As the bustling UK festival season draws to a close, two particular events I attended this summer got me thinking about what makes for a great British festival.
It wasn't long ago that I would judge music festivals based on the quality of the music experience above all - anything else came second. As long as I could be part of an iconic moment watching one of my favourite artists, then I could accept chaotic camping, anaemic burgers and bombsite toilets.
If that was still my thing, then there are plenty of great options. However a new wave of festivals appeal to the 2013 version of me a lot more. Much was made of the unforgettable Rolling Stones' free concert in Hyde Park in '69 that turned into a memorial for the passing of guitarist Brian Jones. Forty-four years on and the British Summer Time (BST) festival in Hyde Park recaptured some of that magic with the Stones headlining, together with much that brought a fresh perspective to the festival formula.
AEG Live carefully curated the best from festival heritage in the broadest sense of the word - from food fairs and street parties to farmers markets and county fairs - to create a rich and rounded experience at BST. There were several worlds in one - like Disney's Epcot or Universal Studios - a quintessentially English 'Village Green' on one side, Cuban mambo dancing just around the corner, and big Richards riffs on the main stage.
Today, an increasingly demanding festival-goer expects no less than this smorgasbord of experiences and activities to choose from. And they certainly won't accept being disappointed. AEG Live, of course, are no strangers to big landmark initiatives, having breathed new life into the Millennium Dome as the O2, now a leading events venue. This experience came to the fore when Elton John cancelled his performance at BST. AEG Live responded gallantly, refunding tickets and opening the rest of the line-up to the masses for free, including The Kinks' Ray Davies and Elvis Costello as significant support.
As BST showed us, the sort of one-hit evening is rapidly being supplanted by living, breathing, evolving events. BST worked its magic over a fortnight in a considered attempt to accommodate festival-goers' busy lives. This clever approach demonstrates how event planners are taking note of the way people live and responding accordingly. BST catered for the young and old, with activities that ranged from children's theatre to improv comedy and yoga classes; it ensured everyone got bang for their buck with some activities totally free.
AEG's Hyde Park extravaganza also recognised today's culture of immediacy where time-saving, convenience-boosting services and experiences are expected. Chief sponsor Barclaycard intuitively offered its PayBand at BST and the wristband device enabled fast-track entry to ticketed events and the wearer to enjoy the festival experience without having to carry cash. It also provided a social element allowing wearers to link to their Facebook accounts and share experiences with their friends, also providing the headline sponsor with a real opportunity to engage with festival-goers.
The second event to recall is the Big Festival, held in the sleepy Costwolds village of Kingham, on the farm of Blur bassist, Alex James, curated by James and Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver. Although all the ingredients were there - campsite, rows of toilet cubicles, shower queues and ferris wheel - this was a festival like no other.
Sprawled across acres of land, the food concessions and visiting culinary experiences stood shoulder to shoulder with the big music acts of the weekend, to create a rare and unique double bill. Yes we saw Alex James talking cheese, and Jamie with a curated demonstration stage, but there was also the best in street food, vibrant 'Brindian' cuisine, Ostrich and Kangaroo burgers from Outback, premium ice creams, pies, cheeses and whiskeys, Pimms and noodles, Birra Moretti and pulled pork, and everything in between. And whilst Basement Jaxx and The Feeling may have been the popular headliners, the crowd was just as thrilled to see an impromptu Oliver (drums) and James (bass) jamming with The Cuban Brothers to a Lenny Kravitz cover.
It would take more than the 3 night, 2 day event to savour all the food and drink that one would like to try. And there's no doubt that everything from the quixotic location to the eclectic line-up, and the broad church of food experiences on offer made this a completely unique festival experience.
The festival has to stay iconic, for that's what makes it what it is. But it has also has to evolve to satisfy people's demands today. Pulling this off is no mean feat - it's a delicate balance between entertainment and good marketing. Stray too far in either direction and you can screw the whole thing up. Both BST and The Big Feastival played that balance brilliantly.