To say that this year’s festival season has been a bit of a shambles would be a massive understatement. That’s like saying the Sahara Desert is “a bit warm”. Between Y Not being totally unprepared for rain (i.e. a normal British summer) to Hope and Glory being several thousand over capacity, it’s been one hell of a year for shamefully poor organisation… and the less said about the horror show that is Fyre Festival the better. All of them cut corners when it came to security and facilities, all of them showed utter disregard for their patron’s safety, enjoyment and well-being. Anyone who has been to a half decent festival will know that all these problems are easily avoided.
The golden rule for festivals, or any live event, is to prepare for the worst. Always have extras of everything. Have plenty of security on hand, it will help process people entering the festival quickly and efficiently. Once people are inside and the queue has died down, then you then have plenty of extra pairs of hands to work shifts at other key areas within the event, or even just to wander around to offer directions or help people pitching their tents. You can’t predict when and where an emergency might happen, so it’s better to have the extra security there and not need them rather than the other way around.
Have an idea in your head what your capacity crowd is, what space it would take up, and how best to cater for it. If the whole festival happens to go see a particular act, you need to be sure that the stage can fit them all in. If everyone suddenly decides they fancy a drink, or need the loo, you need to provide as many facilities as possible to minimise queues. Even then, queues are likely, but try to ensure that they are positioned in such a way that they don’t cause a bottleneck. Though it is a music festival first and foremost, always have other areas and activities set aside for those that fancy a break from the hustle and bustle of the busy stages. No one wants a rainy festival, but it happens. Have a back-up plan in place. Have areas for people to take shelter, ensure the campsite has sufficient drainage, and have wooden boards or paving slabs on standby to provide a solid surface for key pathways.
Even when you try to be over-prepared, you may still get caught out. It is important to keep a level head, keep a clear line of communication, and put your patrons first. Shit happens, but people will be far more understanding if they see that staff are trying their best. If something goes wrong, if something gets out of hand, have staff available to deal with it in a calm and friendly manner and keep people informed via social media. All of this year’s disasters failed to put the patrons first, which is the whole rhyme and reason behind festivals. Most festivals don’t make any money when they first start out, they about break even if all goes to plan and gradually grow profits over the years. If you cut corners and fail to provide the best possible experience then you may make more money, but you will completely lose people’s trust and respect, and then good luck bringing the event back for another year.
The fact that so many shockingly poor events have been organised in such a short space of time is worrying, but not nearly as much as the possible repercussions. We need small festivals now more than ever to help promote up-and-coming artists and bring some culture back to forgotten communities, and I’m sure many will look and Y Not and Hope and Glory and think making a new festival is not worth the effort. What we really need is for it to have the opposite effect; for people to learn from their failings, roll up their sleeves and say “this is how it should be done”. Small festivals are an essential part of our music culture, so let’s make sure they’re done right!