Since Woodstock made music history in 1969, music festivals have become big business. Today, big annual festivals from Coachella to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival to Bonnaroo draw massive crowds and the biggest stars in music.
The layout and designs of these large-scale events are among the most challenging in the industry. Read on for tips to help you create an event layout that’s safe and easy to navigate. That way festival-goers can keep their focus where it belongs—on the music.
Focus on the little things that mean a lot to your music festival crowd
1. Provide more bathrooms than you think you need
Long lines at the restroom equals frustrated festival-goers and bad press for your event. Even if your venue has permanent bathrooms, find a place to add portable options spaced out in areas accessible from multiple points. And stay on top of the maintenance.
2. Make merchandise easily available
Outdoor music festivals can cover a large territory. Space out your merchandise tents so that people don’t have to walk too far, or miss out on their favorite group, to grab a souvenir T-shirt or program.
3. Space out your refuse receptacles
Don’t put all of the waste bins in a central location hoping that it saves time for staff to change everything at once. Place them at intervals throughout the festival so that trash ends up where it belongs. And be sure to include plenty of bins for recyclable material to make your event more eco-friendly.
4. Put up phone and equipment charging stations
Social media has changed the music festival scene with posts and pictures to drum up interest before, during, and after the event. The majority of your attendees will post pictures of the events, grounds, food, and people at your music festival. Charging stations keep equipment ready for action.
5. Offer varied and accessible F&B
You’re not hosting a food festival, but your attendees will be there all day or even all weekend. Place food tents around the venue with plenty of options, including:
- Hot and cold
- Healthy food and junk food
- Hand-held food attendees can eat while strolling the grounds.
Consider booking food trucks, which are a natural fit for music festivals because they can pull up to the location and provide a variety of cuisine options with a small footprint.
Also, talk with your food vendors about their table and seating offerings. You’ll need to include their seating area when designing the layout of your music festival.
Keep traffic and people moving by creating space and directing the flow
6. Create more than one customer service area
Two or more customer service areas reduce long lines that bottleneck foot traffic. For best results, place one customer service area outside the venue for people to resolve ticket issues without tying up lines and entrances. Place a second (or third) customer service area inside the venue where other issues can be resolved.
7. Map out the traffic flow at entry points
Set up barriers such as stanchions to create a funnel that keeps crowds moving smoothly toward the festival check-in. Set up security checkpoints first, followed by ticket checkers and technology—checking bags takes longer. Plus, easily manage check-in with helpful tools.
8. Space out your stages to avoid overlap
Allow plenty of space between stages so that one act doesn’t overshadow another. 3D event stage design tools can help you visualize distances and sight lines between stages, so each performance area is a distinct section.
Direct the sound from each stage to the immediate crowd so that every act can be heard, even if they’re playing at the same time. Keep in mind, your mainstage headline performers shouldn’t have any competition. People who came to hear Billie Eilish shouldn’t be able to hear the bass line from another act while listening to ‘When the Party’s Over.’
Prioritize event accessibility in your layout design
Allow everyone an equal opportunity to enjoy your music festival by following event accessibility guidelines. Provide easy access and accommodations, and be sure your staff is trained to understand what people with disabilities need as they navigate the festival.
9. Provide a great view for all
Construct wheelchair-user viewing platforms where guests can enjoy full view of the stage without getting blocked by dancing crowds. Offer enough room so friends and caregivers can enjoy the show from the platform, too.
10. Make paths and key festival areas accessible
Place boardwalks or pathways along major routes for those with wheelchairs, crutches, or anyone who needs a stable surface to walk on. Outdoor events can get muddy and challenging to navigate for festival-goers with physical disabilities. Construct ramps in areas where attendees have to climb stairs or ascend steep hills.
11. Create accessible campsites
If your festival allows guests to stay overnight, ensure that you have accessible campsites on ground level that won’t get washed out during a rainstorm. Ideally, these sites will feature elevated platforms for the attendees’ tents or festival-provided tents. The closer these campsites are to the event venue and stages, the better.
12. Offer accessible restrooms
Designate accessible restrooms with plenty of space for wheelchairs and consider accessible changing stations or pop-up cabins during weekend-long festivals. Add several powerchair charging points throughout the venue for a quick charge when batteries get low.
Include VIP areas for artists and VIP guests in your festival layout
13. Design a backstage area
Beyond the performance stages, musicians and singers need a backstage area that separates them from the crowd. Design a layout for your festival complete with areas for artists to relax pre-concert, loading docks, parking for trailers, and (depending on the acts) dressing rooms. Consider access roads as well when locating the backstage—it’s vehicles carrying artists and instruments can pull up with ease.
