Following a break-even launch year, this event looks to have secured its position in a niche market.
Appealing to the 50+ festival goer, the New Day Festival team knows how to make the live music experience accessible, comfortable and affordable. We talk to festival director Dave Rees about keeping bar prices down and making sure stewards turn up!
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
It is a three day music festival, aimed primarily at a mature adult audience. Last year (our first) we had an average attendance of approximately 2,000 people and we expect to increase to 3,000 this year.
How did you find the venue, and how does the relationship with the landowner work?
Our venue is Mt Ephraim Gardens in Faversham, Kent. We attended a music festival there in 2003 and when looking for a venue ourselves we remembered it as being perfect. Fortunately the owners, particularly the site manager, were enthusiastic from the start and have been a great help and support. They had hosted other festivals in the previous decade so they knew roughly what to expect, and the relationship has been a mutually beneficial one; our festival goers loved the beautiful venue and no doubt many have returned as day visitors since.
What is the event’s history?
This is only our second year. Two of our team helped run another festival in Surrey for 10 years but left following disagreements – mostly over musical policy. We decided to launch a new festival with a new team largely to continue where we had left off in the previous project.
Because we are all veterans of festivals ourselves, either as punters or organisers, we know what people like at a festival and, particularly, what they don’t like. Our aim is to deliver an enjoyable event at reasonable cost, both in terms of ticket prices and on-site catering and bars.
How did you find applying for permission to run the event?
The land owner has a standing license for events, but obviously we had to satisfy the local authority regarding safety, nuisance, noise levels etc.
The council, as is their wont, insisted on rigorous event planning, medical cover and traffic management systems but, for the most part, were very enthusiastic and helpful, and we have had a good working relationship with both the council and the local police.
Local residents were given free tickets and most of them came along. Feedback from them has been unanimously positive.
How have you planned the layout of the event and what structures do you use?
The venue is largely self contained, but we set up temporary structures such as stages, changing rooms, toilets, bars and food stalls etc, with fencing around the venues and campsites.
Temporary structures are mostly marquees, plus a couple of portacabins back stage and several mobile toilet units throughout the venue.
Because our clientele is almost entirely 50+, many 60+, the layout is such that there are no long walks involved to reach either stage, car park or campsites.
We have designated disabled parking and camping areas, and disabled viewing platforms in both arenas.
How did you research and source your marquees and other infrastructure?
We have previous experience in the industry and used many suppliers that we know and trust. Others were sourced via internet searches and recommendations.
Three of our team have extensive experience running bars so we run our own at the festival, using local suppliers. This is fundamental both to our financial structure and basic philosophy; we prefer not to outsource if we know we are capable of doing things ourselves, and having complete control over the bar means we can hire professional bar staff who know what they are doing, hand pick beers and ciders to sell, and keep prices at a reasonable level, which is rare at a music festival.
A major gripe at most festivals is the sometimes outrageous prices, coupled with horrendous queues caused largely by incompetent bar staff. Our prices are actually lower than most pubs in the south of England and we are happy to know that our punters leave the festival knowing that they have not been ripped off.
What entertainment do you offer and how did you choose and source it?
It is a music festival. We are all music lovers and have all attended many festivals over the years. Bands are booked that appeal initially to us, and we hope they will also appeal to our customers.
We realise that we are operating in a crowded market, but our targeted audience differs slightly from the usual music festival. Our music policy is centred on progressive rock, classic rock, blues and folk music, largely from the 70’s but also with a nod to new, younger bands in the same genre.
Having booked bands for festivals since 2005, we have an extensive network of contacts in the industry and most of our bands are sought out. We do also get many hundreds of applications and try to check out all of them – but it does take time.
What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
We use two sound companies that we have worked with previously, and lights are provided by our stage suppliers. We bring in four generators to power stages and lights.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
We have fully trained SIA security on duty 24 hours, stewards, medical staff and a fully equipped ambulance on site. We have two stages but use only one at a time, therefore we do not sell tickets to more people than we can comfortably accommodate in any one arena. This avoids a crush in the audience and long queues at the bar and food stalls – and more importantly, the toilets!
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
We haven’t used any yet but are looking into it this year in case of bad weather.
How do you publicise the event?
We advertise in local newspapers, music magazines and various other publications, and last year we used a licensed poster campaign. Our main promotion is done via Facebook and e-flyers. We are also looking at radio advertising this year.
What challenges have you faced?
Just the obvious ones associated with launching a brand new festival in an already crowded market. We needed to convince enough people, with a limited budget to spend on such things, that our unknown and untried festival would be worth a visit. Fortunately we were able to put together an impressive and ambitious line-up and we achieved enough sales to break even, which is remarkable for a new festival.
We also found that, despite the best laid plans, you can’t always depend on outside contractors to deliver services as promised. We had problems due to half our expected stewards not turning up and, more catastrophically, it quickly became clear that we had hired the worst possible toilet suppliers who let us down very, very badly. They delivered the wrong toilets, to the wrong areas, and flatly refused to service them properly throughout the weekend. Numerous calls to their ’emergency’ hotline went unanswered. Toilets were actually our #1 priority because we have all seen first hand terrible examples at festivals and we were determined to have a very high standard at ours, so we were extremely disappointed to be let down so badly. I would love to name the company but we don’t have the time or money for a legal argument!
Then there are the problems of spiralling costs as you proceed, and having to pay upfront in full for almost everything. Established festivals can operate in the expectation that ongoing ticket sales will provide sufficient cash flow, but as a new venture we needed to invest our own money at the outset to cover many of the upfront costs. We have no sponsors so it was a case of raiding our own savings and having faith in what we were trying to do.
What are your plans for next year?
We have a license for 5,000 and our aim is to reach that figure within the next couple of years. As we continue on our learning curve we should be able to identify what advertising works and what doesn’t. We seek opinions from our customers as to what we can do better and we act accordingly. Of course, different toilet suppliers have been booked!
Looking further afield, we would like to run another festival in a different area. We think we are doing a pretty good job with a good team and it would be interesting to try something slightly different, but along the same lines.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors does the landowner operate in?
Their main business is weddings but they have plans to host a major (non-musical) event each month in the summer.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry?
Don’t do it expecting to make money!
Best-in-Tents – www.bestintentsmarquees.co.uk
SOUND & STAGE
Barry Cogger / Banana Audio
Skiddle – www.skiddle.com
Mount Ephraim Gardens, Staple Street, Hernhill, Faversham, ME13 9TX