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The Rules of Mass Sonic Attraction
Well-accustomed travelers circle the globe to get their music festival fix, helping tourism skyrocket.

1. Bestival in Isle of Wight, England – Photo by Rebecca Bidner-Goldstone
2. Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee – Photo by Lancel Graham

3. Chromeo at Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee – Photo by Lancel Graham

4. Coachella in Indio, California – Photo by Rebecca Bidner-Goldstone

5. Janelle Monae at Flow in Helsinki, Finland – Photo by Marjana Jaidi

6. Kanye West at Mawazine in Rabat, Morocco – Photo by Marjana jaidi

7. Osheaga in Montreal, Quebec – Photo by Rebecca Bidner-Goldstone

8. Robyn at Ã˜ya festival in Oslo, Norway – Photo by Marjana Jaidi

9. Sonar by Day in Barcelona, Spain – Photo by Kristina Duncan

10. MIA at Sonar by Night in Barcelona, Spain – Photo by Marjana Jaidi

In the year 1969, Michael Eavis, an English dairy farmer, attended the Bath Festival of Blues where he witnessed a legendary performance by Led Zeppelin. The show was so inspiring that the following year–one day after Jimi Hendrix’s death–Eavis opened up his farm to 1,500 people for a two-day music event; admission was only £1 and included a complimentary glass of farm-fresh milk.

Fast forward four-plus decades to what has become the biggest music festival in the world: Glastonbury draws crowds of 175,000 music enthusiasts each day the festival is held. And although this year will be a fallow year for the festival because of a shortage of coppers and porta-loos that will mostly be occupied by the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Glastonbury will return in 2013 with a series of chart-topping live acts.

While tracing the history of Glastonbury, from its humble beginnings to its current world wide acclaim, I couldn’t help but appreciate what the festival’s growth has meant for tourism. Namely music tourism–a component of cultural tourism and the newest typology in the tourism industry. Music tourism is defined as the act of visiting a town, city, or country to attend a concert and/or music festival. Yet unlike other varieties of tourism there really aren’t many resources available to assist music tourists in maximizing their festival and travel experience.

Essential planning questions like “How will I get there?,” “Where will I stay?” and “Where and what will I eat?” while in, say, Indio, California, are often left to the burden of the traveller to discover. And although many tourists may think that they would be up for any adventure, bad planning can make the experience of being amassed by thousands of individuals–while at the whim of the elements–all the more distressing.

But fear not cautious traveller because Cultivora, a website devoted to the plight and interest of music tourists, officially launched in February, and aims to be your one-stop music tourism destination. The site is a music news and festival travel guide hybrid, offering its readers expert travel insight and recommendations, news updates, and conceptual articles on all aspects of music and festival culture. Marjana Jaidi, who is Cultivora’s founder and CEO, believes that “there is no better way to discover new music and explore the world” than travelling to attend a music festival.

Music has always had the ability to cultivate a global community and festivals tend to heighten this joviality by bringing together diverse masses of individuals for a brief, and yet all encompassing musical escape. Ms. Jaidi cites Mawazine, a free government-funded music festival in Rabat, Morocco, as an example. “It gives the Moroccan people the opportunity to experience music from around the world,” she says, adding: “It’s nice that anyone, regardless of their economic standing, can partake in that experience.” And some music festivals have even expanded this ideal by placing a greater focus on booking local artists, which has allowed independent musicians an opportunity for greater, global exposure.

Music tourism has even proven to have positive effects on some national economies. UK Music recently published a music tourism study with Bournemouth University’s International Centre for Hospitality and Tourism Research. The research, which drew on unprecedented access to more than 2.5 million ticketing transactions, found that music tourists contribute over £864 million a year to the UK economy–that’s the equivalent of 19,700 full-time jobs! And although only five per cent of music tourists come from overseas destinations like Canada, those tourists contribute 18 per cent of total music tourist spending.

Ms. Jaidi credits the recent surge in music festival attendance to the broadened appeal created by festival organizers booking more mainstream artists as headliners. She lists Bonnaroo as a prime example: the festival had originated in 2002 with a distinctive “jam band vibe” with acts like Ben Harper and Norah Jones taking the stage. But as Bonnaroo continues to grow it now tempts a pop-cultured palate: last year’s headliners included Eminem, Arcade Fire, and Lil Wayne.

When I asked Ms. Jaidi to name the best music festival she attended in 2011, she settled on two. Flow in Helsinki, Finland because the festival “has the most unique layout,” she says. Flow is held annually at the Suvilahti Power Plant, which was turned into a cultural area with art galleries and event spaces after the plant closed in 1976. “The architecture is really cool, and the festival does a great job of incorporating the spaces into the festival, turning them into small indoor venues, restaurants, lounges.”

And Sónar in Barcelona, Spain, was so good in 2011 that Ms. Jaida plans on returning this June: “It has the best music curation out of any festival I’ve been to.” Sónar is the perfect destination for fans of electronic music because the festival strives to showcases many distinct varieties within the mounting genre. And since The Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) is used as a Sónar by Day venue, it also serves as a great escape from the heat and crowds: “you can catch a film screening or wander around the museum exhibits.”

2012 will surely be another great year for summer music festivals. And as many are taking place in exotic locales like Rock Al Parque in Bogotá, Columbia; Calvi on the Rocks in Corsica, France; and Fuji Rock at the Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata, Japan, ‘tis the season to start dreaming up (and saving for) your rockin’ summer music get-away.


Safa Jinje lives and writes in Toronto (except when she goes on vacation). Follow her on Twitter at @safajinje.

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