The pros and cons of concerts vs. festivals

By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times

Ken Ford performs at the Steel City Music Festival in downtown Birmingham’s Linn Park in June, 2017. (Stephonia Taylor McLinn/For The Birmingham Times).

Magic City music fans have had a choice of several concerts and festivals this year—and there are many more to come. But is one format better than the other?

Recently, Birmingham has hosted two successful festivals—Steel City Jazz Festival and Funk Fest—and the Sloss Music and Arts Festival will take place in July. Concerts in the city have featured diverse acts, including R&B crooner Brian McKnight; hip-hop artist and producer J. Cole; and rock royalty Bon Jovi. Other concerts scheduled for 2017: Gladys Knight; Future, and Janet Jackson.

Roderick “Rod Tee” Abernathy, CEO of Real Radio 101, said there are pros and cons for concerts and festivals.

Abernathy—who was instrumental in bringing acts like Gucci Mane, Kodak Black, 21 Savage, and Silk to previous Funk Fests—worked with the now defunct City Stages music festival at age 10 and has attended countless concerts. An Ensley High School graduate, he attended Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., on a football scholarship before transferring to and graduating from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University.

Abernathy knows and follows Birmingham’s music scene, and here’s his take on the pros and cons of each format.

Concerts

Cons: “[Concerts are] in a box. The building is in a box. The staff is in a box. And there’s no moving outside that box. … When it’s in a box, it stays in a box. When an event is held indoors, there is a lot of testing, there are a lot of regulations. The power bill is high, too: exit signs, concession stands, and all these things kill the power bill. Also, there’s usually a time limit for venues, so we can’t extract information and get to know the artists or build relationships with the road managers. When artists come here for concerts, they basically get $100,000 from Birmingham and leave.”

Pros: “The number-one thing: weather. You don’t have to worry about the weather if an event is inside. Also, extra activity outside isn’t an issue, so indoor concerts don’t require as much security as outdoor festivals do.”

Festivals

Cons: “Festivals are held outdoors, so you have to worry about the weather. You also need a lot more security. For a concert, you may need only a few police officers on deck. For a festival, however, you have to block off a lot of roads and redirect traffic, so you may need more than 100 [police officers]—and they all have to be paid. We use a lot of undercover officers, too. They can be sitting right there enjoying the show with you. Officers also must be posted on rooftops, in windows. You need them because a lot goes on. You have to amplify security greatly.”

Pros: “One major difference: vendors. The festival format gives local restaurants and entrepreneurs an opportunity to broadcast what they do. Let’s say you just started a business and pay $250 to become a vendor. Now you can sell $2,000 worth of stuff during the festival, whereas you [normally] sell $2,000 in a couple of weeks. Vendors also get more exposure and get to network. And, unlike concessions in an indoor venue, vendors run off generators and have their own things, so it keeps the power bill down. Festivals are good for other area businesses, too. There are a lot of artists and a lot of people who follow them around, … booking hotels, eating at restaurants, basically utilizing the Uptown [Entertainment District]. Plus, you get a chance to be free and out in the open. Inside, there is a lot of testing, and there are a lot of regulations. Outside, once you set it up it’s usually fine.”

Given a choice, Abernathy seemed to prefer the festival format.

“It’ll be a combo of both, but I think the fests will be more prominent in Birmingham. Mind you, we had a big [festival] with City Stages. … Once we reestablish the festival atmosphere in the city, that’s where it’ll be,” he said. “That’s the move across the nation, and that’s the best move for us. … There are a lot of festivals. … The festival route is the fastest way to get great entertainment and create a safe environment. If we move toward that, there could be an economic boom [with vendor sales and visitors to the city].”

To read more about concerts and festivals in Birmingham:
Music’s biggest stars are finding love in the Magic City