Feeling Sheepish August 7, 2009Posted by markswill in Navel Gazing.
As I write, it’s not raining. Mundane though that may sound, it’s actually of great significance for the last 48 hours were the first 48 hours for at least six weeks that it hasn’t rained here in Mid-Wales. This endless precipitation may elicit little more than ‘we told you so’s’ from the climate change lobby – of which we naturally have an abundance hereabouts – but for those of us who ran Sheep Music 2009, it has a greater, even bitter resonance. Yup, here it comes, the story of My Festival Hell.
Actually I’ve been putting this off for some times despite, as boasted in my last scrawl, being regularly asked about it since it ended by, well at least half a dozen well-wishers. Or cynical misanthropes. That I’ve stalled reflects my uncertainty about the degree of personality I should invest in such an account, indeed the degree of bent subjectivity one should invest in any blog. Do people read this stuff to know about me, about what whatever comes into my head, or merely to have a bit of a smirk?
Well this conundrum remains intact, and having been quite unpleasantly ill since the first day of the event itself, there was the nagging concern that whatever I wrote would be skewed by infirmity of body (and thus mind). Indeed who wants to read a blog written by an exhausted ill person?
But prompted by two days of good weather that will doubtless benefit The Big Chill which is (almost) due to take place (almost) just down the road from where we sloshed around with Sheep Music, here we are (almost) three weeks after the event, and I’m (almost) returned to something approaching rude good health. So I’d better get on with it.
You’ll have noticed the ‘almost’ motif here, a crucial adverb when considering the entire exercise, for Sheep Music wasn’t a screaming success financially, musically or (at least as far as I was concerned) socially. But then neither was it a huge failure on any of those scores… except possibly the first. And even though it rained throughout build week, it started off so well: the layout of the site itself was brilliant because whilst as in previous years there was Main Stage inside a Big Tent and smaller stages elsewhere, there were also a number of minor venues offering a wonderfully eclectic array of entertainments dotted around the gently sloping Wents Meadow. And the food was fantastic.
But shortly after we opened on Friday afternoon it rained, and the already sodden grass started to give way to the brown stuff. Fortunately the rain wasn’t heavy and didn’t last long, and even so, a lot of folk came through the two gates which, you may recall, it was my responsibility to manage. Well me and a wonderful team of 35 doughty souls who had the tricky task of selling (or processing pre-sold) tickets, issuing wristbands and, it unexpectedly turned out, being responsible for managing the ‘freebie’ lists of the festival’s different ‘department heads’. (N.B. being run entirely by volunteers, Sheep Music, the workers only get free tickets as, in the great R’n’R tradition, do bands and their hangers-on. So whilst just over 2000 folks paid to enter, 800 didn’t. Numbers that would scupper a capitalist enterprise). So ‘running the gate’ could be pretty demanding at times and without a trusted deputy, I had to be in post virtually the entire weekend… a masterpiece of poor planning ensuring I got to enjoy almost no music and almost no socialising. Grrrrr.
Then as I was walking to the site with my rucksack full of cashboxes and tickets early on Saturday morning, a not unfamiliar pain hit me in the chest. And that’s as far as I’m willing to engage in self-pity – at least on that score – but suffice it to say that for yrs. trly. the rest of the fest was both painful and debilitating and for many of those who attended it, muddy. Not as muddy as the quagmire that was the 2007 festival (see pic),
but after a blessedly rain-free day on Saturday, it bucketed down from midday Sunday, effectively deterring the families we desperately needed to make a day of it. The ultimate consequence of which was a financial loss which, being a charity, makes it extremely difficult for Sheep Music Ltd to mount another festival anytime soon… unless it does some serious fund-raising in the meantime.
Although many of the punters plainly enjoyed themselves despite the weather, for the hardcore of volunteers and ‘departments heads’ who made it happen it was a draining and frustrating experience – none of us really believed that we’d be beset by crappy weather twice in a row, and as a new and inexperienced team it had proved a steep learning curve in terms of the amount of time, effort and sensitive co-operation it would involve. To go into further detail would be one-sided and churlish, but beyond doubt were the adverse effects a recession clearly had on advance tickets sales (as they have for much bigger, professionally-run wing-dings of which there are now probably too many), and the fact that you can never second-guess the weather in these globally-warmed times.
Even given these obstacles, would I do it again? Well… almost.
Please pen a comment, read previous blogs, sign up to get ’em automatically and/or access my website using the darling little links on the right.