5 Predictions for the 2016 Season from U.S. Festival Experts

Article by: Graham Berry|@Festival_Writer

Fri January 22, 2016 | 00:00 AM

With 2015 in the rearview mirror and the open road of a jam-packed U.S. festival season on the horizon, there has been a lot thrown around about what 2016 will hold for all us American festies. From unpredictable weather at TomorrowWorld to bathroom disasters at Coachella, last year gave both festival organizers and attendees a lot to learn from.

Emerging trends from recent years have led many with tenure in the industry to make some fascinating festival forecasts. To provide a window into the future, we sat down with experts in public safety and legal policies, in addition to a few folks at the forefront of the West Coast's transformational movement, to get a sense of what we might expect to see this year. Here are five unique predictions for U.S. festivals in 2016.

Continued Growth Of Harm Reduction Services

“Harm reduction can positively impact individuals by reducing risks for recreational drug use, sexual and physical aggression, and other public health issues such as hearing protection and sexually transmitted diseases. As it’s realized that these strategies reduce arrests and transports to hospitals, this will lead to increased acceptance by public agencies and politicians on the overall social welfare produced, including minimizing community-wide system impacts due to decreased demand for law enforcement and emergency medical responses.”

Joseph Pred, CEO of Mutual Aid Risk & Safety and Former Chief of Public Safety at Burning Man

Ongoing Momentum to Amend the RAVE Act

Zendo Lucas

Photo by: Lucas Jushinski

“I think the biggest 'trend' for music festivals will continue to be the issue of how they handle drug use at their events. Drug use is a reality at music festivals. Some festivals (for example, Lightning In a Bottle or Shambhala) take a realistic approach to drug use at their event. They do their best to keep drugs out, but recognize the reality that some drug use will always be present. They therefore focus more on drug education and safety.

On the other hand, a number of large festivals that experienced drug-related deaths at their events responded by dramatically increasingly their security. Last year, many festivals (particularly large EDM festivals, but not always) took a fairly aggressive security approach to drugs known as a 'zero tolerance' approach. They also were not particularly welcoming to groups like DanceSafe, Zendo Project or Bunk Police.

It's hard to predict, but I think ultimately 2016 will be the year 'harm reduction' goes more mainstream at festivals. I think there is a great deal of momentum from last year to Amend the RAVE Act and take a realistic approach at festivals to this issue. Also, the alternative is just not sustainable. You can't security your way out of this issue. I think you will see more and more festivals [taking] care of their attendees rather than just arresting them.”

Cameron Bowman, The Festival Lawyer

Back to Basics


Photo by: Ben Husmann via Flickr Creative Commons

“My prediction is that a 'back-to-the-basics' movement is going to happen. Book great bands, have a balanced marketing campaign, and clean bathrooms...that will be the secret this year. How many more apps can a person handle?!”

Kevin Lyman , Founder of 4fini, Mayhem Festival and former Warped Tour stage manager

Festies Will Demand More Than Music

Yoga Action Lightning In A Bottle Wolfbear

“My prediction for the 2016 festival season is that people are going to really be hitting the festivals that are proven to create and provide amazing experiences over just music and big headliners. The fans are continuing to ask for more experiential elements at these events and not just music.”

Dede Flemming, Cofounder, The Do LaB (Lightning In a Bottle and Woogie Weekend)

More Cultural Elements Wrapped in a Weekend

"We have seen that tapping into our fans' cultural curiosity makes their experience that much more memorable, and the response year over year has proven that attendees want to immerse themselves into more than just music, so I’m anticipating 2016 will bring an increased demand for experiences that wrap cultural elements such as music, culinary, drink, comedy, art, wellness, sustainability, etc. into a festival weekend. From upgrading onsite to facilities to bold programming, we're continually working to make sure our festivals reflect our passion for culture, promote community with our fans and create the best experience possible.”

Rick Farman , Cofounder, Superfly (Bonnaroo and Outside Lands)

What are you expecting from festivals in 2016? Tell us your prediction in the comments below!