The 11th year of Columbia's Roots N Blues N BBQ festival will marks its first as a cashless event. The festival is using RFID wristbands for admission and payment inside the venue. | Via Roots N Blues N BBQ/Facebook

Columbia’s Roots N Blues festival ditches cash, debuts RFID payments

If you’re waiting in line for some serious eats at the Roots N Blues N BBQ festival in Columbia this weekend, don’t bother reaching into your pocket. The paper bills and plastic cards in your wallet can’t buy you a pulled pork sandwich or an ice cold beer, because for the first time this year the festival will be cashless.

“The only place you can use cash is if you want to put … money on your bracelet, because everything happens with an RFID transaction,” said Jamie Varvaro, director of development and marketing for Roots N Blues, an annual music festival that’s been held in Columbia since 2007.

RFID, or radio frequency identification, uses radio waves to read and capture information stored on a tag attached to an object. Roots N Blues will be provide wristbands with RFID chips that festivalgoers can use for admission into the venue, as well as to purchase food, drink and merchandise once they’re inside.

Attendees can either register the wristband through an online portal or wait until the event. Organizers recommend registering the wristband beforehand to save time. Through the online portal, users can create an account and link it to the wristband using a unique number and security code. In the portal, users can also can link credit or debit cards to their account and choose how much money to put on the wristband. The portal also features a refund tab, in case a user has leftover funds at the end of the festival.

“It’s a great convenience for festivalgoers,” Varvaro said. “That way they don’t have to negotiate with ATMs and deal with cash. It’s just a really simple process.”

The rise of RFID

Roots N Blues has hired Montreal-based Intellitix to provide the RFID technology. Founded in 2011, Intellitix has worked with major festivals like Coachella and Tomorrowland.

Although RFID has been around for decades, it emerged in the payment space only a few years ago, according to Thad Peterson, a senior analyst at the Aite Group, a research and advisory firm focused on the financial services sector.  

“We’ve had the moving (of) information from chip to terminals for a long time,” Peterson said. “The processing for payments hasn’t been around as long.”

As the digital payment industry grows with leaders like Square and Apple Pay, which enable payment transactions to be conducted with mobile devices, new opportunities also are emerging for RFID.

Vendors’ varied views
Some of the festival’s food, beverage and merchandise vendors have differing views on the new payment technology debuting this year. | Via Roots N Blues N BBQ/Facebook

Some Roots N Blues vendors are more excited than other to use the cashless technology this weekend. Lyla’s Catering co-owner Kelsey Dean said she was nervous about the change.

“A lot of people that come to the festival don’t use debit or credit  cards; they operate solely on cash,” Dean said. “That’s going to be a change for them, that I think will affect sales.”

This will be Lyla’s third year as a food vendor at the festival.

Other vendors, like Harold’s Doughnuts, are more optimistic about the new payment system.

“We are looking forward to using the technology,” said Harold’s owner Michael Urban.

Urban said his store accepts mobile payments through Apple Pay and Square.

Streamlined experiences, abundant data

The Walt Disney Co.’s MagicBand is one of the most notable examples of RFID in wristbands. Disney resorts first introduced the rubber wristbands to the public in 2013. They can be used for access to hotel rooms and rides, and for the purchase of food and merchandise, according to Disney’s website.

As Disney has proven, RFID wristbands can be helpful both in streamlining a customer’s entertainment experience and in providing useful information for the company behind that experience.

“In Disney’s case, with the MagicBand, they know who you are when they provide you with the MagicBand. … They can capture the data and use it well,” Peterson said. “A festival doesn’t have as much granular data, but it can look at the traffic pattern and they way people are using things.”

This means that Roots N Blues has the ability to gather data on its festivalgoers to improve their experience in the future. While capturing data is easy enough, Peterson said, the challenge comes when processing it.

“You have to have a really good customer management relationship software platform … the capability to process a whole bunch of data,” he said.

According to Varvaro, Roots N Blues has no plan for the user data collected during the festival.

“For us, it’s about improving the festival experience for our fans while on site,” he said.

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