- by Peter Shuttleworth
- BBC News
As the sun hits the sky and the nights grow longer, it means music festival season is almost here – and it’s not just about Pulp, Elton John and Billie Eilish.
Away from Glastonbury, the Isle of Wight and Reading and Leeds, there is a boom in local, more affordable mini-festivals or, as some call them, “glorified village fetes”.
“Those festivals are where Glastonbury meets the Vicar of Dibley,” said one man who helped run one of the 800 mini-festivals across the UK. “And people love it.”
So what’s behind the growth?
Like grand garden parties rather than the musical metropolis of the huge, more well-known festivals, these hyperlocal events are proving popular for their charm, accessibility and value for money.
The latest figures estimate that there are 975 music festivals in the UK – 778 are classified as micro-festivals, often run on a voluntary basis, which are not driven by headline acts.
They attract a wide age demographic and are attended by fewer than 5,000 people.
In a quaint, quiet corner of south Wales, the 2023 edition of one such festival begins on Friday.
The volunteer-run Devouden Festival in Monmouthshire has grown from a few locals on picnic blankets in one area to a three-day, 4,000-person festival within 13 years.
It’s now more than twice the size of its host village thanks to a reputation for family-friendly fun, eclectic food and drink, affordable and decent up-and-coming unsigned acts.
Festival organizer Jeremy Horton said, “We wanted to provide a showcase for local talent and original music, bring the community together and more relevantly raise some cash.”
The festival began as an ambitious project for some Friday night beers to raise enough cash to keep their cash-strapped local village hall running.
The hall which is now, with a garage to one side, is the only community facility in the village just outside Chepstow.
Does the cost matter?
But crucially, especially in a cost-of-living crisis, organizers know their appeal isn’t just attractiveness and accessibility – it’s value for money.
Tickets for this year’s festival start from £33 including camping.
“Keeping tickets affordable and value for money is really important to why we’re popular,” Jeremy said.
“We make sure the food and drink is good value too, so merchants don’t cash out captive audiences, so you can buy a pint here for £3.50 or £4, which is reasonable prices.
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“Tickets to some of the big events these days are scary. Especially in this financial climate, people still want to have fun and have a good time, but they don’t want or don’t want to pay the earth.”
John Rostron, chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals, said: “Small festivals are ridiculous, exceptional value for money.”
“If you compare them to concerts, especially big ones in stadiums, you can go to a concert for a third of the price and see 10 bands, every day for three days – and some of my favorites The discovery of music coincided with the festival.
“You can let your kids run around or play in the playgrounds and have everything you want in one place; food, drink, music, culture, literature and sometimes comedy – or you just You can sit in your tent and chat with your companions.
“There are smaller festivals in virtually every county in the UK so you don’t have to travel the distance and queue which is a godsend from both a financial and an environmental point of view.”
What do bookies want?
Dewooden’s headliners are more Rum Buffalo and Rusty Shackle than Guns N’ Roses and Sir Elton John, who are topping the bill at Glastonbury this year – and that’s what the customers want.
“It’s close to home, very well organized and there’s plenty of space to sit outside, listen to great bands and musicians that suit everyone’s tastes,” said Paula Simpson, 53, who runs Brockwear near Tintern. lives in.
“Tickets are really cheap for the whole weekend of music including camping and the volunteers make it such a great weekend.”
Tracey Gorge is also returning again this year to the Devouden Festival and even camping in Chepstow, despite being a few miles away.
“It’s a very friendly festival, it’s good fun and we love it,” she said.
How important is the offer of food and drink?
There are around a dozen salty food outlets in Dewden this year and a number of sweet and drink stalls including baker Isabel Davies, who will be moving her crepe and cake van from nearby Coleford to the Forest of Dean.
“We work at festivals we’d like to go to ourselves and Devouden has a lovely atmosphere and is therefore family friendly,” she said.
“The cost of living has affected everyone including businesses like ours as our bills and cost of materials have increased.
“It is a difficult balance because at festivals like this it is your duty to look after the customers by providing good, fresh food and charging a fair price which is value for money.
“But Devouden has such a wide range of high-quality food outlets that cater to everyone’s tastes – which is what makes the festival such and part of its popularity.”
Most importantly – music
More than 70 Welsh unsigned artists are included in this year’s festival, who are hoping to follow in the footsteps of Boy Azoga, BBC 6 Music favorites The Bug Club and Violet Skies and get a record deal after playing Dewden.
Apple Tree Theory is one of them and they return for a “special festival” with “grassroots new band growth” at its heart.
The Apple Tree Theory’s vocalist and percussionist Pete “Bongo” Morgan said, “Dewwooden is such a lovely festival and the volunteers take such good care of the artists, they make you feel so welcome.”
“It’s great energy and helps with the musical ecology of new Welsh music as they give a small range of unsigned bands the opportunity to showcase their talents in a real festival in front of a crowd of real music lovers. It’s one of our favorite events is one of.”
On Sunday popular Welsh act Rusty Shackley closed the Devouden Festival, which first played in 2010.
Now their violinist Scott McKeon helps book the band.
Scott said, “We want to give the band a chance to play at a proper festival and not play in the back of a lorry in a car park in the city.”
“We have a very eclectic mix of acts ranging from hip-hop, ska and DJs to rock, reggae and dub – we’re not a village festival anymore, we’re a real festival.”
Devouden is in a part of the world with a rich musical heritage; Queen’s epic Bohemian Rhapsody, Oasis anthems Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back in Anger and Coldplay hits Yellow were recorded across the street at Rockfield Studios and nearby Newport was dubbed the “new Seattle” in the 1990s.
So perhaps a music festival seemed natural but it was only suggested because of the need to raise funds to keep their 60-year-old village hall alive for the use of Scouts, Beavers and Slamming groups.
Jeremy Horton said, “It costs £20,000 a year to run the village hall without opening the doors and we needed a regular income for the hall.”
“It was about the scale of the money needed, there was no way a cake stall or car boot sale was going to do it and keep it open.
“As there are no pubs or shops in our village, it is the only place where the community can get together – but buildings of this era require a lot of money to keep them open and well maintained.”
This year’s festival will cost a record £80,000 to stage but organizers expect to spend £25,000 for their hall.
“Above all this has created a real community spirit and made Devouden a more attractive village to be a part of,” said Jeremy.
Free tickets for all villagers help get everyone on board, but many make up the 140-person volunteer army, many of whom take time off from work to set up and clean up the festival site.
Up to this year it has been a self-sustaining festival and an economic impact assessment estimates that the 2022 festival will boost the local economy by £53,000.
But it has for the first time been awarded public funding of around £158,000 over three years, with a Welsh Government grant if the festival meets certain targets.
“Since the first festival in 2010, the event has gone from strength to strength with the aim of providing local people with access to arts, cultural, sporting and community activities,” said Don Bowden, Arts Minister for Wales.
The council said the event is one of Monmouthshire’s annual highlights and is “hugely important to the county as many of its visitors help support local businesses”.
“It really brings the community together, it’s a testament to the contribution that volunteers can make, as they help support this well-attended event. The best part is that it’s all There is a family-friendly program for . . . ,” said Mary Ann Brocklesby, leader of Monmouthshire Council.