How To Run A Successful Festival
By Bill Nuvo
(WINDSOR, ON) – You may have noticed I haven’t written any articles for a while. One of the main reasons is because I’ve been busy performing across Ontario and Canada this summer. I simply did not have much free time. Well that’s all good though, because I have much more to write about now.
I had the opportunity to perform at a multitude of festivals from local ones here in Windsor to others across Ontario and also a festival in Nova Scotia. I noticed a big difference in the quality of some festivals. Let me say that while a few festivals were really awesome, I think some need to step it up a notch (in some cases a lot!).
Now I’m not talking necessarily from a spectator’s perception of a festival, but how festivals will actually treat the entertainment. So what can some festivals learn from others?
Don’t expect performers to work for pennies (or nothing for that matter!)
I had one new festival in Windsor suggest that I perform for free and if they like me they will consider hiring me next year. I must say, this was very insulting. I would be giving up my prime time (weekends) where I make the major portion of my income. Working for free does not pay the bills. To infuriate me more, I found this festival (which the organizer boasts about his other festival raking in millions) asking for volunteers on Kijiji. Well we know how he’s making those millions now don’t we? Needless to say, I didn’t perform there.
I had another festival question a reduced fee stating it was more an hour than they make. I had to explain, to this seasoned festival producer, that I have expenses that are incurred because of this business. Everything from prop management, repair, travel/car, insurance, rehearsal and much more needs to be accounted for. Again this was for a reduced fee!
Obviously most of the festivals I performed at this summer saw the value they were getting. The Art of Eating Festival in Tecumseh was superb with their support and appreciation. It was actually mentioned by one of the festival crew that we should have been paid more! I like comments like those (hee hee).
Pay on time!
A performer should never have to worry about whether they are getting their cheque that day or whether they are going to have to chase it down. There were an abundance of festivals that paid as I arrived on site and even some that fully paid a week before! There have been times in the past though that some festivals have waited to pay. This doesn’t make a performer very enthusiastic about performing. Also word does get around to other performers about this as well (and about any issue with a festival). There are many online forums that entertainers frequent to voice their opinions about any said festival, thus decreasing the festival’s ability to hire quality entertainment.
Give performers something a little extra!
Now I understand that not all festivals have the same budget. That’s OK. The Port Credit Buskerfest was top for me this year in the extras they provided. They provided a very classy hotel room (it had a full kitchen, living room, washer/dryer, dishwasher and a great view!), two catered meals per day, all day vegetable/fruit trays, a green room, refreshments, and extremely supportive staff and sound crew. They had a big budget. The LaSalle Strawberry festival had private toilets, a green room tent, veggie and fruit trays, water and a wonderful entertainment organizer. They had a lower budget but still had a similar outlook on performers which really makes all the difference.
When performers are given that little extra, just like with a customer, they will feel a lot better and give even more back and make that little bit of extra effort because they will feel appreciated. It makes the performance more fun as opposed to just a job.
Have a festival that looks like a festival!
When a festival has a large spread of vendors, activities, entertainment and décor, it can lead to large attendance and increased enjoyment by patrons (which in turn transfers to the performers as well). The Bradford Carrotfest is a small town festival which really packs in so much in a few blocks that it’s impossible to see everything and thus creates the desire to come back again next year. There is literally entertainment every 20 feet of some kind from a balloon twisting leprechaun to an energetic juggler performing a ½ hour show.
The Chatham-Kent Youth Festival was totally awesome as well. In a small footprint of a local park, they managed to cram various vendors, many performers at 4 separate stage areas, free activities, food vendors, workshops and more! Driving by, you could not help but know something exciting was going on. Again, just like Bradford, it had so much to see and do.
Vendors are incredibly important to a festival. Of course, in order to get vendors, you need to have traffic… and in order to have traffic, you need vendors. It’s a vicious circle but to attain that, a festival can offer a discount rate for a period of time to get vendors to come in. Kempenfest in Barrie had to be one of the biggest festivals I’ve seen in a long time with the most amount of vendors. I could only make it half-way through the festival. I swear it had to have at least 1000 booths!
Most festivals have some sort of theme that they are celebrating. By having a theme you can capitalize on as well is a very good thing. Stouffville’s Strawberry Festival had a ton of strawberry souvenirs available from shirts to nick-knacks. Everywhere you looked you saw strawberries! Bradford Carrotfest as well had Carrots all over the place. Kemptville Dandelion Festival had dandelion products and shirts available. These are essential in creating advertising outside of the festival time frame, as well as connecting strangers at the festival itself.
Parking! Parking! Parking!
Quite simply, provide parking for the entertainment. There is nothing worse than an entertainer who can’t get his gear on site. Having to walk a few blocks or more with gear is really unacceptable. Most festivals do provide on site parking, but there are a few that I’ve experienced that do not.
Have staff that is readily available!
It really doesn’t look good to have a festival with no visible festival team members. Performers may have issues that arise which need immediate attention. Also, the general public may want more information. They will often gravitate to the entertainment to ask questions and if the entertainers cannot direct them to a team member, then there is a big problem.
Treat all entertainers with the same level of respect and consideration. Whether they are just balloon twisters or a headline act, they are all equally important to the success of a festival. As it has often been said, it’s the little details that make all the difference.
Improving on the points mentioned will allow any festival to greatly increase its odds of success, success with the public, success with the vendors and success with the entertainment!
Bill Nuvo owns and operates Nuvo Entertainment, your one-stop entertainment resource.