Boutique festivals: Small but perfectly formed
Exquisitely proportioned The last decade has witnessed an explosion in the number of smaller, niche-orientated festivals across the UK and mainland Europe. But how do these events go about offering truly unique experiences to festivalgoers facing an ever-greater panoply of options, and what is the outlook for the larger festivals driven more by headline acts? David Davies reports
ne quick search of The Festival Calendar website conﬁrms the extent to which the UK summer festival sector has blossomed over the last ten years. From Birmingham’s dance-oriented Electric Daisy, to the Bruton Reggae Fest, to the classical and jazz-driven Petworth Festival, there is quite literally an event to match every possible musical penchant. The fact that many of the newer events belong to the sub-30,000 attendance category underlines the extent to which expansion of the sector is being driven by the smaller events. But although ‘boutique’ is a commonly-deployed buzzword, these events display a remarkable level of diversity, with some newer events zeroing in on one speciﬁc genre while others pursue a multi-disciplinary approach mixing music with literature, movie screenings and more.
What does tend to unite them, however, is the general emphasis on creating a more rounded and (whisper it) pleasant festival-going experience. Part of the strategy here has been to reconﬁgure events in a more family-friendly fashion as the most recent festival boom generation gets older and starts having children, but at a more basic level it has also translated to elements as seemingly straightforward as an improved quality and selection of food and – quite frankly – decent toilets and washing facilities. Hedonism in its various forms is unlikely to disappear from the festival scene any decade soon, but at the risk of making a drastic generalisation it would be fair to say that at the newer generation of events one is more likely to ﬁnd revellers perambulating with a jug of Pimm’s than reclining drugged-out in a ditch. More seriously, with new events popping up all the time, several pertinent
questions rise into view, not least: precisely how does one go about delivering a popular new small festival at this stage of market maturity? And is greater diversity of attractions the most reliable route to success? PSNLive decided to ﬁnd out by talking to two of the brightest additions to the festival ﬁrmament over the last ten years.
Location, location, location For many of the more recent additions, the answer appears to be ‘accentuate the unique’ – whether that be in the form of cuisine, activities or, most likely, the location of the festival itself. That certainly seems to have worked out well for the Port Eliot Festival, which takes place just over the Cornish ‘border’ at the end of each July and has been running for 12 years now. “Port Eliot is very much informed by its location,” conﬁrms associate director Colin Midson, pointing to