Festival All-Star: The Festive OwlArticle by: Graham Berry|@Festival_Writer
Tue October 02, 2018 | 14:57 PM
Each festival season, festies far and wide look to learn the 411 on what’s happening at their most beloved events. From Coachella to Bonnaroo, to Electric Forest and any fest in between, crowds of would-be attendees turn to friends in the know, Twitter, festival blogs, and Reddit among other varied sources to discover what’s in store at the experiences they dream about all year long. For those tapped into this dizzying stream of information, there’s no greater hero or source of street wisdom and advance leaks than the covert Twitter character who is as unapologetic as much as it is mysterious: the Festive Owl.
The Festive Owl is one of the few independent sources of information dedicated to the people. As such, it runs a no-bullshit operation; it won’t stomach lazy or lackluster festival production and certainly doesn’t entertain excuses from spin doctors when things go sideways. Whether it’s musical chairs with headliners on the lineup or something more egregious, Festive Owl always seems to have the scoop before anyone else. When Dash Berlin couldn’t make it to Spring Awakening, the Festive Owl was there to tell us Zedd would be there instead. When a fire broke out near Bonnaroo, the Festive Owl hit the social media airwaves to let us know it was off-site and unrelated to the event.
When 54 women came forward to tell Teen Vogue that they had been sexually assaulted this year at Coachella, Festive Owl was one of the first to call out the festival, while also putting the industry and the toxic predators on blast.
“You aren’t welcome,” the post read. “Change or be left behind.”
Imagine if Coachella had issued such a response. Being one of the most potent authorities real talking us all about festivals today, it’s markedly prodigious that (with the exception of a few trusted friends) nobody really knows the identity of the person or people who make the Festive Owl persona what it is today.
The Owl Origin Story
So who is the wizard behind the curtain? We were sworn to secrecy. What we can say is the Owl is genderless, ageless, cultureless and, while its purpose emerged through sheer necessity, the facade was initially inspired by the mystique surrounding the robot personae of the popular duo Daft Punk.
“Even though people may know who they are or not know who they are, they're still associated with like a real human and [simultaneously] Daft Punk was almost like this, you know, legend over here so that was sort of the initial idea [for the Festive Owl].”
When the Owl persona was conceived in January 2013, the internet couldn’t have been more ready. There was a wealth of information spread across multiple platforms, like Reddit, message boards, Facebook and the like. Twitter was evolving both as a tool for democracy, increased transparency, and as a mouthpiece for government officials, brands, and the celebrity elite, paving the way for a new voice on the festival scene.
“I didn't see anything else out there like it, at the time,” says Festive Owl. “You didn't have to have a dot-com to be legitimate anymore. You could be legitimate going directly to the fans.” As a regular on music and festival-related message boards and the sort who could rarely resist the urge to mole through the mountains of rumors on the web, the Owl initially set out to sift through the noise and serve up the facts so that others didn’t have to expend the same energy looking for credible information.
“I wanted it to be organically fed and be as a community because it wasn't about me,” Owl said. “It was just about a place where you could see this information around festivals, and that culture, and maybe some news…When they're my opinions, I make my opinions known. I don't expect everybody to always agree but I feel like my opinion is an educated one, at least.”
As an entity that exists somewhere in between news source and industry influencer, the Festive Owl is one of few voices shedding light on the major metamorphosis currently happening in the festival world. Plus, with dozens and even hundreds of responses to most tweets, it behooves festival leaders to pay attention when he tweets to his almost thirty-five thousand festival-going followers. Heeding the words of the Festive Owl and similar voices in the festival community may be one of the most important ways the industry can help itself, because according to the Owl, we’re sadly finding ourselves “in a space and in a time when there's got to be some [festivals] that go away.”
Shedding Light on the Truth
The aim of sharing all these rumors, leaked lineups and logistics fails seemed puzzling at first. While some could easily dismiss it as the behavior of a mischievous prankster, to our chagrin, the Festive Owl talked about a self-imposed responsibility to share information that is sourced organically and ethically from the depths of the internet into the public eye, so people who spend money to attend festivals can make better decisions a little quicker.
“Information is free to use. That's the world. Nobody owns this information. It just is what it is,” The Owl says. “And if it helps somebody out, whether in terms of the festival or, you know, they see a lineup earlier, some information that maybe gives them an upper-hand, in terms of saving a couple hundred bucks on that plane ticket or getting in on those early bird tickets, to me, that's only a positive.”
The Festive Owl doesn’t make content. It merely aggregates existing information, but how does the Owl know which sources to trust? The short answer is, the Owl trusts no one. That’s why posts are frequently marked “confirmed,” “leaked,” and so on. The Owl makes the reliability of the information known so that those who want to deduce as much as possible and decide for themselves, can. “It becomes their one-stop-shop for a lot of that information” so festival-goers can stay in the know without the time-consuming task of sifting the wealth of information online themselves.
Even though it’s true that not all the information shared by the Festive Owl is positive, it’s also true that not all experiences at festivals are positive. As an entity existing as neither media reporter nor influencer, but with the qualities of both, the Festive Owl “kind of lives out there in the world, by itself.” With over 100K likes on Facebook sharing reports, leaks, rumors and more, the Owl derives its credibility from selfless service to the festival community. “The idea,” the Festive Owl affirmed, “has always been to let its reputation and what it is just hold itself up until nobody's going to give a shit about festivals anymore.”
Through An Owl’s Eyes
Whether in search of larger meaning, a devoted community, or simply ticket sales, many events have adopted Burning Man-esque principles or overarching ethos to guide them. Some have made headlines with offerings like female-only spaces, like Her Forest at Electric Forest and female-only camps at Shambhala. Then there are nascent movements like harm reduction, which drive the likes of the Zendo Project and Tucker Gumber’s eco-conscious “Leave No Trace +1” efforts. However noble such cause-focused programs might be, it’s the festival’s ability to plan positive experiences at a scale that can keep it a fan-favorite for years.
”The first thing that can fuck your festival faster than anything is bad logistics,” The Owl explains. “Things, like bad security, long wait lines, lack of water is a massive one...it’s going to be on Twitter. It’s going to get out there and it's hard to get your reputation back.”
As an outspoken critic and a popular independent source for the kind of information that would otherwise be ignored by the news, the Festive Owl gives a voice to the common festie in a world where few influencers and news blogs have their back. That’s what makes the Festive Owl such a dynamic personality. Some may think of the Festive Owl as a world-class mischief maker or a self-empowered watchdog, but the truth is, it doesn’t matter. The Festive Owl is for the fans and as long as they’re represented it’ll remain a voice of authenticity and independence delivering helpful updates and hard truths on behalf of us all.