A FOOL FOR A FESTIVAL May 28, 2009Posted by markswill in Navel Gazing.
Although sorely tempted by this year’s line-up of old rascals, I’m not going to Glastonbury. In fact I’ve never been to Glastonbury. In fact the last such bash I attended was actually the Isle of Wight Hendrix-fest in 1970. And that’s because I hate being herded into a ghetto of faux jollity and cultural solidarity that, as often as not, involves mud, food poisoning and queuing for twenty minutes to take a dump, all of which might hideously coalesce to render the joy of squinting at your fave popsters drunkenly strumming half a mile away no compensation for whatsoever.
And yet in less that two months I shall be traipsing around a festival site in a sleep-deprived, burger-induced trance wondering if my new favourite bands will have finished playing before I make it back from the bogs. However this won’t be a big-ticket outdoor wing-ding masquerading as a sun-kissed love-in, it will be a mere 3000 capacity deal on the fringe of my wee Welsh hometown that since 1993 has brought an improbable array of roots’n’world music, plus many local outfits to an enthusiastic and largely indigenous audience. Sheep Music, for that’s its name, began as a sort of picnic with bells (and Fender Strats) on and gradually developed into something much bigger but without the corporate trappings, probably because it is not run by a corporation but by a bunch of unpaid locals of which this year I am again but one.
Actually, that’s not quite true, because although I’ve worked as a steward on several previous occasions, this is the first time I’ve been part of the actual management, responsible as I am for the emerging nightmare that is ticketing. In 2007 I was part of a team which had to cope with 24 hours of constant rain that started well before Friday afternoon’s kick-off and turned the whole shebang into a quagmire where mere survival remains a local badge of honour, not least because we had to uproot an entire canvas village encamped beside the swollen river that skirts the site. At night. With little illumination and only a couple of wheelbarrows. Understandably, that year’s Sheep Music so exhausted the team that had run the show for a decade or more that they decided to give 2008 a miss and by Christmas last they’d decided to hand it over to a new, and marginally younger management… I say ‘marginally’ because I am one of them.
And because I have some experience of organising music events, albeit mainly hippy fund-raisers in the late ‘60s (which really doesn’t count), I volunteered to handle ticket sales. Which isn’t at all straightforward because there are a zillion different admission permutations, including all-weekend, Saturday, Sunday and/or Friday nights, camping and motor caravans, adult, yoof and kiddywinks, plus three different sales outlets some of which take plastic, some of which don’t. And because the acts are booked by a cunning maverick who keeps the cold cards of financial brinkmanship clutched closely to his chest, until this week it wasn’t possible to announce a line-up that in these credit-crunched times might persuade potential punters to come to us rather than the two or three relative upstart festivals within an hour’s drive of ours… both of which had trumpeted their bills of fare months ago.
Which is why as I write we’ve sold rather less tickets than we need to break even and why I’m frantically marketing the hell out of Sheep Music and sleeping badly. Not that I want you to roll up in your Winnebagos and your forty-quid Cath Kidston polka-dot wellies you understand, for to quote the League, this is a local festival for local people, a little gem whose very charm rests with the fact that it doesn’t attract the ticket fraudsters, fence-jumpers, smack dealers and other ne’erdowells that blight festivalworld’s big hitters. Mind you, and to my considerable relief, we do now have some cracking combos including the Welsh debut of Berlin’s cajun-cum-balkaneers, if misnamed, 17 Hippies (there are ‘only’ 13 of ‘em), sharp-suited reggae-meisters the Dub Pistols, the ska-tastic Maroon Town, New Orlean’s Hot 8 Brass Band and the Latin American-esque Banda Bacana.
However given the ‘60s hippie diaspora that much accounts for the areas’s wonderful cultural eclecticism, and despite over thirty top-notch bands, Sheep Music is distinguished by all manner of non-musical stuff (excluding face-painting). So we have a circus school, DIY cinema, a temporary village hall with village hall-type entertainments… much of it of course solar- or wind-powered. As a baptism of fire in large-scale event organisation this late in life, and for one who inherently hates festivals, this could get much hotter. Unless, of course, Sheep Music suffers another deluge and next year I decide to deploy my consummate managerial skills to booking gaunt young men with thinly-lapelled jackets in the British Legion of an occasional Saturday night. (www.sheepmusic.info)
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