The Perfect Virtual Festival: How to have a festival during the pandemic

As someone who owns and operates a festival website, let me tell you that Covid-19 has been driving me crazy. The weather is starting to warm up, the self-quarantine continues (the 6th week now?), and I long for road trips to festival cities where I can celebrate with various communities, check out local crafters and artists and eat indulgent creative dishes.

What is a festival goer to do?

Fortunately, thanks to livestreaming, some festivals have been able to create Virtual Festivals, where festival goers can access livestream concerts via music festivals, remote film screenings via film festivals and even, as I found at a Tulip Festival in Lehi, Utah, various how-to presentations and yoga sessions.

But what if the virtual festival could also bring other festival aspects to people’s homes, including vendor products and food?

This post is a proposal on different ways it could all be done with both my ideal methods as well as more feasible methods so that festivals can manage some form of existence in a safe, yet satisfactory, way during the current pandemic.

Festival Elements

On my Festival Schedule pages where I list each state’s festivals for the year, I try to list festivals that have three essential characteristics or elements: Entertainment, Non-Food Vendors and Food Vendors.

Depending on the type of festival, how each element manifests may be a little different. For example, while a community festival may offer food through food trucks, a Greek Heritage Festival held on the grounds of a church may offer food cooked by volunteers of the church itself.

I’ll do my best to cover the variations on each of the elements.

1.) Entertainment

Livestreaming is definitely the best way to present music performances, presentations, demonstrations and the like. Some festivals have done this through Facebook, but, in order to maintain the full festival experience, it would be ideal to keep festival fans on the festival website whenever possible.

Through the festival website, an entertainment page/section could be created to learn more about the performers, presenters, groups, etc. This would also be where festival visitors could access the livestreams. And since festivals wouldn’t be limited to stages, they could offer more than one feed at the same time, allowing viewers to switch between various channels.

Along with musical entertainment, other entertainment livestream options could be all sorts of informative presentations, how-to demonstrations, prayer and church services…even bingo (while the logistics of this may be more involved).

As with Facebook livestreams, there could be a side chat window for viewers to communicate with each other and create a sense of community. The chat window would also benefit livestreams where feedback was necessary from the audience (i.e. a panel discussion where questions could be asked).

All livestreams could be recorded and posted for those who either missed the performance or wanted to relive the experience.

Concerning costs, different avenues could be taken depending on the type of festival.

For free festivals, some costs could be covered with banner advertisements on pages/channels offering livestreams and/or recorded performances. There could also be video ads played at the beginning of each livestream/recording or during scheduled breaks of the performance. Smaller festivals would likely need to rely on Facebook livestreams since this is free and needs no website expertise.

The top-notch ticketed music festivals could sell electronic tickets with key codes to allow access to livestreams and recordings.

2.) Non-Food Vendors

Crafters, artists, and other non-food vendors could still be accessible in a virtual festival through a virtual marketplace. Just as vendors typically pay fees to festivals to be included, they could pay vendor fees to be included in the virtual marketplace.

In exchange, the festival could provide profiles for each vendor that included vendor bios, types of items sold, physical address, and so forth. The festival website would also have images of each of the vendor’s offerings along with information (description and dimensions), and price of each item.

Obviously, this could be a painstaking process if a crafter or artist had hundreds of items they wanted to list. Therefore, there could be a vendor fee scale that reflected the number of pieces the vendor wanted to offer on the website . There could also be a limit to the number of items offered.

Whether the festival created one main marketplace page with all vendor offerings or several virtual store pages, I think it would be ideal for the festival to manage the purchases and deal with the shipping through its own website. There are a few reasons why I feel this is important.

First off, it would keep the visitor on the festival website. If the festival website hosted the shopping experience, the visitor could still enjoy the livesteam while shopping around. If, instead, the website only provided the visitor with outside links to vendor sites, the visitor might leave the virtual festival and never come back, maybe by getting lost in navigation or distracted.

A second reason is convenience. If I had access to all vendors items on one page in front of me and knew there would only be one shipment charge, I would more likely make more purchases and from multiple vendors. Making separate purchases per vendor would definitely deter me from purchasing more because of multiple shipping charges and multiple purchase transactions…basically the opposite of convenience. Therefore, if the festival website hosted a store with access to all items and with only one delivery charge, this would be simply magical.

Magical, I say…

…but I understand that this may not work for everyone for a number of reasons (website expertise, lack of volunteers, vendor items that may be difficult to ship, etc.)

Perhaps there are some ways around this…ordering on the phone, supervised purchase pickups instead of delivery, etc.

It’s definitely a time to be creative.

3.) Food Vendors

If any of the festival elements suffered the most from the pandemic, it would be the food.

Anyone wanting sauerkraut balls or some mac and cheese would not be satisfied with a virtual version of the dish.

Festivals would need to get the food to the peeps!

Ethnic church festivals could easily do this with drive-thru services (being sure to follow all the safety restrictions, obviously). “Taste of” Festivals could assemble a package with all the samples together to be picked up.

But what about other types of festivals that usually relied on food trucks or booths?

Festivals could utilize the food truck’s mobility and plant them in designated spots around the city from where festival volunteers and/or food delivery services (i.e. Grubhub, DoorDash) could make no-contact deliveries to festival visitors within a designated radius or city limit.

It may look something like this…

Volunteer assistance and the delivery radius would help food trucks from being overrun and keep delivery waits to a minimum.

And, if the festival ran for multiple days (we’re not limited to weekends anymore), the food trucks could rotate locations so that a larger visitor audience could have access to them.

Beyond food trucks, the inclusion of local restaurants as food vendors would allow festival visitors to also order the delivery of two alcoholic drinks per meal while the inclusion of local breweries and wineries would allow the purchase/delivery of beer and wine without needing to order food.

Consider it a festival’s Beer and Wine Garden brought your doorstep!

As with the Entertainment and Non-Food Vendor elements, I would love if Food purchases were done through the festival website, but I know this would be more complicated. Ordering alcohol through the website and finding an ordering system that notifies all food trucks and restaurants seems like a nightmare.

There may also be issues with acquiring enough volunteers to deliver food from all the different food truck locations (especially in a bigger city).

Therefore, an easier option, especially for smaller festivals, would be to make certain food vendors (food trucks and/or restaurants) more accessible for food pickup.

As shown above, food trucks can still be placed in locations all around a city or community for easier access and maybe festival visitors would be notified of these locations. Festivals can also get the participation of various restaurants in the area.

Then, through that participation, perhaps the food truck and restaurant can offer special dishes only available to festival visitors through a code, app, or promotion. Or perhaps there’s a special festival price. Or some special souvenir involved or accelerated service or pickup option. Maybe they could even order ahead through an app and simply stop at the food truck and grab their order at a pickup station there (like at Panera).

Anything that gives the festival visitor some sort of edge or perk.

But I do like the idea of delivery…

…like with three or four tacos al pastor and a margarita on the rocks on a nice summer day…

…just to get me through this crazy pandemic.

Ah, if I only had one wish left… :-)

Thanks for reading my musings. I hope it helps initiate discussion and gives you even more ideas.

Stay safe and healthy with plenty of…

…Love, Peace and Funnel Cake Grease!