Every year there are well over a hundred festivals of all kinds going on throughout the UK, from the tiny to the massive, covering just about every musical genre, and often with other varieties of entertainment thrown in for good measure. Here, we talk to five people involved in putting on summer festivals about planning the event, booking the performers, organising sound systems and lighting rigs, and ensuring that everything runs smoothly once the festival opens its gates to the public.
One of the UK’s most iconic summer festivals, Henley, is famous for its floating stage, idyllic riverside lawns, black tie dress code and sheer eccentricity.
Chief executive Charlotte Geeves says: “We’ve already started planning for 2016, and have been since the end of February. We have some great relationships with managers and agents, which results in some incredibly straightforward negotiations and relatively quick bookings. There’s also a bit of luck involved – timing is everything. Sometimes your email lands at the right time, and then sometimes it doesn’t.
“On average we have 5,000 a night coming through the gates, so making sure we have enough of everything is key.
“The turnaround for putting everything up is incredibly tight. We get access to the site at midnight on Sunday and open on Wednesday at 6pm. Thankfully, we inherit all of the marquees (they start putting those up from April for the Regatta), so there is a big element already in place.
“All the performers on the floating stage bring their own tour managers and backstage teams, plus they have riders specific to their shows. We then work with the tour managers to ensure all the kit they need is there, including sound, lights, backlines and staff to run everything and support them wherever they need it.
“Our wet weather plans include working very closely with our groundsmen to make sure the ground is as well drained as it can possibly be, and we have adverse weather insurance as a backup.”
Established more than 150 years ago, this cross-art form event, focusing on Welsh culture, attracts around 120,000 visitors a year and is unusual in being held at a different location in Wales each year.
“The National Eisteddfod is a culmination of two years’ work by local volunteer committees,” says Huw Aled Jones, the head of technical services. “Their fundraising, programming and competition setting is overseen by the Eisteddfod executive team.
“The competitive part of the Eisteddfod makes it slightly different to other festivals in that we have to deal with artists who are also competitors.
“All sound systems are supplied by us, including the majority of the backline. Some artists may use their own FOH man. As the events in the Pavilion (the pink tent) are also televised, the success is dependent on a close working relationship with the broadcaster on a production and technical level.
“Most of the events take place under cover, so if we have wet weather the main problem is damage to the ground. Extreme wind can be a problem with the marquees, and in extremis site closure would be the only option.
“All aspects of health, safety and welfare are covered in a management document which supports our licence application. New CDM regulations are bound to have an effect, but systems we already have in place can be modified to comply.”
This family-friendly event includes main stage entertainment, a real ale festival, silent disco and children’s area, and can accommodate 70,000 people.
“We try and allow as much freedom of movement as possible and use stage timings and a large variety of entertainments which appeal to a wide demographic to ensure we have people enjoying themselves across our whole site,” says festival co-organiser James Ralls.
“All staging, fencing and lighting rigs are organised by our in-house team. The build phase of Victorious Festival lasts two weeks, with the breakdown taking place over one week after the event.
“Bands and artists bring their own backstage crews, which are joined by our backstage teams. Generally, bigger artists will bring their own sound and lighting engineers to work alongside ours, but the artists always use our sound system, which is produced to the highest artists’ specification we receive.
“Our lighting rig is used, but some artists may specify certain effects purely for their part of the show, which we are happy to accommodate.”
Now in its 65th year, the challenge for organisers of this festival is the fact that it takes place at several venues across the town of King’s Lynn.
“Staging the festival is a major logistical exercise, and is the result of a year-round operation by three part-time staff,” says festival chair Alison Croose. “We start planning at least 15 months ahead. Many people don’t realise just how much is involved and think the staff just work for part of the year. Tasks include applying for grants, finalising the accounts, attending first aid courses, building partnerships with other organisations, and carrying out risk assessments on venues such as churches.
“The festival relies on several dozen volunteers to act as stewards, programme sellers and refreshment providers during rehearsals.
“Four to five major events are held at the Corn Exchange, run by King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council, to whom we pay a hire fee plus charges to use their technical expertise and equipment. They also run the festival box office, for which we pay a charge. Two smaller venues – St George’s Guildhall and the Town Hall – are also hired from and serviced by the council.
“We always use two large churches in King’s Lynn, which are much more complex because health and safety requirements are more rigorous than for church services, and we have to hire in lighting, sound systems and so on.”
This new festival, based just outside London, was established to showcase two businesses, Pirate’s Grog and Green Yurts, and features a line-up of funk, soul, ska, house and techno artists and DJs.
“We wanted to offer attendees the chance to drink premium cocktails and stay in luxurious unique accommodation at an affordable rate, while enjoying top-notch music and entertainment,” says Beth Jones, one of the owners of Pirate’s Grog.
“As this is our first year, we are keeping the festival small, limiting it to less than 500 people. This is to ensure we stick to our promise of offering a premium experience to all of our attendees, including locally and ethically sourced food, delicious premium cocktails, boutique camping, etc
“Music is a large focus of our event and we have organised a number of great DJs and bands to play, so it’s our responsibility to provide them with a great sound system and equipment. We’ll be using a Funktion One system at the event with top spec decks and mixer.
“Our team will be dealing with the tech set-up but the festival is all about pooling everyone’s talents to have a great weekend together. If it’s a success we’ll grow the festival next year, but offering a premium experience for a lower price will always be the ethos behind Rumbellion.”