William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review


Bryce Ballard


The music festival industry in the United States is growing exponentially each year, both in terms of fan attendance and the money being produced by concession, merchandise, and ticket sales. However, there is also a growing realization that there are several negative externalities associated with the growth of the music festival industry, not the least of which is the environmental damage that follows in the wake of music festivals.

The scene at most music festivals in the United States today is the same: a caravan of vehicles lined up single-file waiting to enter the campgrounds, camping tents of various sizes littered across the landscape, overflowing trash receptacles, plastic bottles strewn near the performance stages, and single-use food containers left behind as festival attendees leave the festival grounds in yet another massive car caravan. Music festivals today constitute a rite of passage of sorts for many of today’s youth, especially considering at least forty-five percent of the “millennial” generation in the United States attended at least one music festival in 2019. However, today, music festivals have also become synonymous with environmental degradation, attendee carelessness, and simply, waste. As this Note will argue, as environmental activist groups and others continue to pressure music festival organizers to adopt more eco-friendly policies, the solution to the growing list of environmental problems might lie in a policy already being adopted across the country: the incorporation of smaller music festival production companies as benefit corporations.

This Note will argue that while a number of the larger music festivals in the United States have instituted policies to reduce their carbon footprints, the main strategy should be to focus on encouraging smaller music festivals to incorporate as benefit corporations. First, there will be a discussion of the historical development of the music festival industry in the United States since the 1950s as well as an overview of what benefit corporations are, how they operate, and why they are distinct from other types of corporations. Second, the issues associated with a music festival production company incorporating as a benefit corporation will be examined.

Third, three examples will highlight how incorporation as a benefit corporation can be successful. Specifically, two U.S. music festivals and one Portuguese music festival will be analyzed. Fourth, two major U.S. music and arts festivals will be highlighted to show how non-benefit corporation- run music festival production companies can successfully operate environmentally sustainable festivals. Lastly, there will be a discussion of recent trends in the music festival industry, including the rise in the number of smaller music festivals incorporating as benefit corporations, the corporate restructuring of existing music festival production companies, as well as what the general public can do to increase awareness of the various environmental issues created by the U.S. music festival industry and how sustained efforts at the grassroots level can lead to systemic change in the future.