The literary festival has been variously claimed to perform communicative, educative and social functions: it engages the public in literary and political discussions, thereby encouraging participation in the Arts and promoting associated civic benefits. The audience of the literary festival, however, is typically represented as a body of populist and popularizing consumers, uncritically engaging with the mass-culture produced and propagated in the festival setting. Researchers have begun to refute such claims, demonstrating that members of festival audiences exhibit a deep and critical engagement with literature; but beyond this demographic-based research, little work has been conducted capable of interrogating audience experience, or mapping the broader culture of festival attendance. The diversity of literary festivals sizes, locations, histories and stated goals is complemented by the equally broad ranges of programmed events. These events and the festivals more broadly are at once literary, theatrical, political and contemporary. As such, conceptions of audience, reader and readership from book history, communication and media studies, and performance and theatre studies, can all contribute to an investigation of the experience of the literary festival audience. This research compares work from these areas of study with individuals personal accounts of festival experiences extracted from online weblogs to begin to conceptualise the variety and complexity of audience experiences at the literary festival, and outline the rich potential for further study in this area. (c) 2015 Taylor Francis.