Tips For Creating A Successful Festival

I’ve been to a lot of festivals in my lifetime. Growing up, I attended an annual Scottish Festival outside of Seattle and the local Loggerrodeo (yes, that’s a real thing).

Over the years in Colorado, I’ve watched festivals thrive and I’ve watched festivals die and I know what works and what doesn’t. I even helped create a festival and that experience gave me valuable insight into what it takes to produce an event.

Tips For Creating A Successful Festival. Colorado Renaissance Festival.

The Colorado Renaissance Festival has been staying true to their theme for 40 years.

Today, I’d like to share with you some free advice. If you are taking part in the organization of a fest this summer, take heed.

Successful festivals do three things really well, but above all, they pick a theme and stick to it. The biggest mistake a festival can make is not sticking to their theme.

Festival Location

The right location can go a long way in setting the overall mood for your festival. If your event takes place in mid-summer, holding it in a parking lot with minimal shade is a bad idea. Parks are almost always preferable; they provide shade overhead and grass underfoot.

Winter Park Beer Festival 2015. Full crowd shot from VIP section

Winter Park Beer Festival is held in Hideaway Park, one of the best festival location in Colorado.

Festival Layout

Second, you need to spend time thinking about (and drawing out) your festival’s layout. Walk the site and draw a map. Visualize lines of sight. Will there be enough room for folks to line up for beer? Are the portapotties too close to the food? Can people easily move through your event?

Tips For Creating A Successful Festival. Pin Up Contest Contestants at Hot Cars Cool Nights in Loveland, Colorado.

Pin up contestants at Hot Cars Cool Nights in Loveland, Colorado.

One piece of advice is to put your beer in a central location. This way, while people are waiting in line they still feel like they’re part of the festival. It’s even better to situate your beer tents in a place where those in line can watch the festival entertainment without being in the way. This is fantastic if you can pull it off.

Festival Ambiance

This goes back to theme. If you’re running a German festival the music should be German, the food and drinks should be German and the decorations should be German.

Biergarten Festival, Colorado. HeidiTown (2)

No caption necessary.

I always encourage festival organizers to keep vendors authentic as well. If you’re running a medieval faire, no attendee will be excited about a Comcast tent. Sorry Comcast. They will be interested in weapon makers and artisans.

It’s tempting to take money from any vendor who is interested in setting up their booth at your event, but the truth is that these types of businesses (cell phone companies, etc.) detract from your theme, and too often I see them start taking over formerly great festivals.

If you’re hosting an art event, think about the kind of person you’d like to attract. A heavy metal band may not be the right musical choice, but a classical guitarists might be just right. If you’re organizing a cultural event stay true to the culture you’re celebrating. Tacos should be served at Cinco de Mayo, not barbecue.

Biergarten Festival 2015.

Biergarten Festival, Morrison, Colorado.

Take if from someone who covers events for a living, Coloradans have a lot of choice when it comes to what they will do on any given weekend. Dozens of festivals occur across the state during the summer months and it’s important for festival organizers to make their festival stand out. Keeping these three things in mind, as well as your festival theme, will go a long way to ensure that your event continues to thrive year in and year out.


Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer is a Colorado festival and travel writer and founder of She spends her days promoting Colorado and her nights drinking Colorado craft beer. If your organization would like Heidi to speak about festival marketing or the importance of tourism, contact her at


5 Responses to Tips For Creating A Successful Festival

  • Fantastic advice, Heidi!

  • Heidi, this is so absolutely true. I hope it is being read by and taken to Heart by festival

  • Great Advice. The only thing I would add is, don’t overbook. Just because you can sell tickets to everyone, doesn’t mean you should. I can think of two festivals that I never went back to because I had to stand in long lines for food and, in some cases, the vendors had completely ran out.

    • That is a very good point, Mark. There is such a thing as becoming too big. There is one event in particular that I’ve had folks tell me has gotten way too big, but the organizers just continue to grow it despite long cocktail lines and bathroom lines. Most festival organizers would say that this is a good problem to have, but as you point out, people won’t go back and over time the word gets out. Thanks for stopping by HeidiTown, Mark!

  • Times change. So do marketing necessities. Let’s hope the folks behind the current festivals understand that and respond accordingly.

    It reminds me of how newspapers have done such a poor job responding to the evolving business climate. Their old models are broken. Time to fix them or go the way of the 8-track tape.

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