A Coachella Community: The Institutionalization of Music Festival Culture

Date of Award

Spring 2018

Document Type


First Advisor

Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez


There has been a recent rise in music festivals within popular media. Large-scale music events such as Coachella, Glastonbury, and E.D.C. have clear economic outcomes such as employment and tourism rates that benefit from their widespread popularity. Mainstream music events in the US aren’t a recent development, however. Woodstock sparked popularity within late 1960’s countercultural movements, and has given music festivals today a standard to achieve with regards to creating a feeling of community inclusivity for attendees. Even though there is an abundance of research having to do with festival monetary benefits, there is little to no research limited to recent years with reference to the social and cultural impacts of music festival attendees themselves. The goal of this study is to identify the variety of communities embedded in festival culture and to observe the experience festival goers have in being a part of them. To what extent do people feel connected with their community and what factors contribute to this? Ultimately my question was: how does the experience of community inclusivity today differ from older music festival experiences? To achieve an explanation, qualitative interviews were conducted to understand individual festival experiences comparing older attendees’ experiences (festivals prior to the year 2000) to younger ones (experiences within the last two years). The hypothesis was that contemporary festivals, or attendees that experienced festivals within the last two years, because of the increased use of social media and technology, would then provide a basis for having an experience of community cohesiveness today more so than older festival experiences. In allowing these interviews to unfold, my findings suggest that it is a trend that older festival experiences prove to be more community based due to the lack of social media and technology, therefore being inconsistent with the hypothesis that was proposed. Younger festival attendees note that pressure from social media hindered their ability to converse with other festival goers, instead limiting themselves to interactions with people in their friend groups. Older festival attendees, in contrast, reported a sense of belonging and awareness of others due to the lack of social media pressure and to the self-expressive movements relating to recreational drug usage, body positivity, and sexual awakening that counterculture highlights during that time. Instances and reports of fear relating to rape culture and the male gaze were also more prevalent to younger attendees due to this fact. More research in the societal and cultural aspects of music festival experiences, however, must be analyzed to obtain a greater understanding of trends of inclusivity/exclusivity that take place in this particular environment.


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