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Music festivals of the future

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How technology is shaping a new era of music festivals

As little as five or 10 years ago the following scenario was a standard music festival experience: arrive at much-hyped event, find a place to camp and head off in search of the restroom facilities. Wait in line for way too long with crossed legs, get disoriented, lose your way back to your tent, eventually find it and discover it's empty. Your friends have heard the distant drums of their favourite band and rushed off without waiting for you.

But you hear your mobile beep and one of them is messaging you – rather unhelpfully – that you'll find them to the left of the stage near the speaker. So you spend 90 minutes using your rapidly depleting battery to call your friends while looking for a familiar face amidst crowds of strangers and pulsating speakers before giving up and getting in line for a drink. Then you realise you've left your wallet in the glove box of the car...

Such hassles were a completely different story during the heyday of the world's most iconic music festivals like Woodstock. Back then you weren't able to send a text to your friends if you got lost and even if you did manage to find a payphone, who would you call?

If you wanted a visual reminder of your time there you had to lug a clunky camera and rolls of film with you. If your money was lost or stolen, you'd have to convince fellow festivalgoers to spot you some cash. If a storm blew up, you might have been lucky enough to carry an umbrella, but you had no way to know in advance.

An enhanced experience

Of course people had amazing times at festivals in years past. But today's festival experience is very technologically enhanced and will continue to evolve and develop. From incredible lighting displays and state-of-the-art sound quality to the exciting build-up on social media, technology is profoundly changing the way we experience festivals.

The US is leading the pack with cutting edge technology, with show-stoppers such as holograms of stars no longer with us and interactive apps that allow fans to send song requests via text message.

Wasting time in long ATM queues is also a thing of the past at Chicago's alternative rock festival Lollapalooza, where personalised wristbands embedded with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags link attendees' credit card details to festival vendors.

Lollapalooza has been cash-free for years, as has Australian festival Splendour in the Grass. In 2013, the Byron Bay-based music fest achieved a first in Australia by providing RFID wristbands, and has done so ever since. Entirely cashless festivals, which protect attendees from petty crime like pickpocketing as well as making purchasing easier, will become even more commonplace as services like Apple Pay continue to expand.

Taking it to the next level

One product shaping a new era of music festivals is iBeacon technology. The technology first appeared at a large event at South By Southwest (SXSW) in 2015 and has since been used at various digital events in Australia to connect audiences with brands, locations and each other (hello, lost friend) as festivalgoers can opt-in for location-based notifications. iBeacon provides geo-tagged information like the length of queues at popular performances or which EDM tent your friends are zoning out in, but it's just as lucrative for merchandisers who can trigger promos when an attendee passes a venue or store.

Another is streaming services like Twitter's Periscope, which allows festivalgoers to stream both performances and their own party antics to followers. But technology is also expanding further into infrastructure we already own – nowadays we take the ability to snap a picture, edit it in no time with pro filters and post it to followers instantly very much for granted.

Other advances slowly catching on include virtual reality and augmented reality, which will let attendees get up close and personal with experiences like being on stage, back in the chill-out areas or even hanging out with the band.

We carry our technology everywhere with us, and devices like our phones are our means to express the way we work and play, so music festivals are just one of the areas we can expect technology to take us even further into the future.