With Vaccination Rates Rising, Music Festivals Cash In

With Covid-19 vaccines becoming increasingly available to all Americans and national infection rates on the decline, several large outdoor music festivals are scheduled to return this summer and fall. Most notably, Rolling Loud (Miami), Governors Ball (New York), Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival (Houston) and the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash (Chicago) have all been rescheduled after having their 2020 editions postponed. For fans of today’s popular music, this is particularly exciting news, given that live music has not existed in any normal sense for over a year and these festivals will allow many artists to perform their new music for the first time in front of a crowd. Attending one of these star-studded events should seem like a no-brainer — that is, until you consider their exorbitant ticket prices, of course.

For Rolling Loud Miami, which will take place from July 23 to 25 at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, three-day General Admission (GA) tickets sold for $329, plus fees, with VIP Packages starting at $749. For those unable to afford nearly $400 in a lump sum, the festival also offers a layaway plan, where fans can reserve their ticket for a $9.99 down payment and pay off the rest with a set of four biweekly payments. Similarly, Astroworld Fest, which will be held from November 5 to 6 at NRG Park in Houston, Texas sold two-day GA tickets for $299 plus $65-70 in additional fees and taxes. Comparatively, two-day GA tickets to Astroworld only went for $179 in 2019. 

Rolling Loud’s sales point can be justified by its undeniably stacked lineup, with headliners like A$AP Rocky, Travis Scott and Post Malone, plus virtually every rapper you can imagine on the undercard. Astroworld, on the other hand, has yet to announce its lineup and is charging a similar price despite only being a two-day festival. Nonetheless, both events sold out within minutes, demonstrating the incredible demand for concerts, fueled by pandemic fatigue. If you blinked while checking out, you likely missed your opportunity to buy tickets at resale value.

Since tickets sold out, many fans will now turn to an expansive resale market, where they will find even more outrageous prices. On Vivid Seats, Rolling Loud Miami tickets start at $680, with an eye-popping average price of $1,180. On StubHub, the cheapest Rolling Loud tickets go for $605 each, if you purchase at least two. As a result, Rolling Loud, like most major festivals, is an exhilarating yet largely inaccessible event. According to Business Today, the “average household income of [Rolling Loud] attendees is $112,000 U.S.D. per year, about $25,000 more than the national average.” Instead of seriously considering this discrepancy, Rolling Loud is busy adding insult to injury, cracking jokes about missed layaway payments on their Twitter account. 

Beyond affordability, how are these festivals planning to mitigate the spread of Covid-19? While their outdoor settings will help, packing hundreds of thousands into a single stadium comes with inevitable risk. Exact figures for 2021 have not yet been announced, but an estimated 210,000 people attended Rolling Loud Miami in 2019, and more than 255,000 were expected to attend in 2020, according to its organizers. The only mention of anything Covid-related on the Rolling Loud website comes from their FAQ section, where they answer, “Do I need to be vaccinated and wear a mask to attend?” with the noticeably vague message: “Hey! We’re currently working with local and state officials to help ensure the safety of our fans at Rolling Loud! Please keep an eye on our social media for updated information and on what to bring and what not to bring.” The Astroworld Festival website, on the other hand, does have a section dedicated to Covid-19 that claims, “The safety of fans, artists and staff remains our top priority,” but admits, “Notwithstanding our best efforts, an inherent risk of exposure to Covid-19 exists in any public space where people are present,” and concludes with the menacing declaration: “By attending Astroworld Festival, you voluntarily assume any and all risks related to exposure to Covid-19 from the festival, and hereby release the festival from liability in connection therewith.” 

Unfortunately, as long as our largest festivals remain exclusively for profit, safety will remain an afterthought, and prices will only continue to skyrocket. The demand for tickets will always far outweigh their supply, given the limited capacity of even the largest stadium spaces. This is a dream scenario for opportunistic ticket resellers, the ultimate winners in the whole situation. Music festivals can be an unforgettable, even euphoric experience, and perhaps $400 (plus travel costs) is a small price to pay for a lifelong memory. Nonetheless, it is a bleak state of affairs when, for many, seeing your favorite artists perform requires risking the spread of a deadly virus, along with piecing together a financing method typically reserved for electronics and luxury furniture.