Festival season is upon us! CRSSD saw an incredible turnout last weekend, Buku Festival just slammed New Orleans, and Ultra is set to cap WMC in a few days… the floodgates have officially opened.

As we anxiously await the arrival of our chosen weekends of respite, tying up the loose ends for travel plans and tickets begins taking its toll on budgets. Cue the whimpering of hard-earned savings at the sight of exorbitant ticket prices, last-minute flights, and pricy hotel bookings. With all the hype over massives like Ultra, Tomorrowland, and Coachella, it’s all too easy to get caught up thinking that forking over thousands of dollars is the standard cost for an unforgettable festival experience. Sure, go build a beer fortress if that’s your thing, but I’ll forever cringe at the price charged even for water. And that isn’t to say these world-renowned festivals aren’t worth the final price tag; they’re incredibly worth it and should absolutely be on your bucket list at some point. However, there’s so much more to be discovered in today’s flourishing festival scene.

With the growth of EDM and its accompanying festivals, there’s a substantial list of alternatives to big name events and standard travel/lodging expenses. Shambhala and Wakarusa are great examples of affordable festivals that include camping. They’re also privately owned, which costs you less (Shambha $365; Waka $194), and have a rich heritage that’s been cultivated over the years by their loyal pilgrims. And given the otherworldly atmosphere of camping festivals, it’s not surprising that their rising popularity has seen Electric Forest sell out in record time these past two years. There’s also festivals like Winter Warmer ($95) that take place in both Colorado and Wisconsion at the very hotel you’ll be staying at – an experience not too far off from the intimacy of Holy Ship! and The Groove Cruise, albeit tailored for the price conscious midwesterner. Milwaukee’s Summerfest is the Guinness certified largest music festival in the world, costing merely $180 for eleven days of madness… More events spanning the entire U.S. include Infrasound ($160), Dreamscape ($115), Esthetic Evolution ($85), and Serenity Gathering ($160), each offering their own intimate festival experience and packing stacked line-ups.

Getting to the actual festival is a beast itself, whether you choose to fly cross country or drive 13+ hours yourself. All things considered, you’d probably spend the same amount of time getting frisky with TSA and making connections as you would taking a festival bus. It’s easy on the budget and a great way to meet new rave family. Companies like Unity, Electric Vibes, and Magic Coach offer routes to EDM festivals, letting you party en route and sleep the way back. In some cases they’ll even offer discount festival tickets and help with hotel booking!

To compare, let’s take a look at attending the gargantuan Ultra Music Festival versus the life-changing Wakarusa, from the perspective of a fan in Dayton, Ohio.

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Pictured above is the price of this year’s Ultra GA ticket at $449.95. Add to that a four night hotel stay relatively close to Bayfront Park at about $500/night, which you could divide between four of your friends. And take some comfort in knowing you still have to pay around $600 for a flight. This Ultra experience, before food and miscellaneous expenses, is now over $1,500.

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Now check out Wakarusa’s GA ticket, shown above at $194.00. You’ll need to purchase a camping pass for your vehicle, which costs $119, but it’s per car. Split that cost between four friends, you’re looking at $30 per person to camp. Gas for the roundtrip would cost about $200, dividing that again between your friends. This totals up to about $274 before food and miscellaneous expenses. For the same amount as Ultra, you could go to five festivals like Wakarusa, granted your job doesn’t mind.

Still, nothing compares to the holy grail of affordability quite like free.

Energize Festival in Lexington, Kentucky promises over 120 DJs along with free admission and free camping. Yep, totally free. The four day event is scheduled for mid-September, and has been going strong the last 15 years. Truly a testament to the beauty of our culture, Energize emphasizes the relationship between DJ and dancefloor over profit-driven madness.

I’m not aiming to make a point about any ‘corporate machine,’ nor discredit successful festivals or advise on which ones to attend. My only purpose is to provoke a look at less advertised gatherings and maybe give them a try. The idea of a festival should be centered on experience, not expense. Don’t let price be a factor in your festivities, there are plenty of new experiences to be had if you’re interested in finding something different.


Photo by Manousos Kouridakis