Friday, 9 April 2010

Poacher turned Gamekeeper

Ticket prices to get to the big festivals can be hugely expensive. A serious dent in a low annual budget and that's just to get to one. What about trying to get into a summer's worth? How many times have you tried to get into a festival with "I'm with the band" or "I've left my handbag in there"?

Well, I can say that I've climbed over fences, bribed security guards with cans of Stella, hidden under instruments and mattresses in the back of the band bus, been a friend of several bands and blagged - that was all before I was 21. Since then, and 21 years have gone by, I've been the band, been the door steward, hooked myself on barbed wire fences trying to unhook others, and most of what's to follow - and I'm now an organiser.

The last thing we need as organisers is a bunch of people getting over the fences with bags of booze - What a headache!!! It not only means that the festival loses revenue from ticket sales but it's also a nightmare for the security staff. Did you know that if you have a ticket into a festival you are covered by the festival's public liability insurance. If you dont have a ticket or band and something happens to you - where do you think you stand legally? That would be for a judge to decide.

Most festivals are licensed - this isnt just to sell alcohol or put on live music. It means that if there is trouble, the event can be removed from licensed premises legally. Just like a landlord refusing to serve someone because they became abusive.

If you'd like the cheap option - then getting in for 'free' couldn't be simpler...

First of all, choose a small festival. OK so you might not see some really famous chart topping band but you will be able to get into the festival atmosphere by offering a few hours of your time by being a steward or volunteer.

Most festivals are desperate for volunteers - YES desperate - but its volunteers with experience they need... so that's why I said choose the small festivals first. Offer your 12 hours to your local event organisers. It could be helping put out chairs, minding a fire exit or just giving directions to other festival goers.

Did you know that many festivals rely on volunteer 'time in kind' as a form of income to be able to obtain fairly large grants? Volunteer time is currently worth £10 an hour - so by giving 12 hours to a festival, in most cases, you've paid for your ticket.

Get a few festivals under your belt before trying for the really big festivals. Get to know your volunteer co-ordinators. You can in some cases ask them for a reference. Seriously, this stands in good stead for getting work as a volunteer on other festivals. Most festival organisers are aware of each other and talk.

So 12 hours sounds like a lot? If you are able to turn up to a festival the day before it kicks off - then you could help with the set up. There are chairs to put out, fencing to put up, help to get traders to their pitches. After the festival closes, there's always the clearing up to be done. Again, if you have the time you can work it that you do the set up and the take down - leaving your festival free to chill and enjoy. Manual work - yes, but there are other jobs.

Box Office and Festival Information all need volunteers too. If you are chosen as an honest face, it's always good to keep it that way. But 4 hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday soon flies by and if you have some friends or a partner, then you can work at the same time and still have the time off together.

Bar work at festivals again is hard and fast work. If the festival are running their own bars - they need volunteers. This really does not mean free drinks. But it does mean that being busy makes your shift fly by. 


Stage management takes some time to get into - but always needs spare hands to take gear on and off stage and you get to meet the bands. Artist Liaison is another job for people who find manual work difficult. It's making sure the artistes get their passes, wristbands and welcome packs. It might just mean making cups of tea and welcoming people. All it takes is a smile.

Every festival will have an Employees Liability Insurance and as a registered volunteer you will be covered if anything untoward happens and you are involved.

Some festivals provide refreshments for volunteers, some even provide food. It all depends on the type of festival and its location.

Where to find festival details? Well there are several places on the web - a Google search will bring up thousands and yes, there are literally thousands in the UK and Europe. Approach a festival about 3 months in advance - check their websites for Volunteer Application Forms.

Froots Magazine Online has a comprehensive list of festivals by date and location.

So you want to get into a festival FREE - nothing is 'totally' free, but as a volunteer it's a balance of being able to enjoy the festival and feel a part of a team. (The after show party is sometimes put on by the organisers. Invites are hard to get, but great if you get one - though please dont expect one after your first festival!)

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