around the world.

Rolling Stone Park


Europa-Park, Rust, Germany

Rock ’n’ roll festival headlined by 30 performers on four stages with an LP record and CD fair for collectors.

Ohio Chinese Lantern Festival

November – January

Ohio Expo Center

Almost 40 larger-than-life illuminated displays crafted by Chinese artisans from Zigong, Sichuan, China, light up winter nights.


2018 date TBA

Walibi Holland, Biddinghuizen, Netherlands

The hard dance and techno festival features 14 performance venues, 250 artists, elaborate stage production, and fireworks to close each day.