Entry 258 : A Disappointing Comeback for Music Festivals

Hello, there.

Before I get into this, I want to preface this by saying that I genuinely do not enjoy publicly criticizing other people's hard work. I know what goes into pulling off huge events and I understand how sometimes things aren't perfect. Nevertheless, what I'm writing about in this entry isn't about a failed event nor an imperfect execution of a live music festival; it is simply about what it means to say the word festival.

When I think of the word festival, I immediately see a stage with a huge crowd in front of it, numerous tents scattered around a big piece of land, food, drinks, benches and tables, and a communal area for social gathering and respite between artists. Of course, a festival needs to feature many artists and begins some time after lunch to allow sufficient intake of nutrients and sustenance. A festival has people coming in and out of the stage area, music echoing throughout the venue, people grouped on a single picnic rug eating street food and chugging severely overpriced drinks, attractions with designated photo areas, a long queue of people entering a phalanx of porta potties, and the ever-present fog from contraband cigarettes. It's not a pretty scene, but it is the scene most experienced festival-goers find familiar. And those who have been to festivals can always distinctly distinguish between a festival and a concert, where some concerts-goers swear off festivals entirely because of its laborious nature. It is always expected that at the end of a festival day, you would not feel your legs till the start of the next festival day; it is that exhausting.

Good Vibes Festival 2019 festival map
Doors opened at 3pm and last act was at 1AM. You had 10 hours of fun and activities.

But it is exhausting because there's just so much to do. You could arrive early and actually enjoy a nice meal from the many food vendors hired to cater to the festival. You could spend your time at exhibition booths or merch tents, or get busy taking photos of your festival fit. There are areas where you can sit for a while while you recuperate before the next artist or you could leave the festival altogether and return at a later time because you're camping right next to the festival grounds. The point is that for a music festival to even register as a festival (to me), there needs to be so much more than simply one stage and multiple acts including the unmissable DJ.

Alas, the last two "festivals" that I attended were a far cry from festivals that I had attended before the pandemic. In October 2022 I attended Rockiss Rock On Festival held at Taylor's Lakeside College and in February of this year (2023), I attended Peakstorm Fest held at Sunway Lagoon Surf Beach. To be clear, I was not invited to either of these events as a media reporter. 

My experience going to these events was like going to see Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness; sure it was a good time and had some really cool parts, but overall it underdelivered despite having so much potential.

Scott Derrickson would have made a better movie (don't @ me)

The reason these two festivals disappointed me is the same: they simply did not feel like festivals. When I got there, everyone was already in front of the stage because there wasn't anywhere else to go. Sure, if you're pedantic, you would argue that for Rock On Festival, Taylor's Lakeside College does have food and does have benches, but those aren't part of the festival itself, they're part of the school! Not to mention, most of the food shops were closed at Sunway Surf Beach for Peakstorm Fest because most of the event happened after hours. Plus, there wasn't any other attractions. There weren't any exhibitions, no games, no social area, no food and drinks, and no porta potties (watching people line up to pee counts as an attraction)!

There wasn't this vibe of just going out for the day and spending time with friends outdoors, listening to music, splurging on RM10 mineral water, meeting up with fellow fans, and just having a good time. The structure of the festivals felt much like a normal concert, where it felt rushed and didn't flow well, at all. I guess this happens when you only have one main stage and have to quickly trade setups between artists. But whose fault is that?

Also, why would these festivals not have pre-festival wristband redemptions? This wasn't a huge problem for Rock On because of its more intimate nature and the fact that most attendees were punctual millennials, but for Peakstorm Fest it was a major error in their part because the queue to get our wristbands was almost 40 minutes long! I don't know how they didn't have the foresight to allocate more counters, too, seeing as the wristband redemption only started at 5PM when the first act was at 5.30PM. Long queues for wristband redemption should always be avoided since attendees all pre-purchase the tickets online anyway. Usually, D-day redemptions are for those who are travelling internationally or are from out of state but for locals, there should always be a pre-festival redemption period.

We should be boots on the ground right as we arrive

Circling back to my main point of this entry, I still feel as if the word "festival" nowadays has been thrown around so carelessly to misdirect avid concert goers into paying extra money for an event that delivers below expectations. I was delighted when Rock On Festival was announced with a price tag below RM150 but featured a stack of legendary rock bands from Malaysia and abroad. However, I was sad to learn that Peakstorm Fest attached a hefty price tag for their festival by heavily highlighting Joji as their headliner. The cost wouldn't have been too hard to swallow if the ticketing website didn't bug out throughout the early bid period, which meant that we only managed to get the general admission tickets for RM388. Back in 2019, RM360 (early bird) got you a two-day pass to Good Vibes Festival, which had THREE STAGES and consisted of a chockful of activities and attractions.

Sadly, these non-festival festivals are a byproduct of online festivals that cropped up like mushrooms during the pandemic. For two years, people had been enjoying live performances through livestreaming services, so there wasn't any need for anything else other than the music. For a time it was the only thing we had to hold on to to retain any semblance of sanity, but times have changed and we're all juiced up on vaccinations. Thus, music events such as festivals need to return to their former glory. 

Please bring back Rockaway

I hope that with Good Vibes Festival returning this year, we'll get to see a full-fledged festival, complete with all of a festivals' bells and whistles. The price hike is certainly exorbitant, where tickets now cost minimum RM788 for a three-day pass and RM388 for a single-day pass, and this year's venue is no longer at Genting Highlands as it will be held at Sepang International Circuit, which means a hotter and drier atmosphere. The tarmac certainly will do no favors to attendees. Even so, with such a huge venue and its track record for hosting spectacular live events, one can only expect the best from such a renowned organizer in Future Sound Asia.

Again, I'm not saying the festivals I went to recently were failures. In fact, Rock On Festival absolutely killed it with performances by One Buck Short, Pop Shuvit, Sekumpulan Orang Gila, and Boys Like Girls (of course) in addition to being able to meet the band members after their performances due to such an intimate venue. My gripe is only with the naming of the events and the expectations it carries. I mean, even Festival Konvokesyen UTM has more stuff to do!

Until next time. Take care.