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Author Topic: Festival Feedback  (Read 1402 times)

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Julian S

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Festival Feedback
« on: August 29, 2017, 09:53:11 AM »

As I recover from Shrewsbury Folk Fest, I'm interested to read the comments particularly about Whitby Folk Week, and also about Sidmouth. Shrewsbury, in my opinion was much better than last year- certainly helped by the weather which meant that there were many more outdoor ad hoc sessions. Some great stand out performances - hearing and dancing to La Machine for example, and seeing The Transports I wonder how the workshops - particularly the melodeon ones went ?- the festival site isn't particularly good for small scale workshops or concerts unfortunately.
For me the problem at all festivals is balancing going to concerts, dances, the odd workshop, and of course sessions - but maybe I'd be better off (say) 
going to Sidmouth for workshops, Whitby for sessions and because I'm on the spot Shrewsbury for concerts. Trying to do everything at the one festival doesn't always work for me.
But I too am worried about the long term viability of the large festivals, with the age profile of attendees, particularly in the concerts. And also without the old network of folk clubs, how do the talented young performers now emerging develop their skills and share their music more widely ?

J
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Edward Jennings

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2017, 10:07:09 AM »

"how do the talented young performers now emerging develop their skills and share their music more widely ?"
Probably in the same way that they'll manage with supposedly man-made global warming, population growth and the freedoms which leaving the EEC will bring. It's really out of the hands of us old folk concert attending f**ts, well, to a great extent, anyway.
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John MacKenzie (Cugiok)

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2017, 10:30:09 AM »

Well being a talented performer isn't the same as being a popular performer, as is evidenced by the many "3 chord wonders", who made their fortunes in the music business.
It is no good being top of your class if you have had a charisma bypass operation. They will have to learn their craft/trade, like others before them, and they will succeed or fail by their own efforts.
You may be brilliant, but can you work an audience?
The only tip I can give them, is this, even if you're not enjoying what you're doing, or the place you're doing it in. look as if you are!

Sir John
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Chris Brimley

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2017, 10:41:58 AM »

I agree with Julian - I've just returned from Towersey, and it seems to me that the big festivals these days are tending towards the mega bands with full professional production standards as with pop and rock festivals.  Unless you're a trained budding virtuoso musician who has been through the music performer training system, you have virtually zero chance of getting to a big stage.  Fair play to Towersey, they do recognise the need to cater for the needs of the diversity of festival-goers, and they organise lots of smaller activities and workshops, which are always well-attended - this year they re-invented the idea of a session tent, and yes, it worked well.  But there's still a big rump in the audience of older performers who go to such festivals mainly because they enjoy playing folk music, of all kinds - and their probably very talented kids.

Some big festival organisers seem to place audiences solely as listeners, or dancers, and don't recognise the contribution their audience can make themselves, in the long run.  They don't need to, it's a commercial thing.  The organisers have been all taken over by those who see the interest in the music as an opportunity rather than an end in itself.  Youngsters don't get a chance to develop their skills in this environment.

However, all is not lost - enlightened festival organisers are around, and personally I think Towersey is still one of them. 

Also, give smaller local festivals a chance, they can bridge the gap.  (I don't intend this as a plug, just an example:)  I run an acoustic Open Mic stage at Woodfest (National Trust Hatfield Forest near Stansted, this year Sept 8th-10th), for what is a free festival aimed primarily at unpaid local musicians.  And I can tell you the local acoustic/folk music scene is still very much alive and kicking!  We withhold 1 in 3 of the spots for people who approach us on the day, but the other 2/3 are always booked within a few days of sending out the invites.  And many are youngsters on the scene.  (A shame that so many of them seem just to play acoustic guitars, but never mind!)
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Edward Jennings

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2017, 10:55:49 AM »

"A shame that so many of them seem just to play acoustic guitars"
It's obvious that there is a place for guitars in folk music, and sometimes they're exceptional, but I think that they are far too prevalent.
I was at a small gathering the other day, 14 people, 1 set of small pipes, 1 concertina and then 7 guitars! Too many in my opinion.
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Edward
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Tone Dumb Greg

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2017, 11:18:48 AM »

"A shame that so many of them seem just to play acoustic guitars"
It's obvious that there is a place for guitars in folk music, and sometimes they're exceptional, but I think that they are far too prevalent.
I was at a small gathering the other day, 14 people, 1 set of small pipes, 1 concertina and then 7 guitars! Too many in my opinion.

