What Are the Differences Between a Music Festival and a Concert?

Both concerts and festivals can be a ton of fun, and while both are more or less events where you listen to bands play live music, concerts and festivals are not exactly the same thing, and can actually be quite different experiences. Whether you want to go to one or the other will likely depend on what kind of vibe you’re hoping to find.

This article will fully explain differences between concerts vs music festivals, and give you an general idea of what to expect when attending each. Hopefully this can help you choose which you’d prefer. Or maybe you decide you’d like to go to both!

What Is a Concert by Definition?

While there’s no decidedly formal definition of what a concert is or entails exactly, and events called “concerts” can vary pretty significantly, a concert is basically a live show that’s focused on a single main band.

What Is a Music Festival by Definition?

Similarly, there’s no formal definition of what a festival is exactly, and they too can vary greatly between one another, but a festival is basically a larger scale and longer duration gathering with at least several live bands, often playing at the same time.

What Are The Main Differences Between Festivals vs Concerts?

While they both have a lot of aspects that are very similar, there are a few significant differences between the two:

Difference #1: Size – Festivals Are Typically Much Bigger Than Concerts Are

The major difference between a festival and a concert is that a festival is, on average, going to be many times larger. The biggest concerts are typically stadium/arena shows, which typically top out at around fifty thousand attendees, whereas the biggest festivals can easily exceed one million attendees.

Difference #2: Variety – Festivals Typically Offer More to Do Than Concerts Do

With several to maybe even tens of bands typically featured at festivals, who are often playing simultaneously, there’s obviously going to be more musical variety, and part of the appeal of festivals is having the option to dabble in a lot of different music.

Another reason that festivals are typically much larger than concerts is that festivals often offer, as part of their selling point, much more to do and amenities in addition to the music. It’s not uncommon for festivals to feature a variety of food and drink trucks, silent disco dance parties, art exhibits, games, interesting speakers, and all kinds of other stuff that people might want to do.

Difference #3: Duration – Festivals Last Much Longer Than Concerts Do

A concert is generally a shorter event that rarely exceeds a few hours, whereas a festival is usually a full day at a minimum but can span multiple days or even weeks in some cases.

One major aspect of festivals, due to their often multi-day duration, is camping – people will often bring tents and other relevant gear in order to stay overnight or for several days. Camping is in fact a major aspect of festival life and culture – people like to escape the reality of day to day life and live removed in a different world, so to speak, and many popular festivals have developed their own sort of unique cultural universes that people specifically like to be in.

the massive encampments of the infamous Burning Man festival (image credit: Duncan Rawlinson)

Difference #4: Price – Festivals Are Generally Significantly More Expensive to Attend Than Concerts Are

Most tickets for a concert with a reasonably popular band and venue will be in the 25-100 dollar range, whereas most festival tickets will cost $150-$500. And then, additionally, there’s the ancillary costs of transportation, food and drink, and camping if you’re planning on an extended stay.

While going to a concert does take a little planning, it can still be a somewhat spontaneous splurge, whereas going to a week long festival, for example, is really not that much different than going on a week long vacation – the latter will take a fair amount of preparation and a budget that will be significant cost for most people.

Difference #5: Environment – Festivals Are Usually Outdoors and Concerts Are Usually Indoors

Most music concerts happen in indoor venues that usually have seating, or a designated standing area depending on the type of ticket you get. Festivals, on the other hand, are almost always outdoors in places like parks or fields, mainly because that’s the only way to realistically accommodate events of that size. If you’re going to a festival, you will probably have to prepare to deal with the weather and being outdoors, and if you want to be able to sit down to watch a band it’s pretty common to bring an outdoor folding chair.

Difference #6: The Crowd and Atmosphere – Festivals Are Generally Lower Key While Concerts Are Higher Energy

The crowd at a concert is absolutely there to see the band, and as such is generally very enthusiastic, engaged, and loud. There’s definitely sense of camaraderie amongst fellow concert attendees, who can quickly bond over the fact that they love the band that has likely had a significant impact on each of their lives.

A great example of a tuned in crowd instinctively chanting “Angus!” between his intro riffs of “A Whole Lotta Rosie”

The crowd at a festival, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily there for any one main reason, and will generally be more low key and casual. It’s not unusual for festival patrons to continually meander between different stages while various bands are playing.

Neither atmosphere is necessarily better than the other – for some, or sometimes, the high energy crowd of a concert can be fun and exhilarating, and other times the more relaxed crowd of a festival can be pleasant and relaxing.

Concert vs Music Festival – Which Should You Go To?

Chances are after reading this, you realize – and this is indeed the implied answer to the question – that neither is entirely or objectively better than the other. Going to a concerts and festivals can both be a lot of fun, even though they are different experiences. And while it’s true that the veteran event-goers generally end up preferring one or the other, odds are you’ll find that going to both a good concert and festival, at least once, is a great and worthwhile experience.