I love festivals. I’m either playing at one, working on broadcast sound, or attending one pretty much every weekend from early May to mid September. Indoors and outdoors, big or small - and Glastonbury is about as big as they get, at least in Britain.
As a musician you might think what’s in it for me? No sound check, sometimes a shared drum kit, will anybody come and see us, what will the sound be like? Long drives and traffic jams for a short set, chemical toilets, rain or sunstroke, good onstage crew, bad onstage crew…
And yet, I just love festivals. It’s not always your core audience which is good for a band - it makes you think about your stagecraft and gives you a whole new set of people to win over, so try to encapsulate all that’s good about your usual gig in an hour. Quick line check in the changeover and you’re on. Often you are urged on by an audience determined to have a good time, so keep in the crowd pleasers and maybe save some of the torch-song ballads for another night. Be good, give it everything you have and an hour of magic can happen; and quite frankly it’s a chance to sell CDs and T-Shirts to people who haven’t got them already - gotta make a living!
This works as an audience member too - you are trying to fit a lot in for a day or a weekend, so an hour of any band is plenty. Hopefully there are many other attractions such as good food and drink, and good company. This is also true for the musicians, who are notoriously bad about seeing anybody else play - after all if they have a gig that night, you hope you may have too! So it’s often a chance to hang out backstage and catch up with other ships that pass in the night on the motorways of the UK.
But it’s possible now in Britain that there are too many festivals and in recent weekends we have had two of them cancel the last day, whilst the festival was underway. Some others have been pulled ahead of time, which has happened to us, leaving a hole in your diary when you might have already turned down other offers for that weekend. A lot of these are boutique festivals, trying to offer something a little different. The successful festivals in this vein are Latitude and Wilderness ; both offering a lot more than a couple of stages of music - with wider cultural, food and drink offerings. In the blues area in the UK, festivals like Upton and The Great British Rhythm & Blues Festival at Colne draw huge crowds every year. Many other blues festivals here run on the model of multiple small venues across a town, or in hotel ballrooms and holiday centres - often out of holiday season - and this seems to be a successful way of bringing people to a location when otherwise it may be dead, and also making a bigger gig circuit through the winter months.
Of course, ending your set, as we do, with a song called Make It Rain can be a hostage to fortune outdoors in the British summer - but it makes it memorable either way.