It's been like that since the early years, though. The guitar has been the prefered way for young people to start expressing themselves, musically, since I was a child. As they grow older and become more aware of the possibilities their interests and skills will broaden.
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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2017, 11:58:11 AM »

We might be making too much of this perceived decline in numbers of younger musicians coming through. My Well Known Tunes at a Steady Pace sessions and my Techniques for Learning Tunes by Ear workshops both seek to cater for such people. Numbers for the Well Known Tunes sessions at Sidmouth varied between 68 and 93, with a good proportion of younger people. The Learning by Ear workshop was attended by 51 people, again with a significant proportion of younger musicians. Numbers for my Relative Beginners Melodeon workshops were in the high 20s.

All this suggests to me that there are plenty of younger musicians coming through. Folk clubs may be declining in numbers, but I think the number of sessions is increasing and there has been a steady expansion in the number of Euro-sessions in recent years, so new young musicians will not be short of places to play. Personally, I think that the future is in safe hands.
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Edward Jennings

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #7 on: August 29, 2017, 12:07:59 PM »

Greg, maybe I should have pointed out that they were 14 old people! And, I forgot to mention Christine Jeans's banjo.

"I think that the future is in safe hands."
I expect you're right there, Bob. Everything changes naturally, but the best always finds its way out.
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Edward
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baz parkes

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #8 on: August 29, 2017, 12:19:26 PM »

Nowhere near the scale of the Big Four, but Dartmoor Festival always gets my vote...the energy of the youth involved is incredible, the sessions are probably the most inclusive I've been to, the concerts top notch and there's ferret racing...

Bob Cann left us a wonderful legacy...
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Thrupenny Bit

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #9 on: August 29, 2017, 12:52:22 PM »

I've tried to reply but deleted the post to reassemble my thoughts. Since there have been several excellent points made here.
I'd like to thank Julian for this thread, something my earlier posts were getting at in the 'Whitby' thread.

The mega bands and performers at the major festivals have a double effect. It  reduces the ability of up and coming people to break through, as Chris has said. It also has a much greater effects on festivals as a whole.
If your top performers are booked then they are a major source of expenditure for any festival. If a lot of money goes into these concerts it means less is spent on other aspects of the festival. Those at Sidmouth this year are well aware at the lack of provision going into the campsite when trackways enabling vehicle movement were not there resulting in a mud-fest and many annoyed punters. A major shadow over the entire week. We have long  felt that if the festival organisers *had* to camp there would be better provisions for life's basic needs for the majority of the punters who have to camp.

We also question the organisational ethos. It is not all about mega concerts. We ( my morris friends ) have bemoaned the loss of impromptu venues for years. The sadly missed Masons Arms were a great place for impromptu playing and dancing. Using the side road to mix sets up and talk/do morris was just so good. Exchanging ideas, making friends, laughing. What more do you need?
The Masons Arms are now cottages.
Other Sidmouth pubs use the week as a customer pull and put on electric ( rock often ) bands. They operate outside the festival, take a good profit from it but put nothing back. It was always thus here I'm afraid. Also by putting on their take of the festival, it means another venue is lost for playing, singing or just hanging out and being spontaneous.

The youth element I think is getting stronger. We even had visiting morris from the US this year at Sidmouth. That is a direct connection from my side attending the Marlboro Ale, becoming involved in Morris Offspring shows where youngsters meet talk and cross pollenating ideas. My side's youth making trips across the pond and reciprocal trips back. Some young are really motivated.
There is a good ceilidh scene for youngsters, and that is what my daughter and friends go for, evening ceilidhs followed by the LNE ceilidhs and relaxing in the lounge at the Bulverton til 3-4am and repeating. As ages affects us, perhaps our ( my! ) inability to do this for a week now, is a result of a growing concert scene where people of an age prefer to attend.
There are young morris sides coming through ( thank goodness ) and the jig competition has a major youth input.
I'm please to learn Bob's various events had a good youth audience. It's not all bad!

We need to do 2 things at major festivals:-
Bring on and encourage the youth - our future dancers, musicians and audience.
We need to cater for those revivalists from the '70's who still enjoy attending festivals, might go to concerts now rather than dance all night, but are getting increasingly put off by mud fests and poor campsite facilities.
Q
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Julian S

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #10 on: August 29, 2017, 01:43:35 PM »

Thanks Q. I share your views both in respect of Sidmouth and more generally. I certainly haven't regretted giving up camping at Sidmouth - staying in an hotel has benefits (at a considerable cost however !)
I applaud the childrens, youth and emerging talent initiatives at Shrewsbury festival - with a Shropshire Youth Folk Ensemble having also been formed recently. It will be really interesting to see how this develops across the whole range of 'folk' and traditional music and dance...and whether it can be sustained.
Having a major festival on the doorstep is great, whatever my moans. But I reckon traditional music and dance can't just revolve around them, particularly when the difference between success and failure can depend so much on weather, competition with other events, and an ageing client base.

