Insight From Eight of the World’s Greatest Music Festivals

Last Updated on October 7, 2021

As the people who ran the first Woodstock festival discovered, large music and art events can be chaotic if you don’t know what you’re doing. Whether in a city or a field, you have a lot to lose if everything goes south with a million plus people running around!

With that in mind, if your part of a group putting together your first festival or your twenty-first, you want to make sure you’re doing everything right.

We always say learn from the best. So we looked at eight of the world’s greatest music festivals and thought about what it is that each one of these festivals does so well. What can they teach us as event planners?

Let’s see if we can’t pull a few tips and insights from their inner workings.


The Festival: Hosted out of California, Coachella is one of the best-known indie/alternatives music festivals in the world. With 190 acts and 6 stages, the festival has consistently sold out since 2002, by 2013 attendance reached 675,000.

What It Can Teach Us: How to market a festival. Coachella has a brilliant marketing team that has stayed on message, and more importantly, allowed their audience to do the heavy lifting for them; Coachella is the Woodstock for a new generation, the place for everyone, including the famous to be seen.


The Festival: Dounainselfest is hosted in Vienna, and has the distinction of being the largest festival in the world – music or otherwise. 3.2 million people attended in 2013, where they watched over two thousand acts on twenty-one stages stretched out over 6.5 kilometers.

What It Can Teach Us: The event highlights how an entire city can ignite and attract worldwide attention if expertly organized. 3.2 million people engaging simultaneously in an event is staggering and no joke for the teams organizing, executing and trouble shooting this massive undertaking.


The Festival: The Guinness Book of World Records once named the Wisconsin-based Summerfest the World’s Largest Festival averaging 800,000 attendees. It features eleven stages showcasing headliners, up and comers, and local favorites, all covering different genres of music. Summerfest never fails to draw big name acts to Wisconsin and visitors from across the country.

What It Can Teach Us: They organize the stages and acts so there is a consistent offering and variety between big names vs. local talent and rock n’ roll vs. country, and so on. They have a great location so crowds are spread out and music doesn’t overlap, but everything is easy to get to. Well done.

Sled Island

The Festival: Here’s one from up north – Calgary, Alberta to be exact. Featuring amazing artists from all across Canada, Sled Island is the brainchild of music venue owner Zak Pashak. In 2013 catastrophic floods shut downtown Alberta and Sled Island was cancelled, but it came back stronger than ever in 2014.

What It Can Teach Us: How to react when things don’t go the way you expect. Sled Island was able to re-coop any looses from the flood year and launched the 2014 festival with a new slogan – “nobody rains on our parade.” They rolled with the punches, and did so masterfully.


The Festival: Running out of Manchester, Tennessee, Bonnaroo is a four-day music festival that’s evolved into an arts event as well. One notable aspect of the weekend are their activity tents, which give everyone not listening to music something to do while they hang out; venues include bars, a Silent Disco, and a number of top-notch restaurants.

What It Can Teach Us: Your attendees’ experiences aren’t only about the music and art. Often, the entertainment and provisions available in addition to the music are just as important as the music itself.


The Festival: The Serbian EXIT Festival originally began as part of an activist movement, calling for residents to “exit out of the madness” of the oppressive Serbian regime. They now deal with a different political theme every year, and remain one of the best European music festivals in the world. Oh, have I mentioned that the festival takes place inside the Petrovaradin Fortress?

What It Can Teach Us: Location, Location, Location. In addition to just being downright cool (who doesn’t want to party inside a massive fortress?), EXIT is situated near some of the most beautiful sights in Serbia, and the organizers maintain a friendly, welcoming vibe.

Warped Tour

The Festival: The most distinct thing about The Warped Tour, and unlike most other festivals, it doesn’t have one set venue. It takes place all throughout North America from June 14 to August 3, stopping in more than forty cities, where it sets up, plays, tears down, and moves on each day.

What It Can Teach Us: Definitely how to manage the logistics of a traditional festival. Imagine how insane coordinating the logistics of Warped Tour must be, and then consider that it’s been going for twenty years without a hitch.  


The Festival: South By South West (SXSW for short) is a festival known for giving the stage to up-and-coming artists; the festival organizers jump between different bars and venues across Austin, Texas; music fans, industry folks mixing with the technology world from all walks coming together over the one thing they can all agree they love – innovation!

What It Can Teach Us: Always try to have an angle for your festival – something that’ll distinguish it from all the rest.