The 4 Most Common Festival Failures

Festival fail

No one wants their event to turn into the media’s next joke. But some recent festivals have been so mismanaged, they’ve earned a reputation — for festival failures. Don’t let your festival become a disappointment or a household joke. Instead, learn from the mistakes of past events and dodge the embarrassment other festivals had to endure.

By identifying the trends in other festival’s errors, you can prepare to handle any challenge that comes your way. Here are four potential pitfalls to avoid to protect your festival’s reputation.

1. Missing paperwork

From permits to licences to contracts, any festival will require paperwork and not having your legal ducks in a row can be disastrous. Don’t put yourself at risk of having to cancel the event, or of being sued. That reputation can haunt you for years.

What would you do if you forgot to submit the paperwork for your alcohol permit? Has your legal team reviewed your insurance policy? Are you liable for a vendor backing out at the last minute?

Fail-proof your festival: Do your research early on to see what type of permits you need and apply ASAP. With venues and vendors, get all necessary contracts signed well before the event, and keep copies organised and easily retrievable. When you’re finalising your venue, confirm fire codes and capacity limits to avoid regulations issues if your event sells out.

2. Faulty logistics

Choosing the right location and time for your festival is vital, as is having the right support services, staff, and equipment. You need to think about everything from local traffic patterns and parking to the timing of the event.

You’d be surprised how many festival fails happen due to unexpected weather or a disorganised ticketing and registration process, which can put everything behind schedule, or worse.

Fail-proof your festival: Start by putting contingency plans in place. For instance, what happens if your venue cancels on you?

Consider other logistics, such as how much time you’ll need to set up, how many staffers and volunteers you’ll need, and if you need signage or personnel to help people get to the right place. Do you have ample room for storage? Should you provide a coat check? Do you have a space for your performers or presenters to check in?

Finally, prepare for all weather situations — line up backup tents, air conditioning, or alternative venues if needed.

3. Inaccessible venue

You want your festival to reach and delight as many people as possible. That includes people who have limited mobility, are in wheelchairs, who have service animals, or have other disabilities.

Also, consider how accessible your event is for people arriving through different transportation methods. What if your FAQ page encourages people to bike to your event, but you don’t have any bike racks or storage? If you don’t make it easy for everyone to participate in your event, you’re going to alienate some of your attendees.

Fail-proof your festival: Start by choosing a venue that is accessible for all attendees. For instance, if there are stairs, are there adequate lifts and ramps?

Then, consider other ways you can accommodate guests. This can include having a sign language interpreter, designating special seating, and having someone on site to assist those in wheelchairs. For all attendees, confirm public transit options nearby for smooth access to and from your event.

4. Bathroom issues

Many events are notorious for their not-so-clean, limited bathroom options. Provide better bathrooms, and you’ll stand out — in a good way.

Fail-proof your festival: First, you should you have ample bathrooms to accommodate your crowd and keep lines at a minimum. You should also have staff who monitor the bathrooms and keep facilities clean. Make sure they are replenished frequently and stocked with toilet paper and hand sanitiser.

Take the next steps

Even with due diligence, there still may be some things that are out of your control. But following best practices will resolve the inevitable challenges faster — and protect your attendees from the chaos. Download The Event Preparedness Playbook: How to Avoid Common Festival Failures for more tips to minimise your risk of festival mishaps throughout your event.

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Katie Sawyer

Katie Sawyer is a writer at Eventbrite, where she helps event organizers throw awesome festivals, food and drink bonanzas, and cultural events. You can find her sampling beer, stuffing her face with cookies, and checking out local comedy shows.