Small But Mighty: Why we need more small festivals

pexels-photo-164829.jpegIt’s a peculiar time for the music industry. Streaming services are showing record figures, but there are still struggling up-and-coming artists being paid mere pennies. A recent report showed that live music attendance in the UK is at an all time high, yet grassroots venues up and down the country continue to close. Our music industry has experienced a massive boon in recent years, but it seems that only those at the top are reaping the rewards. 

New artists face a harder grind than ever as they wait for their big break. Having a track featured in a popular playlist gets more people listening to your music, but it will need to go viral in a big way for it to really get your name out there. Festivals are a great place to discover new artists, but with the expensive costs surrounding the likes of Glastonbury and Reading/Leeds, many forgo the smaller stages and head straight for the big name stars to get their money’s worth.

It’s at small festivals where you have the best chance of discovering and sharing new artists. You just need one recognisable name to draw a crowd and from there dozens of new acts can share their creations and make new fans. Those that impress and get the word out can soon graduate to the bigger festivals, and greater opportunities, but that first step is the hardest part. Take a look at little boutique festivals like Barn on the Farm. Starting life as a few folks with acoustic guitars in a tiny wooden barn, it has served as a springboard for such acts as James Bay, Jack Garratt and Rag’n’Bone Man. It saw Ed Sheeran’s first ever headline set and just look at him now, living it up on the Pyramid Stage at the world’s greatest festival.

All parts of the country have their own music scenes, all have talented people hiding away, but there simply aren’t enough festivals to go round. Introducing more small festivals would help out new artists, bring tourist income to forgotten corners of the country, and just generally make our lives more interesting. I’ve seen a few like-minded individuals try to start new events with mixed success. There’s been complications with logistics, organising food, camping, sanitation, land disputes, and the biggest challenge of them all: noise. I’ve seen hundreds of people’s enjoyment and livelihood brought down by some heartless, mean-spirited neighbour complaining to the local council just because they can. It all gets in the way of those trying to help their local scene, and indeed the community as a whole.

I think many have the issue of trying to run before they can walk, overcomplicating things when they can quite easily get by with just the bare essentials. Take inspiration from Leefest; some 24 karat legend decided to host a music festival in his back garden while his parents were away, and over the years it has since snowballed into what can only be described as a massive success story. Sometimes the smallest of actions can have the greatest effect.

So your friend is in a band? So that band know a few other bands? Find a place to meet, tell your friends, have them tell their friends, someone get the drinks in, and before you know it you have a festival! Maybe if you keep at it, make it into a little tradition, it will grow and gain more recognition and draw more well-known artists. Even if it doesn’t, you’ve got a chance to hang out with your friends and enjoy some great music. If the opportunity is there, then you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

When it comes to festivals it’s not the size, it’s how you use it. Bigger festivals are often run as a business and lack heart, whereas the smaller ones are more like a family. Here you can meet the artists, and the musicians get a deeper, more personal connection with their new fans. Are you more likely to share the story of an intimate “you had to be there” moment with some talented singer/songwriter you later had the pleasure of chatting to, or something you saw on a big screen 200 yards away as you were crushed in a crowd of thousands? Exactly. Small festivals have tremendous power to move the music industry forward, it’s just a shame there’s so many empty fields going to waste when they could be used to make memories that could last a lifetime.