Building Utopia

Relationships matter when creating a high production event, writes Shambala’s Kate Burgess.

Acrobatics at festivalThe production value of many of the UK’s cherished greenfield festivals is truly a feat. The creative (and logistical) muscle that goes into transforming a green canvas of fields into intricate worlds to escape to every summer is often staggering. One only needs to walk through Old Town at Boomtown or Block 9 at Glastonbury to see this. This attention to detail is an invitation for our audiences to leave constraints and worries at the door, and immerse themselves in the new spatial order. Starting from scratch on estates and farms, we populate our sites with the intriguing, imaginative, beautiful and strange.

We get to design a city that encourages playfulness and exploration, celebrates creativity, and invites humour and awe. At Shambala the way our site looks hugely contributes to the way it feels to be there. The design consideration works in a feedback loop with our considerate crowd. As a mid-sized festival on a pretty small site, Shambala is packing. With stages and micro-venues at every corner, we’re bursting at the seams with tents, yurts and immersive dens that host live music, workshops, talks and more.

Each of these venues has its own distinct feel, created by the fantastic venue managers’ teams. They are supported in their purchasing for the barebones structures in order to make the magic happen, and this feeds into the work our creative team does with our main venues and with threading décor and art between in every nook and cranny.

Person dressed up attending a festivalGetting the barebones structures in place from which the décor teams can do their magic is very important. I asked our site office, resources and event manager Christine Dent for her go tos for site procurement. Shortlisted for the UK Festival Awards 2019 Women in Festivals, Christine has a knack for eking out relationships with contractors and suppliers that are a dream to work with, meaning that the site build is slick and everything is in position for transforming the Northamptonshire estate on which Shambala takes place.

For special build scaffolds we opt for Gorilla UK, who supply the equipment and the (brilliantly friendly and hardworking) team to erect the special builds and more complex scaffolding structures like venue frontages and vehicle bridges. Working in greenfield sites presents a number of challenges with adjustments and last minute changes sometimes required during build.

For functional, clearspan structures we use the incredibly accommodating T&L Marquees, who Christine dubs a “dream to work with.” It’s important to find contractors and suppliers that work for you, finding teams that offer reasonable flexibility, and who understand the changing demands of festival builds. Beyond more functional ‘blank canvases’, one of my personal favourites is the structure that becomes Sankofas – our gorgeous stage honouring folk traditions. For this stunning, huge yurt we use LPM Bohemia, who have a roster of utterly beautiful structures and décor in abundance.

Lake at festivalArtistic flair
Turning to the décor and site art, Shambala’s creative production coordinator Abi Moores names a few of the folk who help realise the delightful details on site. Starting with signs, the beautiful signage scattered about site quite literally signposts the considerate and creative design going into creating Shambala for the August bank holiday weekend.

We’ve long worked with FlySigns who sets up shop in our crew canteen with a small team of artists to amend and create bespoke hand-painted signage for anything from signposts to venue frontages to water point signs. Ahead of the show, a list is compiled of any new signs which might be needed, where venue managers, ops and creative teams log their requirements for a spruce up, re-write or new signage. Opting for hand-painted has that nice touch, as well as providing some flexibility of not relying on ordering expensive, often plastic laminated, board signs which cannot achieve the artistic flair we are looking for.

From the minutiae to the monumental, we enlist the brilliant Pyrite Creative to build our iconic structure on the lake. This is designed in collaboration with us to produce a different floating sculpture each year that goes up in flames at our closing ceremony. Pyrite are an awesome company to work with and always tune in in exciting ways to the themes populating our festival and closing ceremonies of any given year. Their wooden mandala of 2018 was so spot on it now heads up our website, reworked by Victoria Topping and animated by Doc&Tee.

Fire show at festivalAnother key player in making our iconic lakeside scene is Jig at Jigantics. They supply the giant flowers around the lake and the flower archway that marks the entrance to the Enchanted Woods. Lightning Rod is the master of projections and not only lights up the house behind the lake but also creates the installations at our House Party venue.

Elsewhere, our Shambala Stage is decked out in reams of Nepalese prayer flags as a symbol for our yearly Flags For campaign. These are supplied by Pam Rafferty who does incredible work with her charity Help Rural Nepal which supports local communities in Dhading District. Pam is our music director’s mum and the now mainstay main stage flags feel the perfect nod to how Shambala’s family and community spirit is still at the fore, at every level, 20 years on.

Fostering good relationships down the supply chain and with creative collaborators is essential for putting on a high production event without corporate funding. For us, it’s always got to be “by hand and with heart”.

Crowd at festival event inside a tent


Kate Burgess works as marketing assistant for Kambe Events, covering its events Shambala Festival and Starry Skies Camp. She joined the team in 2018 and runs Shambala’s Adventures In Utopia blog. Headed for a part-time Masters degree in cultural theory, Kate, like Kambe, is passionate about where culture, creativity and community can intersect to bring about more ecological, sustainable futures.

About Open Air Business 1380 Articles
The voice of outdoor hospitality - in print and online. If you liked this article, subscribe to the printed magazine here. We produce industry e-news between issues - please sign up here