Putting On A Festival, And How To (Nearly) Bankrupt Yourself In Seven Easy Steps

Organising a festival is a brilliant experience, but if you aren't careful it will leave you seriously out of pocket...
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Organising a festival is a brilliant experience, but if you aren't careful it will leave you seriously out of pocket...


There has never been a worse time to start your own music festival. In an already overloaded calendar Sonisphere has collapsed, Big Chill has had to take a year off ‘cos the Olympics is hogging all the attention, and thanks to the Royal Wedding last year everyone is in a lather about street parties and ironic renditions of God Save The Queen

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However this won't stop you starting one, if you are so inclined to do so and have the passion/ego/funds(delete as appropriate) to see it through. The rise of the micro festival has seen rafts of events popping up all over the country. Last year we decided to start one called Apple Tarts, and in June we are going to have 500 people hoofing it through an orchard in the Kent countryside for a day and a night.

The first Apple Tarts was by turns the most stressful, strange and exciting experience of our lives.  It also cost a lot of money, which seems obvious but wasn’t to us (to begin with). This being the case here are the seven steps that will lead you nearly to financial festival ruin, if you let them.

1) Security

The world of licences and parish councils is the land where angels fear to tread. You will have countless meetings with men called Nigel. Your stock response to Nigel will be 'yes Nige, will have security all though here, before during and after the event, everyone will be safe as houses and we’ll keep all the oiks out.’  Somewhere around this point that you may well realise you have not in fact booked security, and in the pursuit of doing so find out keeping people safe costs more than you’ve got in your kids trust fund. Indeed, you may well find that that the money put by for Little Georgie’s wedding dress will instead be spent almost exclusively on a toothless man called Steve who loves his Alsatian far more than he’ll ever love you.

As a caveat, can we add here that we love all the guys that do our security, including Steve.

2) Bands

'Why don’t you book (generic band name)" for the festival?' Those 8 words will come to stab you like a status update from the ex. Unless you’ve got masses of sponsorship, very generous parents or went to the Brit School and have the requisite connections(or a combination of all three) trying to book acts is a constant ball-shrinking reality check.  This was something we hadn’t anticipated.    Your first few festivals will exists on shoestrings and the vapour of an empty fuel tank, so when your mate hears the latest band to have crawled out of a Clapton toilet and tells you to book them, tell him they were on Zane Lowe the other day and will already charge you the best part of a grand for the privilege of a 30 minutes set of bleeps, bells and pedals.

Apple Tarts - Superfresh from Stella Scott on Vimeo.

3) Power

Nigel knows something even this small needs a substantial amount of power. You will want to cut corners.  You will cut corners, but power is most definitely one you can't.  For without power there is no light and no music, surely the two things (other than booze and, you know, vibes) on which a festival does reside.    For 500 people you can expect to do away with Little Georgie’s first car.  Last year we seriously considered not having any sort of back-up generator, before thankfully realising this was really stupid.

4) Ideas

The hidden cancer of any festival budget. From that blurry, Guinness-driven day you decide to actually do the festival you will have ideas like 'wouldn't it be great to have toadstools for people to sit on?' Or 'wouldn’t it be nice if at midnight we can suddenly drop some big curtains in the main marquee, from which flocks of doves will emerge dropping Viagra and V.I.P passes to our secret area that will be a hollowed out tree full of midgets re-enacting  the chariot scene from Ben Hur.’

You will then get carried away with said idea and get as far as writing a ‘list’ of the things that need to be achieved to make it happen, before your creative whims will be destroyed by The Budget and you try and file the idea underneath the ‘decoration’ part of The Budget, before you realise you’ve already spent that entirely on hay bales and an archway to the camping field that will get blown down the morning of the festival (the last bit is true).  This leads us neatly to…

5) Tut

Tut is the word we use; you most likely will use another.  Some say tat, others crap, faffy stuff, but it really all amounts to the same thing. Tut is the miscellaneous expenditure that seem to accumulate behind tents, against tables and poking out the ground; you will first see the tut when the ugliness of open space spreads across the field.  At least 198 times a day during the set-up last year one of us would say something along the lines of:

'We could do with some tut there and maybe some over there too.'

Tut will manifest itself in some, not to mention a million more, of the following ways:

Flamingos
Sumo suits
Broken TVs
Flags
More flamingos
Inflatable palm trees
Hay bales
Postcards (vintage)

6) Marquees

This will hurt you, you should be prepare for this, Marquees are not cheap and imagination is a dangerous thing. You will want a big top, you will have probably seen the John Peel Stage; your ego will write the cheque but The Budget will burn it. It is just one of a long list of comprises that you will have to make; but keep the faith as a smaller marquee will do for now.

Obviously you going to want more than one, the bar tent will be next, originally we had a Wendy house with ideas above its station.  For 2012 we’re getting more; last year we invested a lot in massive gazebos.  Gazebos, it transpires, do not stand up well to overnight gales and are liable to be broken, arse-up and induce a heart-attack epidemic when you turn up at your treasured festival first thing in the morning.

7) The People

Cling to them tightly because they'll exhaust and support you all the way through it, and without them it. Will. Not. Happen.  But make sure you are 100% on the people you have helping; last year our Bar Manager was a guy we’d worked with for all our nights and, whilst being the human incarnation of the word ‘flaky’ we felt he could be trusted for something as big as this.  Fast forward to 90 minutes before opening of the festival, and after repeated phonecalls for the last 24 hours the poisonous little fucker slurs down the phone down the phone that he’s not coming. Cue frantic runs to Tesco and a serious Red Stripe shortage throughout the East Kent area.

This year we’re doing it ourselves (well, Bobbie is.  God bless her).

The other thing with people is you have to keep them happy; this means food and them being boozy by mid-day.  Mid-day eventually turns into early evening, and your bar staff will be sprawled across the floor, chaos will be building and by night time it's like stuffing an octopus in a paperbag. But by then you’re off and running and for the briefest of moments, with The Budget reduced to ash on a bonfire (you might want one of those as well - though remember the extinguishers, we didn't last year - big mistake), you realise that no-one there has any clue about all the stuff we’ve just mentioned here, and that against all the odds they appear to be having a brilliant time. The DJ will have Prince charging out the speakers and you think to yourself that it’s all actually been worth it; it's at this point you will need to sleep, maybe a week or most likely more, you need to take things slowly, you need to recover; you have next year to plan don't you?

The Apple Tarts website is here , the Facebook page is here and you can get them on Twitter here


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