Regulation, Retro and Rubbish

the three Rs of festivals 2006

published: Mon 9th Oct 2006

Regulation

With a new licencing law introduced last year, the regulation of festivals by the local licencing councils has become more real world. Whilst it’s quite understandable that those nearby a festival site don’t want full-volume music all night, this year has seen councils take a more pragmatic attitude to entertainment after 11pm.

Festivals such as Reading and Leeds had more and later on-site activities, with the added bonus of giving the oiks something else to do after the main music stages had finished for the night other than set fire to anything that’ll burn.

New just last year, the ‘silent disco’ has rapidly become a near standard feature for those festivals with lots of near neighbours, while for those events in the more remote locations there was perhaps even more of a change, with dance tents now able to run all-night every night, and even at one festival (if not others) there was loud and live music on a main open-air stage until 3am – it’s years since such things were permitted. Long may it last!

Retro

A common theme across festivals large and small this year was retro – older acts both huge and not so huge showed that while new music might get the major current limelight, much of it won’t last the distance.

The Who showed how it should be REALLY done, rocking Wireless (Leeds), Hyde Park Calling, and T in the Park as well as some of their own stadium shows, with Pink Floyd main-man Roger Waters also Calling at Hyde Park to deliver the classic Dark Side Of The Moon in full.

V Festival got in on the act, with evergreen headliners in the shape of Morrisey and Radiohead and the Saw Doctors opening one of their stages, and even the NME-driven Reading and Leeds festivals had the aging Pearl Jam.

Elsewhere there was Billy Idol, Aha, Blue Oyster Cult, The Fall, Killing Joke, Robert Plant, Sparks, Arlo Guthrie, Donovan, Kid Creole & the Coconuts, and many more, showing that their fame in their time is more than deserved, and that many modern acts fall very short.

Perhaps the most retro festival of them all – but without being a shambles, and with a toilet quota that attendees of other festivals would kill for – was Endorse-It In Dorset. With a line-up that included a specially reformed RDF/Military Surplus, as well as Sensor, and Here & Now (if you don’t know them it’s simply the case that you’re not retro enough!) as well as having that olde festival vibe, this was, in 2006, as festival retro as it gets.

While it remains the case that the profile of the names on a bill shift the tickets, it’s the quality – if they have it - of those acts combined with a festival’s vibe that make for an outstanding event. This fact is born out by the festivals with no huge new names being able to shift all their tickets, making it clear that if done right the retro festivals and those acts of yesteryear can compete just as well as the chart-toppers and trendy festivals who are flavour of the month.

The only thing missing from most festivals nowadays that used to be a big feature in the past is reggae. Organisers take note!

Rubbish (part 1)

As the mainstream world finally wakes up to the fact that mankind can’t keep exploiting the planet as we have - 30+ years later than some of the more switched-on festivals - greater efforts are being made to lessen the environmental impact of events. T in the Park went ‘carbon-neutral’ by planting trees to counter emissions, and even V Festival felt the need to issue a press release after the event to inform the world that the tents and other abandoned camping gear left behind is either passed directly to aid organisations or is sold with the proceeds benefiting charities.

Composting bins are also starting to become a regular site at some festivals – but of course they’re only as good as the people that use them. There’s still far too many people who’d rather spend the weekend stood on discarded noodles than to respect their environment and other festival goers. Shame on you!

Things should be easier still from now on for the conscientious festival organiser, with the recent launch of www.agreenerfestival.com - a new resource for festival organisers to support and promote the importance of environmental efficiency at music festivals.

Rubbish (part 2)

And what about the failed attempts at festivals? – they were rubbish too! In a non-Glastonbury year, it seemed that every man and their dog thought they could successfully start their own event. Those that fell by the wayside did so for two main reasons....

There were those where the organisation didn’t match the dream. Potential sites were lost when withdrawn by owners, or the price got hiked as someone thought their money-boat had come in, or with the failure to obtain that all-important licence.

Others failed – some with major backing behind them – simply because they were too ambitious. Either the line-ups weren’t strong enough to sell the tickets, or promotion of the event to sell the tickets fell short.

While – if they’re done right – there’s still opportunities for new events to launch and establish themselves, the market is reaching saturation point with a limited number of weekends each summer and a limited number of higher-profile acts available to book. For example, the excellent Seth Lakeman took in at least 19 festivals this summer: imagine the aural displeasure when less worthy acts are appearing everywhere (there were many acts that appeared at more than ten festivals this year).

A final poser: with festivals now so firmly mainstream that they’re something even your grannie might do, are the fashionable days of festivals numbered?



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