Is the market for country music festivals finally becoming over-saturated?
It seems like every year more and more country festivals are popping up. 2020 will see the addition of new festivals like the Barefoot Country Music Festival in New Jersey and a sixth Country Thunder festival, this one in Iowa. This is in addition to the seemingly endless number of festivals that are already out there – everything from CMA Fest in Nashville to Luke Bryan’s Crash My Playa in Mexico, to the countless other festivals all across the country.
But yesterday, one festival announced that they wouldn’t be returning in 2020.
Bayou Country Superfest, which has been held annually in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana for the last 10 years announced on Twitter that the festival would be “on hiatus until further notice” and would not be held in 2020.
After 10 years of bringing the best in country music to Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Bayou Country Superfest will be on hiatus until further notice. We thank the fans who came for the party, and the event sponsors who helped make the Festival a Memorial Day Weekend tradition. pic.twitter.com/ZaopG1Eihe
The festival debuted at LSU’s Tiger Stadium back in 2010 and immediately attracted some of the biggest names in country music, featuring artists like Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and Brooks & Dunn in their inaugural year. Bayou Country Superfest expanded to three days in 2014, and along with the star power of George Strait and Reba, managed to draw a massive crowd of 135,000 country fans. But attendance for the festival had dropped every year since, with the 2017 and 2018 versions being held at the Superdome in New Orleans due to construction at Tiger Stadium. When the festival finally moved back to Baton Rouge last year, with a lineup featuring headliners Kenny Chesney and Jason Aldean, Bayou Country Superfest managed a crowd of only around 50,000 – far less than half of its record attendance.
So with the loss of a festival that just a few years ago was drawing crowds of 100,000+ it has to be asked – have we reached the tipping point? Is the market too saturated to support all of these country music festivals, and will others meet the same fate as Bayou Country Superfest?
Now, for sure Bayou Country Superfest faced some challenges that other festivals didn’t. They were forced to relocate for two years to New Orleans – a city that loves its music, but isn’t exactly known for a thriving country music scene. And then there was the weather: As somebody who used to live in Louisiana, the thought of spending two days outside in the summer heat is surely enough to drive away even some of the most hardcore country fans.
You also have to question the lineup last year and whether that contributed to the attendance bottoming out. In the festival’s biggest year, a lineup of George Strait and Reba managed to draw a record crowd. And in years past, fans came out to see artists like Chris Stapleton, Eric Church, Keith Urban and the Zac Brown Band (you know, before the meltdown).
But in its 10th year, the year that the festival was celebrating its return to Baton Rouge, organizers went heavy on the pop country with a lineup that included Florida Georgia Line, Dan + Shay, Kane Brown and Brett Young. Pop country artists that are known more for their success on country radio than their rabid fan bases – and it reflected in attendance.
So why did Bayou Country Superfest bite the bullet? Was it because there are too many country festivals, or was it because the lineups just weren’t appealing enough to fans to justify the cost (and braving the heat)?
Another problem that many of these festivals face is that often they feature similar lineups to other comparable festivals in the area. Unless you book somebody with a fan base who will travel to see their favorite artist no matter where they’re playing, chances are most people aren’t going to go to multiple festivals a year. With 2019 featuring Jason Aldean headlining both Bayou Country Superfest and the Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam just a few hours away in Panama City Beach, Florida, and Florida Georgia Line also headlining the popular Rock the South Festival in Cullman, Alabama, you have to wonder how many fans chose one of these other festivals (with arguably better lineups) and skipped out on Bayou Country Superfest altogether.
Now, obviously Bayou Country Superfest closing up shop isn’t proof that the entire country festival market is in trouble, but, with the cancellation of Country Lakeshake, WE Fest, Tumbleweed, and Wild Hare this year, not to mention Jamboree in the Hills last year, it’s enough to make you wonder: Are there are simply too many good festivals out there?
But I think Bayou Country Superfest is a warning to other festival organizers: You can’t take your fans for granted and assume they’ll show up no matter what kind of lineup you throw together. At the end of the day, music festivals are a massive financial undertaking, many of which are just happy to break even.
If your lineup sucks, there’s probably another festival nearby that your fans will be happy to attend instead.