Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Music Festival Opts for RFID

By Claire Swedberg

The event's organizers have selected a new RFID solution from Vendini, which is providing RFID wristbands, handheld and fixed HF readers, and hosted software for managing access control and ticketing data.


Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, a three-day music festival held in the twin cities of Bristol, Va., and Bristol, Tenn., will be the first to use a new RFID-based ticketing and access-control solution provided by a San Francisco firm called Vendini. The California company will supply RFID-enabled wristbands for everyone onsite—whether personnel, performers or ticket holders—for the September 2014 event. Vendini will also provide handheld and fixed high-frequency (HF) RFID readers, as well as hosted software for managing access control and ticketing data.

Traditionally, says Keith Goldberg, Vendini’s marketing VP, Vendini is a ticketing solution company that provides marketing and fundraising solutions as well, for use at concerts, sporting events, casino and tours. The firm was launched 11 years ago to provide a ticketing system for theater performances in the Bay area, he explains, and quickly began to expand across the United States in a variety of venues.

Vendini’s Keith Goldberg

Last year, the company built a software package for both ticketing and access control. The purpose, Goldberg says, was to bring the two typically disparate systems together, to be sold as a package, managed by Vendini on its own hosted server. The firm found, however, that managing access control is complex for many venues, since access control—unlike a single ticket that an audience member would purchase—has many categories comprising staff members, vendors and performers, each with unique access authorization, and personnel onsite during events must be able to keep all of those details straight. For example, he says, at a typical music festival, there may be 50 different levels of access that individuals carry—since there can be 20 stages or more at any given venue, and an individual can be granted permission to access any or none of them, and to go behind the stage or enter other areas. Access details are usually identified by means of color-coded stickers on passes worn around the neck.

The paper-based system not only could be confusing, but it could also be abused, since individuals could use a bogus pass that could easily fool a worker. Therefore, Vendini created an RFID solution employing HF 13.56 MHz RFID tags built into wristbands that are worn by everyone at the venue, whether staff members, volunteers, audience members or performers. That wristband would then be interrogated by a combination of fixed and handheld readers at the entrance to the event, and at various locations within the building.

Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion has begun selling RFID-enabled wristbands to audience members for its September show. Vendini, which has been the festival’s ticketing service provider for several years, is managing the event with its own software. The company began receiving orders for the wristbands this month, Goldberg says, which are expected to begin shipping to those ticket-holders in May 2014. The wristbands might be supplied by multiple vendors, and can be made with RFID inlays from various vendors. However, each wristband contains an NXP Semiconductors Mifare chip compliant with the ISO 14443 standard.

First, an individual visits the Bristol Rhythm website and pays $40 for a weekend pass to the festival, scheduled for Sept. 19-21. The wristband will then be shipped to that customer. When the RFID wristband arrives, the user goes online and registers it by entering the ID number printed on it (which is the same ID encoded to the RFID tag), and then enters his name and any other identifying information. If a single individual is buying tickets for himself and his friends, he can distribute the wristbands to those friends, who can then go online and register themselves as well.

Vendini will install fixed readers at the festival’s entrance gates. The devices are made with a Foundation BeagleBone computer fitted with a BeagleBone Black RFID Adaptor Cape (an expansion board made by CircuitCo) that includes a Texas Instruments TRF7970ATB NFC RFID reader module.

As guests arrive at the event, each visitor will be able to walk to the gate and tap his wristband near a fixed reader in order to be granted admission. If there is a problem with the wristband, that person will be directed to the ticketing office. The process is the same for vendors, employees, members of the press or performers; however, they must also enter information regarding their role at the event before being granted specific access. This data will all be saved in Vendini’s software, to be accessed by Bristol Rhythm as necessary.

Handheld readers that could be used at various locations, such as at a particular stage or backstage, will be peripheral RFID reader devices attached to Apple iPhones and iPads. The interrogators, provided by Infinite Peripherals, include the Linea Pro 5 (which fits into an iPhone 5 or iPod Touch 5), the Infinea Tab 2 (which works with the iPad 2) and the Infinea Tab M (for use with iPad Minis).

In the event of a problem—such as a missing wristband, or a need to change access authorization—Bristol Rhythm’s staff can make changes in the hosted system. Although the software could allow workers to do this on an RFID handheld, Goldberg says, that would not be a desirable function in most cases, since access information should not be changed at the point of entrance by a volunteer or staff member, but rather by an authorized employee at the ticketing office.

By combining access-control and ticketing functions on a single system, Goldberg says, the solution can save money for festivals that otherwise would have to pay for several separate solutions. Audience members can pass through the entrance three to four times faster—since they need not stop and present a ticket to a staff member—than those using paper tickets, he says, thereby providing greater customer satisfaction. The Vendini system, Goldberg adds, can resolve problems faster, by quickly identifying the individual in the system linked to a particular wristband, along with that person’s access details. The system also promises to reduce fraud, he says, since there are fewer ways for individuals to acquire a ticket or access ID fraudulently. Once attached, the wristband is designed to be worn throughout the entire event, and cannot be removed without being destroyed.