American southern roots festival attracting 6,000 people to Euston Hall, Suffolk.
We talk to promoter and production manager James Brennan of The Dark Horses on how his friendship with a “well-spoken roadie” led to him finding one of the most beautiful festival sites in the country.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
Red Rooster is a festival that celebrates the American southern roots of music, from Cajun, soul, rock n roll, blues, roots and country. The real deal, not the middle of the road rhinestone country stuff. We attract around 6,000 people a year, including around 1,000 kids. All of the content at the festival reflects the genres, including cigar box guitar workshops and vintage thrift stores, through to a display of 1949 American hot rods.
Explain a bit about your venue and your history with it
I met Harry Grafton out in Austin at SXSW around 10 years ago. We kept finding we were at the same rock n roll gigs. He was the merch co-ordinator for The Rolling Stones on the Bigger Bang tour. We stayed mates, going to a number of London gigs together and we always talked about doing a show like Red Rooster. He called me one day and said that his father and, then a few months later, his grandfather had passed away, and he’d become the Duke of Grafton; would I like to come up to his place and see where we could do this festival. I wasn’t aware of his background, I just thought he was a well-spoken roadie!
I look at lot of potential sites, so to be honest I thought it might just be another few cow fields. However, on arriving I quickly realised differently. It’s an 11,000 acre country estate and Harry was the direct descendent of King Charles II. His estate is phenomenal, designed by Capability Brown and William Kent; it is arguably one of the most beautiful festival sites in the country.
Being East Anglia, it’s pretty flat which is perfect for building structures on, and with the sand consistency of the soil, there can be heavy rain and after 30 mins you can drive an artic over it. We got the show going within a year and working with Harry is unlike working with any other site owner. He knows rock n roll and, having toured 150 shows, he knows what the support crew need and what we go through.
How is your relationship with the local authority and community?
When I first started working with Harry I brought in my guys to help get the estate a licence; now they can host a number of events every year. West Suffolk council are very easy and accommodating to work with. I’m one of the few promoters who is also a production manager, so know our production team are very experienced. We’ve not had a single issue on the festival in the eight years we’ve run it, so we check in with the local authority but they trust us to crack on.
How have you planned the layout of the event?
The layout is almost fully planned – we haven’t made too many adjustments over the last few years.
The main stage is in 3,500 capacity big top from Yes Tents. The Little Red Rooster stage is our stage 2, and is a bespoke timber build. Our late night venue, The Howlin’ Woods, is in a 60 foot Berber tent – we build a bespoke set out the front and it gives a great intimate feel.
How do you work with creatives to make these spaces work?
We do all the creative in-house at The Dark Horses. J’me Howard heads up creative with me. He brings his go to chippies and décor crew, and keeps things simple and built on time.
How did you research and source your marquees, flooring, bars etc?
I’ve booked structures for festivals for the last 15 years, so I have my regular go tos as I know they deliver with impeccable service.
How do you choose your acts?
We work with all the largest talent agencies from around the world on a regular basis and we know the acts we’re keen to book, if their routing works out of course. Rupert Orton from PRB Presents books; he lives within these genres of music, a number of them he also represents as an agent.
What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
As a production manager I know the kit I need and on what stages. Maddie Harris, also at The Dark Horses, is our site manager and she specs accordingly with my assistance on the stages and content. The red diesel ban is a huge issue across shows, the increase in cost will hurt. Unfortunately with all the problems Russia have recently created, this is only to get worse.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
I’ve used the same gate team on shows over the last 15 years. Festival Gates run the team at Glastonbury, and created the very first “gates” at a festival all those many moons ago. There’s really no one better. Last year we worked with H&S managers when producing Red Rooster, as there were of course a lot more safety protocols that were needed. Usually, Red Rooster being small, we’ve just dealt with H&S in-house.
How did you cope during 2020 and 2021?
In 2020, we weren’t able to operate, even though we tried to reschedule from June to September. However, we were pleased to run Red Rooster successfully in 2021. We didn’t receive any support whatsoever and were rejected by the Cultural Recovery Grant.
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
We use some EuroMat where needed, but we’ve never needed to put in trackway.
How do you publicise the event?
I promote the show in-house through local and national press.
What additional challenges have you faced?
The increase on infrastructure and operations from 2022 is probably around 30%. Everything is going up in price, for a multitude of reasons. Some is a lack of staffing – Brexit really is the gift that keeps giving.
How have you financed the event and how profitable is it?
It’s funded through private investment and a few sponsors adding in small amounts too. It takes a while for festivals to make money, but it’s getting there.
What are your plans for next year?
An introduction of a new stage would be great, but we need to see how 2022 pans out first.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
If you listen to some of the great crew out there, heed their advice and take on as many shows as possible, you’ll get to where you want to go. It’s a tough industry with long hours and in Britain you’re always fighting against the elements. But if you can survive a few seasons, you can survive anything.
STANGE BUILD & DÉCOR
In-house at The Dark Horses www.thedarkhorses.com
Media & Music Insurance Brokers www.mediainsurance.com
Red Rooster Festival
Suffolk IP24 2QW