J

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Thrupenny Bit

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #11 on: August 29, 2017, 02:32:46 PM »

Julian, you've also touched on another valid point - costs.
I was stunned at how much punters should have paid to join the mud-fest on the main site.
Several friends have either given up tenting and bought camper vans or caravans, some like yourself have opted for a hotel.
Both options are an added cost on top of a week's season ticket and it's getting to be a considerable lump of money to outlay.

A couple of years back I started mentioning melodeon workshops in my Sidmouth feedback form. I'm glad to think this is starting to be undertaken. A while back there was just Beginners Melodeon, ably run by Ed Rennie, but then what?
There now has been  advanced workshops with Saul Rose and someone who's name escapes, and our own Bob running several 'by ear' workshops and the like, plus a slow and steady session. All this is, to my mind, the start of an embryonic tutoring system. If these workshops could be increased and expanded then a week long set of workshops would cover the season ticket costs alone.
They are also a way into the folk music world, offering paths into the light!
Yoda.....  ;)

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Myndmusic

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #12 on: August 29, 2017, 04:45:51 PM »

I attended both Sidmouth and Shrewsbury (which like Julian, is local to me) and thoroughly enjoyed both. Yes, Sidmouth's campsite was a bit of a mudbath but I think the stewards did a fantastic job and were always smiling and helpful. Agree there could have been more tracking but, to be honest, the Sidmouth field is just not ideal for camping, and where would they find a better site?

Shrewsbury is altogether different with a largely flat field and great facilities, and this year was blessed with the best weather I can ever remember. One of the big pluses for Shrewsbury compared to Sidmouth for me is that the former takes recycling and zero waste very seriously, whereas Sidmouth just had a big trailer to dump everything. You can of course, take your recycling home as we did, but not everyone bothers and far too much recyclable material looked like it was going to landfill.

My personal view is that Shrewsbury has a very good mix of 'big' gigs and smaller events. The addition of the new Woods Brewery-sponsored stage for new talent looked a good idea and the village stage is always a great place to find new and emerging artists. A number of tributes were paid to the festival founder Alan Surtees, who sadly died earlier this year, with many artists remarking on the support that they had got from SFF in helping them establish their names in the folk world.

Are there really too few young people? At these two festivals, I am not convinced. The Sidmouth campsite bus is positively teeming with younger festival-goers who clearly come back year after year. The Rugby club sessions included some great playing and tunes led by young adults. And having worked on the ticketing team at Shrewsbury this year, I know there was no shortage of young adults attending and making music throughout the site.

Off to Bromyard next week which, on past experience, might be skewed to an older audience but there is so much love and affection for the event 50 years after it started, I can't see it disappearing any time soon.

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Thrupenny Bit

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #13 on: August 29, 2017, 05:35:21 PM »

yes, there are little options in siting of the Sidmouth campsite.
What was incredibly annoying was the lack of reaction to the weather forecast. The all day rain on the Wednesday when the campsite was due to open hit exactly as it had been forecast up to a week previously. It beggars belief that the organisers didn't either get the heavy gear in first ( toilets showers etc ) or put down tracking given a week's notice *before* this forecasted rain hit.
Through the morris connections I know the festival head man personally and expressed my views quite firmly when on the opening Thursday he mentioned rain. He received both barrels and to be fair did listen. I sincerely hope the organisers take on board this year's events and spend money to prevent a repetition. That could mean diverting moneys from headline concerts and diverting it more into the infrastructure of the festival and the campsite in particular.
Let's hope so.....
Q
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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #14 on: August 30, 2017, 07:20:51 AM »

Festivals book the mega acts for a simple reason, they bring in punters.  It has always been so, the only difference today is that there are increasing expectations in terms of style of show that a headline band is expected to put on.

Arguably the bigger block to young performers is the plethora of sixty year old (and older) "favourites" that are taking many of the mid-slots at festivals and a large proportion of the dwindling number of folk club bookings.  Yes, I enjoy seeing these artists as much as the next person but I think it is unfair to lay the problem solely at the door of the festivals.

The problem I see coming down the road is that the economics of running a festival, and meeting the comfort expectations of the audience, are getting harder.  Most of the mega festivals will survive but become more commercial,  I expect to see more of the Butlins' style weekends, the small local festivals with limited bills will continue but the middle sized ones will go.  There's already being a shakeup like this in the wider festival world and I don't see folk as being exempt.
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Thrupenny Bit

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #15 on: August 30, 2017, 08:04:30 AM »

I was talking to a friend last night who played for our Morris side at Sidmouth.
He too thought the festival quiet.
He also speculated if there was starting to be a re- branding of festivals.
Apparently this year Towersey put on some non folk acts such as K.T. Tunstall and the Blockheads, and am wondering whether this will morph into a music festival rather than a folk festival.

