Luxury for the Music Festival Set

PHOTO: Blackfoot two-bedroom tent at Paws Up in Montana.The Resort at Paws Up
Blackfoot two-bedroom tent at Paws Up in Montana.

In late June Ryan Adams and Kayne West, along with bands like The Foo Fighters, Alabama Shakes and Spiritualized will perform at the week long Glastonbury Festival. Like Coachella in California and Roskilde in the hills of Denmark, the shows will attract tens of thousands of mostly young, mostly hip fans to a muddy field in the middle of nowhere to catch today’s brightest musical talent.

Yet along with sunshine, loud guitars, and generous amounts of alcohol something, new is increasingly becoming part of the music festival experience: luxury accommodations.

No longer content with roughing it among the muddy masses, more concertgoers are opting instead for opulence. On-site modular homes with soaring ceilings and wenge wood flooring are now as common as patchouli oil and sandals at some festivals while plush, personalized tents with air conditioning, flat panel televisions and handsomely decorated lounge spaces are in abundance at others.

The plum accommodations are a far cry from the music festival experience of yore when pitching a tent or laying a blanket satisfied even the most pampered music lover.

“It’s become a larger part of the concert experience for many people,” says Hugh Phillimore, director of the Cornbury Music Festival in the U.K. The three-day event, featuring Tom Jones, Felice Brothers and Billy Ocean among other performers, will be held in July at the Great Tew Estate in Oxfordshire, England.

Cornbury was launched a decade ago with a bohemian spirit that still permeates the festival today, Phillimore says. But its surging popularity among a well-heeled clientele (David Cameron and his wife, Samantha, attended Cornbury last year) means affluent music fans favor alternatives to roughing it.

“Most fans still enjoy pitching a tent, of course,” Phillimore says. “But more people are opting for a bit of camping luxury.” On-site lodging at Cornbury this year include Podpads, a weatherproof, eco- friendly dwelling that in some cases rival a well-appointed pied-à-terre.

The solar-powered, pre-erected structures are made of colorful, sturdy plywood and range in size from an 8-by-6 foot model that accommodates two people to much larger ones that can sleep up to four adults comfortably. There are nine versions of the Podpad – up from seven a year ago - and each is a far cry from the traditional camping experience: queen-size beds, solid wood flooring and carpeting, coloured windows with curtains, power outlets and fluorescent lighting, reinforced walls and a 9-foot high ceilings.

Originally designed for Glastonbury Festival in 2005, the Podpad can now be found at music festivals in the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Nowhere is the upscale dwelling trend more prevalent than at Coachella in California. Held annually in Indio, near Palm Springs, the two week event attracts fans the world over, including a growing cache of Hollywood celebrities. AC/DC, Alt-J and Drake helped draw more than 150,000 fans to Coachella in April.

But pampered hipsters with deep pockets managed to escape the heat and muddy camp grounds in favor of more posh offerings. The Shikar style safari tents come generously furnished with one or two queen size beds and oak wood flooring. A sleek interior has shaded canopies, upholstered sofas and chairs, private bathrooms and air conditioning. There’s also a lounge with ample seating for hosting parties. The price tag: USD $6,500 for two people. The price includes two guest passes to the performances and an onsite concierge.

“They’re building a temporary fantasy,” says Alexis Rochas, a Los Angeles architect who has designed pavilions and customized structures for Coachella. He says the evolution of upscale, modern festival dwellings was inevitable. “New needs for the fans and new design technology for architects is driving this,” says Rochas, a professor at Southern California Institute of Architecture. “It’s an important new market for the festivals but also for architects.”

The surge in upmarket lodging at music festivals dovetails with a boom in temporary architecture more broadly, say observers. From pop-up shops and emergency shelters to larger scale undertakings like the structures utilized at last year’s London Olympics, where roughly a third of the venues were temporary structures. Some of those were designed by noted British architects like Zaha Hadid and Peter Cook.

The trend is particularly acute among younger architects, who see temporary architecture as a lab for inventive ideas. The German designer Werner Aisslinger’s Loft Cube, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban’s post-earthquake Paper Log House, and Den Older Vleugel’s Xpod are all award-winning designs that were meant to be deliberately mobile and temporary.

While some critics complain that temporary architecture is wasteful, others argue the emergence of ephemeral structures is good for the industry because it allows architects and in some cases developers to indulge in experimentation without having to worry about skyrocketing costs.

“For years temporary schemes were often seen as gimmicky or a bit of a fashion,” says Peter Bishop, a professor of architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London and author of “Temporary City.”

He says temporary design is fueling imaginative works that are testing preconceived notions about what architecture can be. “We now know that these design techniques can be a powerful prototype for cutting-edge ideas.”

Economic realities have also pushed lucrative, permanent commissions out of reach of many architects, leaving exhibition and fair design as a growing financial reality for the industry. That’s particularly true for younger architects who often turn to fairs and festivals to help keep their firms afloat.

“Music festivals are accepting environments for creative thinking,” says Anders Grivi Norman, a 26-year old Norwegian architect who has designed temporary structures for Roskilde in Denmark and Fusion, a music festival in Germany. Festival organizers “approach the process with an open mind and won’t limit our ability to create something interesting.”

The Glastonbury Festival may have been founded on hippie culture and the free festival movement when it began in 1970. But today you’ll find just as many monied bankers and hedge fund managers among its more than 100,000 fans. The muddy fields of Worthy Farm in southwest England will host dozens of performers this year.

Yet discerning festival attendees will need only to venture to Camp Kerala, a privately owned farm near the main site, for an upmarket camping experience that would be unthinkable to concertgoers who traveled to Glastonbury in the 1970’s to catch the likes of T-Rex, Joan Baez, and Traffic.

Up to 75 airy Indian shikar tents – up from 50 a year ago – can be rented for the event. The genuine Indian Maharaja tents, measuring 20-foot by 13-foot, come outfitted with a bedroom with a king-size bed, a mattress from Italy and a duck-down duvet from Hungary. There’s also an en suite bathroom, private chefs, spa treatments and chauffeur service. The price is £8,225 per couple. Helicopter access is optional.