Festival culture has become extremely prolific, to the point of multiple weekends for some, and record-smashing attendance for others. As music festivals become more prominent in the culture of modern smartphone-wielding concertgoers, it's only natural that advances in the technology associated with each individual event will follow. The proliferation of RFID wristbands as ticketing is not a gimmick -- the technology has both functional and social implications for both the festival attendee and the organizers. If you've been wondering who makes these gizmos, or why they're suddenly the most important component of every major festival in America, then read on and meet Intellitix, the company behind more of the festival mechanics than you might imagine.
As many festival-goers are already aware, the wristband is more than just a ticket -- it's a method of access control, allowing general admission, VIP, staff, and artists respectively to enter certain areas of the festivals by scanning in. At this year's Bonnaroo Music and Arts festival, we had the fortune of sitting down with one of the more convivial folks I met behind the scenes, Greg Parmley, the RFID comms guy on site for the event, who shed some light on the other functions of this burgeoning technology. Intellitix also works on a variety of other festivals, including Coachella, Bamboozle, and for the first time this summer, The Great GoogaMooga.
Obviously the organizers of the festival will monitor who is moving where and in what volume, and use that data to adjust the size and location of access points. But apart from the "network of readers and entrance portals" (of which there were many), one of the most crucial functions of the RFID wristband is that it completely eradicates counterfeiting and theft. Even with a "fantastic replica," the unique RFID tag in each wristband is inimitable, and if your wristband is lost or stolen, you simply get a new one from the staff, and deactivate the old one.
Registration of the wristband to your name is optional, but for features like theft protection it's an essential step. But Intellitex is experimenting with other incentives to register the wristband. At this year's Bonnaroo, totem-esque statues stood at certain points near each of the stages, bearing a Facebook logo. With a registered wristband, you could step up to one of these structures, scan in, and have a photo taken to be uploaded to your Facebook account.
As Mr. Parmley put it, "access control is one thing, but this technology is really about connecting people." Some of the possibilities we discussed were exciting, and alluring:
Free Music and Mailing Lists
: Checking out a new band on stage X that you like? Live click the totem, swap contact info with the band, and get sent a couple of free tracks.
Facebook status updates with smart playlists
: check in at any of the stages, and it will automatically compile and post a link to a spotify playlist of the bands you saw.
Set list sharing
: Check in at the stage, and post the setlist to your feed after you see the show.
The possibilities for connectivity are limitless. Past attendees of rural gatherings like Bonnaroo and Coachella already know -- despite the ubiquity of the smart phone, poor cell service is a severe hindrance to social interaction at large music festivals. Intellitix is working to eradicate this.
The future seems even more interesting. Greg and his team have begun experimenting with wristbands that also function with NFC technology, meaning that you can add money to your wristband and use it to purchase items like food, drink, and band merch by simply scanning it at the register. This "cuts down on ques and allows for festival goers to spend less time on line and more time enjoying themselves," a truly desirable advancement if I've ever heard one. And this weekend, Intellitix is partnering with Roger Waters to use the final date of his The Wall
tour in Quebec City to kickstart an Amnesty International campaign. RFID wristbands will be used as ticketing for the event. If the concergoer should connect their wristband to their Facebook, it will allow them to post a very special message from Amnesty International and Roger Waters during the concert. Of this latest development, Intellitix head pilot Serge Grimaux said: "Projects like this show how RFID technology is being used to forge new methods of communication. The potential for NGOs, charities and organizations in addition to those involved in live events is enormous." Just another piece of the puzzle.
RFID is the future of social connectivity at music events, and hopefully, while fixing some of the more organizational issues of large gatherings, it grows to also be an essential part of our social experience.