I agree with ogiesnr's points. Headline acts pull in punters and this keeps the money rolling in. Sidmouth has early concerts before the festival gets going of similar crowd pulling people.
Maybe appealing to non mainstream folkies is a way to go to ensure the coffers are full?
Q
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John MacKenzie (Cugiok)

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #16 on: August 30, 2017, 09:22:47 AM »

Well I used to go to Sidmouth, but never bought a ticket. Mainly because I thought they were too expensive. I used to go to sessions in various venues, mainly the Bedford, and I camped at a commercial site (King's Down Tail), and used the bus service.
Sidmouth itself is an expensive town, and I hear the tickets are getting even more expensive. I also hear that one has to pay separately for big concerts at The Ham, and I even heard that those who steward at this venue, have to pay for a ticket! (sic)
Whitby tickets, while they are getting expensive, provide better value for your money. The town itself is cheaper, and beer at less the £3 a pint is to be found, while good, and reasonably priced food is to be found in the town.
My problem with Whitby, is that it is getting stale, with the same acts, booked year after year. Now I know that Whitby has a reputation for paying acts less than some other festivals, but this doesn't put many acts off, so it must be the ambience, or the fish and chips, that brings them back.
I'm not saying that they should chuck out the baby with the bathwater, and ditch old favourites for fresh blood, but I think change is needed.

Sir John
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Thrupenny Bit

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #17 on: August 30, 2017, 09:46:20 AM »

Sir John,
you've touched on several things there regarding Sidmouth.
I saw a flyer this year for another 'fringe' campsite that one friend went to. Better facilities, they have bands on every night etc.....
Again these are making money on the back of the festival. Their 'fringe' has nothing to do with the festival, they are taking advantage of people being drawn to the festival and making money on the back of it. Fair enough, they need to make money to survive, but they must divert people away from the main festival and contribute nothing towards the festival proper.
You are right, it is an expensive town. There is a difference if you buy things before the festival and during the festival. The local shops do hike prices during the festival, and not all support the festival financially. That used to be the case but since the festival changed some years back I think there are more supporters contributing in town. Quite rightly in my opinion as they do profit from it.

Edit: On reflection, I remember a badge in some shop windows giving support to the festival, so times are changing and they are supporting the festival more, which is a positive move.

Yes you pay on top to attend Ham concerts but it's not compulsory! There is plenty else going on covered by the season ticket.
If you use the Blackmore Dance Marquee you will get excellent local beers at £3 a pint, cheaper than anywhere else in town and we ( my friends and sometimes me who run the bar ) have stood up to the organisers making the point that we are Devonian, in a Devon town and wish to drink our Devonshire beers, not stuff brought in from the Caledonian breweries. They are starting to listen and again the bar profits go into the festival. The Blackmore is starting to become 'home' to the booked sides which makes it a nice meeting place and watering hole.
Three years back we went to Towersey and I was paying £4.50 (?) or more ( can't remember but was shocked! ) for a pint for beer we were selling at a profit on the Blackmore bar at £3, a local Exeter beer. Now that is expensive! I commented about it to friends from London who seemed to think it was normal prices. There are huge variations between North and the South in many things.
Q
« Last Edit: August 30, 2017, 10:23:28 AM by Thrupenny Bit »
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Tone Dumb Greg

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #18 on: August 30, 2017, 11:06:13 AM »

...maybe I should have pointed out that they were 14 old people! And, I forgot to mention Christine Jeans's banjo.

Old people? No hope for them then. :D

I suppose these "old" people were part of the young generation I grew up with. They'll be the ones that never moved on. I never made it as a singing guitar player because I couldn't sing a damn note. I used to suffer terrible tonsil envy. Get my own back now with my trusty pokerwork.

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Re: Festival Feedback
« Reply #19 on: August 30, 2017, 12:28:06 PM »

Not having been to many festivals in England, i think there is one thing missing in the discussion, at least from a Dutch perspective. I am a big fan of the smaller festivals, where th "audience" is really  doing something to make the atmosphere (sessions, dancing etc). BUT in order to draw in new people, new youth, i think we need the bigger festivals too, with bigger names and dito performance. People dont start with guitars for nothing,...all their stars play guitar, it's all everyone knows. We need to have big folk stages, to show youth Stars without guitars ;-)

just my 2 cents,
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