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Summer festivals at full capacity

Despite the lack of money and the bad state of the economy, young people are not discouraged from partying: every major festival is packed, even the expensive ones.

Hungary’s market for summer events continues to grow from year to year. This is amply reflected in the sheer number of events that are organized and held profitably, not to mention the array of acts that are now happy to do Hungarian gigs.

To date, the biggest events in the season generated an aggregate attendance of more than 254,000. That is not even counting Sziget, the biggest event on the domestic calendar that kicks off on August 11, which is set to more than double the total even if it just comes close to repeating the 382,000 visitor total of 2010. For Sopron’s VOLT and the Hegyalja festival held in Tokaj-Rakamaz, 2011 has proven to be a very successful year, with both having days when the “house” was completely full.

Class acts

For anyone keeping track of how the festival scene in Hungary has evolved over the past decade, it is notable that even the smaller (compared to the Sziget event, of course), regional venues are now able to book acts that would have never even considered performing in Hungary a few years earlier.

VOLT showcased the likes of Moby, Sum41, Pendulum and My Chemical Romance. Balaton Sound presented Snoop Dogg, Portishead and star DJ David Guetta, among others. Hegyalja featured Kosheen, Deicide, Guano Apes and US trash metal legends Slayer as the headline act. The Sziget lineup is likewise impressive, featuring The Prodigy, Interpol and Deftones, as well as a last-minute, first-ever performance in Hungary by Prince.

Hungarians lament that the top-tier stars do not come to Hungary, but play in Austria or other countries in the vicinity. In all fairness, the country’s audience has little to complain about.

No cheap thrill

Depending on the number and type of festivals customers are looking for, they have to dig pretty deep into their pockets. EFOTT’s weekly passes went for HUF 18,990 on the spot, with HUF 5,990 charged for a daily ticket. For VOLT, passes were HUF 25,000, and tickets at the gate cost HUF 9,990.

However, these prices shy compared to Balaton Sound, where the pass cost HUF 35,000 (VIP passes for HUF 66,000!) and daily tickets HUF 15,000. The event, originally marketed as a premium festival due to its lakeside venue and its mix of popular performers targeted at a broader audience, was nonetheless packed. Altogether 101,500 people attended.

Partying at Sziget will be no nickel-and-dime matter either. The most expensive weekly pass will go for HUF 54,000, with a daily ticket on sale for HUF 12,000 from the local cashiers. This is the main reason that the organizing company has long been criticized for asking prices that local audiences cannot afford. This aspect, not to mention the active promotion the organizers have been conducting in western Europe, has transformed the event to one overwhelmingly visited by foreigners. Chief organizer Károly Gerendai said 80% of the weekly passes were sold abroad. In contrast, Balaton Sound with its premium price range (and these are only the tickets, there is also food and beverage to consider) had an almost fully Hungarian turnout.

Still, the expenses are not discouraging audiences from attending one, or even more events. A study conducted in 2010 by KutatóCentrum and Marketing & Media found that 74% of the 18–64 age group planned on attending some kind of musical, cultural or gastro festival. Unsurprisingly, the most active festivalgoers are aged 18 to 24. The study found that 45% of them visited more than one festival in 2009 – and the trend shows no signs of turning this year.