Music festivals have come a long way since the muddy days of Woodstock, when a weekend pass to the 1969 event cost a mere $18. Since that humble and messy beginning, festivals have become big business. The clearest example of that will be the Desert Trip Festival, held on October 7-9 and October 14-16 in Indio, California. With an estimated total gross of $150 million, it is primed to become the highest grossing festival of all time.
The lofty prices and heavy demand are due largely to the combined age of the legendary lineup that includes Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young and more. Goldenvoice, the show’s AEG-owned promoter, knows that scarcity drives demand. They also know that the combined age of the headlining acts is close to 500 years old, which means that any show could be the last. Fifteen years into the festival boom, it’s a novel tactic that has given the festival a bucket-list aura, dubbed “OldChella.”
It’s also created levels of luxury never seen before in the festival works. While the most basic camping option can be purchased for $99 for the weekend, it goes as high as $10,000 for a spot in the Safari Tent Area. Amenities for that package include a fully-furnished, air-conditioned Shakir-style tents with one or two queen beds, restrooms, showers, and even dedicated security. For something in between, RV camping can be purchased for $950, while Lake El Dorado Teepees—equipped with two cots and sleeping bags—will cost $1,600. The closest thing to this level of VIP is Electric Forest, an EDM-heavy festival in Michigan known for elaborate camp grounds, with prices around $5,000. For the event itself, admission starts at $399, while the up-close pit tickets can be had for a whopping $1,599. Overall, Desert Trip resale passes are now above $2,000 for weekend one on the secondary market. That’s more expensive than 3 of the last six Super Bowls.
While Woodstock elevated festival culture into the national spotlight, its roots extend into 1950s and ’60s, via the Newport Jazz and Folk Festival. After Woodstock, the next major step in the evolution of the market was Lollapalooza in 1991 and Coachella in 1999. Coachella kicked off the 2016 festival season in April, grossing $84 million and drawing 198,000 attendees over three days across two weekends. From their counter-culture roots, festivals have become a core live entertainment experience, with 32 million Americans reported going to at least one festival a year in 2015. Desert Trip, which will take place on at the same Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, marks an unofficial end to the season, and will almost double Coachella’s gross in its first year.
While the staggering numbers are a clear indication of just how big the festival market has become in the 16 years since Coachella, the growth has not been a straight line. Perhaps the biggest example of industry challenges is SFX, the New York-based Dance Music rollup that went public in 2013 and reached a market cap of over $1 billion. In a $20 billion industry, that’s significant market share, and one that was built through the acquisition of festivals brands like Electric Zoo in New York and TomorrowWorld in Atlanta. Led by Chairman Robert Sillerman, and the now-legendary Donnie Disco, it was the new SFX. At times, the rise of SFX felt like it was heading to the same level of Sillerman’s first SFX, which is now LiveNation. But the drop was as vertical as the rise, and in February of this year, the company filed for a very messy chapter 11. Many believe that SFX was driven to a penny-stock status by bad management rather than a bad market. Inevitably, the collapse has raised speculation around deeper industry issues. The continued success of promoters like Goldenvoice (Lollapalooza), C3 Presents (Voodoo, Austin City Limits) and Superfly (Bonaroo), however, suggest otherwise. That state of health for those existing festivals, combined with new shows entering the marketing like New York City’s Panorama, and the Meadows Music and Arts Festival at Citi Field, suggest that maybe SFX was an anomaly.
Given the massive value the first Desert Trip has created for AEG, it’s a good bet that this won’t be the last Desert Trip. While an annual festival could never sustain these kind of prices, perhaps they’ll become the first ever every-10-year festival. If that’s the case, the 2026 lineup would likely include some combination of Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, U2, and many other Gen X favorites that have made festivals a staple of their touring diet. Try not to get your loafers all muddied up in the mosh-pit.
Jesse Lawrence is the CEO of TicketIQ, a leading event ticket search engine. He is an avid sports and music fan and has previously written for Forbes and Grantland.