At this point, just about every major summer festival has a VIP package that includes elevated platforms with undisturbed sightlines, catering, upgraded bathrooms and open bars.
But a few have taken an extra step and given a new class of Ultra-VIPs the best seats in the house, literally. From major fests like Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo to upstarts like Cincinnati's two-year-old Bunbury, VIPs are increasingly being given the chance to get as close as possible with new viewing areas carved out just behind the main stage photo pits.
Bunbury offered VIP front-of-stage access for the first time in July and founder Bill Donabedian said he decided to add the upgrade after careful consideration of how it might impact the rest of the attendees. “I heard someone talk about the Lollapalooza VIP experience but, with cabanas, you are really far away from the stage, so I thought it would be neat to combine the two,” said Donabedian.
“What we did is add the VIP area this year and then you walked out into a grove with trees and hammocks and to the right was unfettered access to the front of stage.” The 20-foot-deep and 30-foot-wide area behind the photo pit was fenced in, giving the VIPs their own unique space, with plenty of room to roam during headlining sets by fun., the National and MGMT.
With 500 VIP tickets sold in total (at a cost of $295 each), the pit area could hold around 300 max, which Donabedian said seemed like the right amount to avoid leaving a bad taste in the mouths of general admission attendees. With the success of the pit view this year, Donabedian said he's thinking of adding a similar area to one of the other main stages in 2014.
Lollapalooza got into the game this year with its Platinum Pass, with included access to Platinum viewing areas on the four main stages, in addition to such amenities as hospitality areas on both ends of Grant Park, access to artist lounge areas, dedicated golf cart transportation and an exclusive on-site concierge. Guests were escorted into and out of the fenced-off areas by staffers for an unobstructed, as-close-as-possible view of sets by the Cure and Mumford & Sons.
“I don't think it really changes our security plan, but it definitely enhances the guest services plan,” said Thushan Rajapaksa, vice president of StaffPro, which handles security for Stagecoach, Coachella, EDC and other major events. “The whole industry is talking about the guest experience now and when you have a high-profile area like that it's almost like adding suites or premium seating.”
Rajapaksa said StaffPro treats these premium viewing areas and VIP sections as if they were suites by staffing them with a highly trained special division within the company called EST (Executive Services Team). For some events (though not Coachella due to the heat), these EST staffers are dressed in all-black suits and they are assigned specifically to VIP and special viewing areas.
“It's almost like a VIP host through a security function,” he said, noting that more than three-quarters of the time those EST staffers are acting in a host function, with around 20 percent of their time spent checking credentials. “I think in the future I see security more and more as a function of guest services,” he said.
The Voodoo Music + Arts Experience in New Orleans has been offering similar standing-room, front-of-house access since 2009 under the name Loa Front Row to its Loa VIP attendees, according to a festival spokesperson. The Front Row benefits are available on all six stages and costs for November's event are currently $500 (rising to $650 week of show).
This weekend's Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco will offer two stages with cut-out VIP areas, one at the main stage and also one at the Twin Peaks stage, included in the $545 price of a VIP pass; Outside Lands has offered the areas in all six of its years. Manchester, Tennessee's Bonnaroo also has the areas at the Which Stage (a second stage), just off the side, but not directly in front. That is included as part of a $1,449 package for the weekend.
Contacted for this story: Bill Donabedian, (877) 752-5195; Thushan Rajapaksa, (714) 230-7200