How to run a festival

The amount of energy that goes into even a small festival is ridiculous

19th June 2018

From kicking out drunken, gate-crashing teenagers to reuniting revellers with their cherished mobile phones, running a festival takes an intense amount of support and staff.

Even the relatively small Shindig Weekender, which runs each year over the spring bank holiday in Somerset, has more than 1,000 crew for just 5,000 ticket holders and takes five weeks to prepare and clean up.

Festival co-director Simon Clarke says making sure the event runs to plan relies on a robust security presence, a clean-up crew committed to picking up every last fag butt and warm but overcast weather.

“The perfect weather is no rain, warmish and cloudy. The sun sends people a bit wild and there is a lot of drinking and heat. Medical gets hammered as people are dehydrated, and the water gets drained. But rain costs the most. You have to get the tractors and woodchip out and pull cars out of the mud.”

Security measures

In order to obtain a licence from the police, festivals have to maintain a specific ratio of security and stewards to visitors, as set out by the local force.

“The licensing is different every year and they are harder on new events,” explains Clarke.

“We have to have 70 people with Security Industry Authority badges because there has to be one per 100 people. And steward numbers have to be double that, so we have 140 stewards. It means the police don’t have to attend the event. In other counties, the police want to be involved but in Somerset they don’t.”

Shindig festival
People are pretty chill about returning lost items, it turns out 📸 Leora Bermeister/Shindig Weekender

The police look at rotas, search criteria, amnesty bins and do a site check before the event to ensure everything is in place. They are in contact with the head of security and make sure none of the security staff are blacklisted and they can also be called in if an arrest needs to be made.

We only had one arrest this year. It was a woman who got out of control

“We only had one arrest this year. It was a woman who got out of control. The security were assaulted and the police got assaulted as well. Most of the time though the security are there to be a friendly presence and not to get too involved with the customer.”

In fact, one of the biggest problems for security is not fights and thefts as you might expect, but teenagers jumping the fences or drinking illegally.

We try to price teens out of the festival as they are the troublemakers

“The teenagers from Bruton troop down as they think it should be free for them. They know ways in and they avoid the gates.

“To be honest, if we see them, we stop them but we have to maintain the peace so we don’t go around rounding them up. They just come down to see what it’s like. The main problem is that when they are walking home they make a lot of noise and the local people complain as they think it is our customers, but it’s not,” says Clarke.

Shindig Weekender is a three day festival in Somerset 📸 Nathan Roach/Shindig Weekender

But teenagers with legitimate tickets cause different problems for security and bar staff. They can drink legally on the campsite with their family and then come into the festival to cause mayhem.

“We try to price teens out of the festival as they are the troublemakers and it is difficult to keep them out of the bars at night. We have a limit of 100 teen tickets. We have teen welfare to sit with them because they are drunk and a quick check at the bar is their wristband because only adults have fabric ones,” adds Clarke.

Lost property and people

An extraordinary number of mobile phones go missing at festivals but what is even more remarkable is that the vast majority find their way back to their owners.

This year, lost property at Shindig was filled with smartphones, along with clothing, jewellery, keys and wallets. By the third day of the festival, more than 130 items had been handed in by the trustworthy folk attending the three-day event.

“People come here not expecting to get their things back and are really grateful when they do. Anything valuable gets back to people, even money,” says Holly in the production team.

Most of the phones have run out of battery, but they are reunited with their owners via the festival Facebook page in the weeks and months following the event.

Reuinited shindig
Reunited and it feels so good: Leon Valerio got his phone back thanks to the kindness of strangers

“We charge them and we can do detective work. We read the texts and work out whose phone it is,” Clarke says.

And the physically biggest items to go missing? “Cars!” says Holly.

“People come to us because they don’t know where they have put their car or, one year, the farmer had moved someone’s car as he had put it over an entrance,” explains Simon.

One customer who was happily reunited with his phone was 19-year-old Leon Valerio who lost it after a heavy Friday night.

He was working as technical support crew, attending the festival with his dad and best mate.

“We’d been out all night partying. I got back to the tent about 3.30am on Saturday and realised it was gone. I went to lost property and they didn’t have it. I went back on Saturday evening and they still didn’t have it. I was slowly giving up.”

I’m so happy, I didn’t think I was going to get it back. I thought someone would have kept it

But when Leon returned on the Sunday afternoon his phone was sat there waiting for him and he quickly proved it was his by unlocking it.

“This was my very last attempt to find it. I’m so happy, I didn’t think I was going to get it back. I thought someone would have kept it.”

Parents write their phone number on their kid’s arm so it is easy to reunite them

Over at the Lost Kids tent, no child or parent was lost for more than 20 minutes during the weekend.

“We have a security protocol after five minutes and 15 minutes, and then after 45 minutes we have to inform the police. It is mainly three to five-year-olds but parents write their phone number on their kid’s arm so it is easy to reunite them,” explains co-ordinator Angela.

Lost kids
Whether lost by accident or on purpose, children only ever are separated from their parents for minutes

Emergency provision

This year, the paramedic services at Shindig got off lightly with just a handful of patients each day, the worst being a broken ankle after a woman slipped in the rain.

“I was first on the scene,” says Clarke who was heavily involved in operations on the ground.

“She had broken it in three places and had to go to hospital for surgery. In the past we have had epileptic fits and heart attacks but this year medical were quiet. You just never know how it is going to go.”

The biggest problem this year was the unexpected filling of the campervan field before everyone had arrived.

“We had people turning up in larger cars, caravans and campervans this year, even coaches. We had to open another field, which meant we had to put in more lights, water, security and toilets. We had to kit out a whole new field, overnight. It costs us thousands to do that.”

So, next time you moan about having to show your wristband for the 100th time, just remember the same support team will be there to recover your phone when you drop it in the ditch and to mop your brow when you fall sick.

Main image: Leora Bermeister/Shindig Weekender

19th June 2018