From freak winds to folk, Vince Power discusses the highs and lows of being one of the most important promoters on the festival scene.
As the founder and former chief executive of the Mean Fiddler Music Group, festival veterans will more than likely have attended one of Power’s events, which have included Reading and Leeds Festivals, The Mean Fiddler and The Jazz Café, plus numerous other venues around London and a stint helping Glastonbury out of some tough times. He’s currently the man behind Hop Farm Festival and the rejuvenated Festival Internacional de Benicassim, but years of experience haven’t meant that it’s all plain sailing nowadays.
It’s fair to say that Vince’s projects last summer were hampered by events out of his control – he freely admits that 2009 “was a bumpy year”. An apocalyptic scene unfolded at Benicassim as 75kmh winds ripped up tents and fed a growing scrub fire, spreading dense smoke across the site and causing Kings of Leon to cancel their much anticipated headline performance. Vince recalls how surprised he was at the lack of subsequent incident: “I think the fans and customers were incredible because I’ve never seen a crowd of people accept that Kings of Leon weren’t going to go on. We got a few boos but they just wandered off and went on to the beach and partied.”
The Gallaghers' ultra-nonchalant performance at Benicassim seemed typical; in retrospect, it was a hint of brotherly unrest that would eventually end in an acrimonious split for Oasis. Back at Hop Farm, Vince had hoped the boys from Manchester would headline but a delay in obtaining the festival license ended with Oasis going to V Festival instead. Finding a comparable replacement would prove tough: “It’s always difficult convincing a bigger band to do a newer event… they go for the safe option like Reading or V [Festival]”.
Roll forward to 2010 and Vince seems to have had a change of fortune booking acts for his two biggest events. “Getting Bob Dylan [for Hop Farm] was a really big achievement,” Vince says. “[He] is past putting into any category. [He] is very much today, too: young people like Bob Dylan”. 2010 will be the first time the folk maestro has been persuaded to take to a British festival stage since 2004, in what Vince sees as a continuum between new folk acts, such as Laura Marling, who are “a quarter of the age or a third of the age of the headliner”. As if that weren’t enough,Dylan is set to be joined by fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Blondie and Ray Davies (formerly of The Kinks), as well as acts like Seasick Steve, Van Morrison and Peter Doherty.
Despite constructing one of the most attractive folk-based line-ups of the summer, plans to replicate Hop Farm at other locations have had to be temporarily shelved because of the recession. “We had a really beautiful site in Sheffield and I had another site in Exeter. I wanted to do Arctic Monkeys in Sheffield because they are from there. I wanted to do Muse as well because they come from around Exeter. Next year we'll have another go [at expanding].” For now, the expansion only goes as far as the new Bread and Roses Stage at Hop Farm, which promises to show art and comedy late into the night.
As for Benicassim, Vince says, “Last year’s bill was rare because we had Oasis, Kings of Leon, The Killers, Franz Ferdinand and many more but this year I think the depth of the bill is better. Right down the bill we have people like Lily Allen and Ellie Goulding. In the dance tent we have people like Hot Chip and Calvis Harris. For the legends we have PiL, The Specials, and Ray Davies.” Not to mention headliners Gorillaz's barnstorming live show, The Prodigy, Kasabian and Klaxons.
Despite tough financial times, Vince believes he has created a recipe for success at both his festivals. “It was a tough year for everyone in Spain. I think it’s just essential that we got someone like the Gorillaz.” But with such a strong line up, he might buck the belt-tightening trend by providing what is essentially “a cheap holiday”. For young people wanting to travel to Europe, the exchange rate has increased the overall price so much that the cost of accommodation alone can be eye-watering. At Benicassim “you can go for 10 days with your friends”, have four days of festival fun and another six on the beach, “and of course it’s only a hundred and fifty quid for a ticket so it’s not bad really”. The same goes for Hop Farm, where “you can keep the whole family there and have a good weekend for a hundred pounds”.
What is most impressive about Vince’s model for Hop Farm is how public pleasure is prioritised above profits. Vince believes the power sponsors now hold over some events has alienated customers. “It was almost like there was an exclusion element rather than an inclusion one for the actual real music fan and we found that people were being sidelined by the way things were going. Ticket prices were going up, especially with the different layers of tickets [i.e. VIP access to areas run solely by sponsors].” Vince’s refusal of sponsorship means they are “not obliged to sell anything to anyone” and can therefore offer a much broader choice to the customer. “If you have to drink a pint of Carling and that’s all you can have because they are the sponsors, then this affects you.”
What he has created at Hop Farm he describes as “a bit quaint really, it looks beautiful. There’s no big telephone companies with banners or posters”, which has helped keep “a great sense of community” that Vince believes is at the heart of any festival. “Some people at a festival, you wouldn’t talk to them at a bus stop but in a campsite there is a camaraderie.”
So what will the future hold for Vince? “[2012 is] going to be a tricky one because I think we’re going to be completely engulfed by the Olympics. It will overshadow everything. For festival operators, sourcing equipment is going to be difficult, I think every single PA and lighting and piece of fencing will be taken up by the Olympics.”
In spite of the problems ahead, Vince says he isn't ready to pack it in just yet. “I can’t help doing festivals.  was the first year I did Reading and that was 22 years ago. I’m always thinking and looking. You’ve got to do something haven’t you? If I didn’t do anything I’d probably be an alcoholic in 6 weeks!”
Hop Farm Festival 2010 takes place at Hop Farm in Kent from 2-4 July, while Benicassim 2010 returns to Spain from 15-18 July.