People thought we were mad and that a big music festival in Scotland would never work, but here we are approaching our 20th consecutive edition. Festivals have changed dramatically in this time - when the first T in the Park took place in 1994 the only other UK festivals were Glastonbury, Reading and WOMAD - now there are literally hundreds all over the country and they have gone from just being a place where you watch bands outdoors, to an entire four day experience or a long weekend away.
In year one we had about 2000 campers and 17,000 people in total at T in the Park, whereas this year we will have 70,000 campers and 85,000 festival goers on site each day - this alone obviously calls for major changes to the festival, from facilities to campsite entertainment, that were not required in the early years.
Going to a festival, and T in the Park in particular, has become a 'right of passage' for young people. It's a weekend with like-minded people enjoying great music, food, drink and now, alternative entertainment. A huge portion of our audience come year after year, so it's as important for us to ensure they continue to return as it is to bring in new festival goers. 17.5% of our audience also come from outside Scotland so we also work hard to ensure they have an unforgettable experience, not just in terms of the festival but visiting the country too, as T is worth over £40million to the Scottish economy.
With the increased duration and size of festivals, they have become about more than just enjoying music. Customers demand it and with the number of festivals now taking place each year there's some healthy competition - this can give you a point of difference. At T in the Park we now have visual art, cabaret, boutique camping inThe Residence and Refresh - a shower and pamper area for both men and women. We've also led the way with the standard of festival food. We ran a festival called Connect in Argyll in 2007 and 2008 and in the first year gathered local food producers together to provide the festival food. Connect took place in August but we had them at T first in July 2007 and famous Loch Fyne oysters, venison burgers and vegetarian dishes were all served up. These producers are now a firm favourite in the Healthy T area every year and have gone on to trade at festivals across England. We put a lot of time and effort into sourcing other quality purveyors, such as Perthshire Farmers, for Healthy T. 20 years the idea of flatbread with falafel and hummus, oysters or an organic lamb burger with stroganoff sauce at a festival would have seemed exotic, it's now standard fare and something our customers want.
All these changes mean that the costs of running a festival have increased dramatically. Artist fees have rocketed - not just for the headliners but across the bill - and infrastructure costs too. When it's up and running T in the Park is the fifth largest town in Scotland and the costs reflect that. From fencing to building 11 stages, bars, a campsite big enough to hold 70,000 people, police presence and security, medical provisions, power, lighting, transport, waste management, toilets (we've won the Best Toilets at the UK Festival Awards three times), land rental as well as preparing the site year round for all weather conditions to licenses etc - it's not a cheap gig. It takes a lot of staff to make the festival operate, while in the early days we could all go home to bed, now it's not unusual for the core management team, including myself, to be on site from 8am until at least 2am the following day, ensuring everything is running smoothly. Ticket prices have gone up to account for this but the fact remains that festivals remain fantastic value for money. A T in the Park weekend ticket is £184 but with over 200 bands expected to perform it works out at less than £1 a band.
Another big and important change, which also helps us keep ticket prices as low as we possibly can, is sponsorship. More and more brands want to be associated with festivals and the youth market and see being part of them a good return on investment. At T in the Park our relationship with our founding partners Tennent's Lager, is the longest running music partnership in the UK. Their support over the last 20 years has been paramount for both us as promoters and for their brand.
One thing that hasn't changed in 20 years is the audience's passion for music. T in the Park is best-known for its fantastic crowd and year after year bands say they are the loudest and the best in the world. Festivals would be nothing without music fans and we always remember that, it's what makes my job, and that of the entire T in the Park team, absolutely worthwhile. Over the next 20 years we will continue to work tirelessly to give them the best weekend of their lives.
T in the Park will take place from 12-14 July 2013. Headliners Mumford & Sons, Rihanna and The Killers will be joined by a plethora of acts including: Kraftwerk, Chase and Status, The Script, Emeli Sande, Jake Bugg, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Calvin Harris and CHVRCHES... with many more to be announced.
Follow Geoff Ellis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Tinthepark