Farmfest | Interview

By Jenn Brabbins

Dejan, Simon and Bob of the Farmfestival team answered our questions on aid projects, tea tents, and re-defining the British festival experience.

D: Dejan
S: Simon
B: Bob

Farmfestival seems to have grown in stature since being born from a small summer gathering of like-minded musical types. Six years on, are you surprised at the momentum and following the project has gathered?

D: “I don’t think we have ever thought of it like that. We just try to put on the best festival we can each year, and each year it grows as more people find out about it and people who came the previous year bring their friends.”

S: “Yeah, I don’t think we’re surprised as we have grown really organically year on year, so it’s been a gradual progression at our own pace. I’m personally very proud of what we’ve built… so far! We’ve put so much time and love into it.

Farmfestival is also a fundraiser for some very worthy causes. How did you choose the charities who have come to be involved with the festival?

D: “While traveling through Africa in 2005, I saw many examples of failed aid projects, where expensive equipment was sent to places that didn’t have the knowledge or resources to maintain the equipment. So we took the decision to support a charity that promotes low tech solutions in the developing world. I took advice from someone who lectures in sustainable development and they let us know about Practical Action. We’ve supported them since our first year in 2006.”

B: “We now support the British Stammering Association as our friend Gavin Harry was a member (he struggled with a stammer as a kid). Gav was a critical part of the Farmfestival team before his tragic death last year at the age of 27, just months before the festival. Last year was dedicated to Gav and the festival was very bitter sweet for all of us as Gav had booked most of the bands for the main stage before his accident. It really was his work that we experienced last year. Supporting the BSA seemed appropriate, it keeps a tie to Gav, he was our greatest friend and so influential in the growth of the festival.”

D: “We also started supporting the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance after a school friend of mine died in a car crash, the Air Ambulance weren’t able to save him but they did save his heavily pregnant wife and unborn child. On a lighter note, this year, we also supported the Batcombe Church roof fund to help them repair their roof. It’s important for us put something back into the local area.”

What can a newcomer expect to experience from Farmfestival?

B: “There are a lot of small and medium sized festivals around at the moment, far more than when we started 7 years ago and so it is important for us to show that we offer something different. We try and put lots of interesting and random stuff into the festival. This year we’ve got two new tents; the COR secret underground disco soiree, and The Den, our own imagination of mythical 19th century members club. There is always a lot of care and effort that goes into our decor which really helps make it an experience that sticks in the mind.”

S: “We’ve also got some other cool bits going on this year like the Farmfestival Olympics, some immersive theatre, magic shows, and a dedicated tent for kids, a new tea tent, as well as a whole world’s worth of sculpture and interactive stuff around site. Most of it we plan and make ourselves with help from friends with talents!”

B: “I think it reflects that we are a bunch of mates putting the festival on for fun. Though the operation has got much more professional and much bigger from the first year when we had 300 people in a field, there is still that non-corporate, everyone’s there to have a good time, ‘get stuck in’ atmosphere. It rubs off onto the crowd and that’s why I think we have so many people coming back.”

S: “There are no VIPs at Farmfestival, bands included. Everyone’s on the same level.”

Are there any acts this year that you are particularly excited to be hosting?

S: “We’re particularly pleased to have The Boy Least Likely To, Trophy Wife and Fingathing play for us this year. We’ve picked bands out of the media spotlight (TBLLT & Fingathing having not played a full live set in quite a few years), but that’s meant we’ve got ourselves some pretty special one-off gigs. It’s also The Blood Arm’s only UK date this summer. Over the weekend itself, it’s hard to actually get to see all the amazing acts you’ve put together, but these are the ones I’ll be turning my phone off for!”

B: “We try to book bands that we like rather than just blowing our budget on popular bands, so whilst we don’t always have the most recognisable names, we know the crowd will really enjoy them. We just try to book bands that we know are great live.”

How difficult is it to provide a quality, family friendly festival experience whilst balancing the conventional costs of holding such a large event?

D: “I think we do this by trying to grow the festival gradually each year rather than trying to grow rapidly and having to put prices up. We save a lot of money by doing most of the work ourselves, this means long hours and hard work for our team but it’s worth it. A lot of friends volunteer to help us, it would be impossible to put it on without them. This year a family with children under 12 can come to Farmfestival for £80 which we think is really good value for two days of entertainment.”

S: “A family friendly experience doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. If you get the fundamentals right, like layout, size of site and have plenty going on for free.”

As organisers you have also taken a home-grown approach and sought to ensure that the food and drinks are largely produced locally; how important do you feel it that local businesses are supported in this endeavour?

D: “Supporting local businesses is really important to us and we try to do this wherever we can. One of the ciders we stock at Farmfestival, Bullbegar, is produced by a not for profit co-operative about a mile from our site. The cider is made by the villagers and sold to pay for the upkeep of their village. By using local people you build up a relationship which is vital, lots of times we have called people up out of hours needing something and they have come out to us or opened up specially.”

It really does seem that you cater to all ages and all tastes, what is it that you would like participants to take away from the Farmfestival experience?

S: “Other than seeing great music in what feels like your back garden?.. I’d say it’s quite a pure experience, with your friends (or family), in a field. We try to take away all the elements that would interfere with that, like queues, distance to your tent, over pricing, exclusivity or focusing on one music genre. Even if you aren’t a music head, you are in the middle of nowhere, in the beautiful Somerset countryside for two days. If you manage to get up early at the festival (or stay awake long enough!) the mist rolling through the valley beneath the site at dawn is quite something. People forget how amazing the UK is sometimes.”