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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
This goes back to the 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.
I always encourage festival organizers to keep vendors authentic as well. If you’re running a medieval fair, 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 guitarist 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.
Take it from someone who covers events for a living, Coloradans have lots of choices 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 HeidiTown.com. 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 TheMayor@HeidiTown.com.