Let's hold a festival! This article explores why hosting festivals has been widely prescribed as a panacea for the contemporary social and economic ills of cities. In this article, this is contextualised in relationship to the urban politics of neoliberalism, and the demise of many urban centres through global shifts in economic production. Boosting of city images through the hype of public–private partnerships re-imagines urban centres as world showcases – places that are vibrant, dynamic, affluent, healthy, tolerant, cosmopolitan and sexy. Focusing on two thematic areas – geographies of helplessness and geographies of hope – this article then investigates how both strands qualify the geographies of hype by revealing how contemporary urban festival spaces, while liberating certain social groups, also constrain, disadvantage and oppress.