14. Set up a VIP line
If you have special guests who are paying more for a ticket, include a fast-access line at the event check-in area. How much extra space you need will depend on the size of your VIP list. It could be one extra line to the side of the main check-in line. If there are big-name stars coming, VIPs should have their own entrance, complete with red-carpet and welcome tent for cocktails and appetizers before the show begins.
15. Road map separate routes for vendors
Keep your festival attendees from running into your vendors as they bring supplies into the venue. Clearly mark routes and entrances with ‘staff only’ so no one ends up waiting in a long line with attendees or inadvertently driving into restricted areas.
Plan for unexpected events and emergencies with the right facilities
Make sure your staff is up-to-date on best practices in event safety and security planning and use your event planning software to keep all emergency staff contacts in one place for quick and easy access.
16. Provide staffed medical tents
When large groups of people gather for an event, someone is bound to fall ill or become injured. Include multiple medical tents in your festival layout design. This will vary depending on the acreage of the festival grounds, but no attendee should be more than a minute or two from medical assistance. The medical tents should have trained medical staff and first aid supplies.
17. Map out emergency evacuation routes
If hundreds or thousands of people need to exit in a hurry, your planned emergency evacuation routes keep things orderly. Include signage locations when diagramming your event layout.
18. Place fire extinguishers in accessible places
For small fires, the proper equipment stops a bad situation from turning worse. Use fire cabinets to thwart vandals and accidental discharge, and place clearly written usage instructions close at hand.
19. Set up staffed security stations
Your security team will walk the festival to keep a sharp eye on attendees and to offer help if needed. Design your music festival layout with a number of manned and marked security stations where people can go if they have an immediate problem.
20. Organize emergency lighting around the venue
If the power goes out during nighttime events, people need to see their way out clearly. Avoid panic and keep things orderly by placing emergency lights along evacuation routes, at exit points, and in parking areas.
21. Arrange additional entertainment areas
Unexpected events don’t always mean emergencies. On the off chance that a music act doesn’t show up, or if programs are running late, offer something for fans to do while they wait. Depending on your festival theme you may bring in art galleries, activities for kids, or even a game tent.
Design your music festival layout to accommodate the weather
Though there are plenty of indoor music festivals, the vast majority of them take place outside. Therefore, outdoor music festivals are subject to the whim of the weather and typically occur ‘rain or shine.’ Always plan for the worst case scenario, regardless of the fantastic forecast predicted, as the weather can change in an instant.
22. Provide multiple places to get out of the elements
Attendees need cover from adverse weather conditions. Instead of setting up just one large tent for cooling and shade, set up several smaller tents around the venue that are easily accessed by all attendees. Include seating, tables, fans, and portable A/C units if necessary.
23. Provide abundant hydration stations
Hydration is important when the weather is hot and attendees are sweating. Even if temps are comfortable, access to drinking water is still essential because people are dancing and walking great distances. Your vendors will likely sell water at food stations, but provide free water fountains and water-bottle refill stations around the venue. Festival-goers should NOT have a difficult time accessing water.
Direct festival-goers with maps and clear signage
24. Direct people to essential areas
Place clear and concise signs around your venue marking the areas that people need the most:
- F&B Vendors
- Charging stations
- Information kiosks
- Will call or registration
- Medical facilities
- Hydration stations
25. Get creative with sign design
Create signs that are instructional and make an impact. Hire a local artist and create a graffiti wall complete with your event hashtag and social handles. Use Gobo projectors for virtual signs and floor markings in areas where physical signs are restricted or challenging. Digital signage also engages your audience, allowing you to provide information in a unique way and change it up, if necessary.
26. Go beyond the restrooms and exits
The map of your music festival layout should include obvious areas such as stages, restrooms, and exits. However, your map should also include other essential information, including:
- Shuttle and public transport areas for event transportation
- Emergency evacuation routes
- Accessible areas (such as special restrooms and ramps)
27. Design an event planning app for your map
Event apps keep event attendees in the loop on everything that’s going on from artists to showtimes to last-minute changes. Add your map to the app so attendees can pull it up with ease. Even better if geolocation shows where they are in the festival at all times.
28. Create a physical map and hand it out
Believe it or not, some people prefer enjoying music festivals device free. Create physical copies of your event map and make them available at the entrance and information points throughout the venue.
Whether it’s a weekend jazz festival or a rock-and-roll marathon, music festivals are a great way for people to come together. As long as you create a layout that’s easy to navigate, clearly marked, and prioritizes safety, you’ll keep festival-goers happy. Use your event planning software to organize the many moving parts all in one place.
Ready to learn more about hosting fun, crowd-pleasing events? Read our design tips for hosting a no-fail outdoor event or discover how a catered ice cream party can turn your event into a sweet success.