Sam Blanchard’s ‘BATHFEST STRUGGLES TO IMPRESS’
BATHFEST STRUGGLES TO IMPRESS
by Sam Blanchard
Last Saturday saw thousands of merrymakers flock to Bath Racecourse in Lansdown for the first Bathfest, an all-day music festival boasting a jam-packed bill with sets from world-famous artists Pendulum, Grandmaster Flash, and Foxes. The well-behaved weather and a field full of bands, beers, and a big-top made Bathfest sound a lot like the perfect day. However, the reality was underwhelming, and acoustic blunders, a tedious cashless system and limited food and drink menus made for an ultimately disappointing event.
www.bathfest.co.uk – less isn’t always more
Undeterred by the bare website we bought tickets and hoped for the best, excited to see the likes of Bite the Buffalo, Eton Messy, and Foxes in the same place. Come May 31st, the wellies, wayfarers, and flower-crowns were donned, and after a liquid breakfast we took a taxi to the racecourse. At the gate we shuffled past the ‘alcohol amnesty’ bins with hipflasks clunking in our boots, were given wristbands, “searched”, and released into Bathfest. The Facebook page’s venue announcement – a panoramic video of the gigantic racecourse – had expectations higher than a fenced-off putting green with a handful of tents. But size isn’t everything, right?
However, size is important when one of the largest sitting spaces has three different songs booming into it at the same time. The two smaller stages and the Red Bull truck’s DJ station were far too close together at the back of the arena, and practically facing one another. This acoustic nightmare meant that, short of being inside the stage tents, the only music was a thumping racket akin to a dishwasher full of mangoes.
The main stage’s acoustics, on the other hand, were much better and held their own for most of the afternoon, which saw crowds gather for some home-grown rock & roll from Carousels & Limousines and Bite the Buffalo, before Grammy-winning singer Foxes packed out the tent to kick-start the evening. Despite giving no programme or line-up information (save for an A4 sheet written by/for ants behind the barrier), the stage appeared well-organised – staff and performers made quick transitions and kept it running smoothly throughout the day.
Bite the Buffalo and Foxes saved the day with killer performances
Bathfest’s biggest drawback, reflected by reviews and attitudes on the day, was its money-grabbing coupon system and failure to cater for a crowd tyrannically denied the right to bring their own food or drink. The former refers to the festival’s refusal to accept cash for anything, instead demanding that it be changed for raffle ticket currency. These were not mentioned prior to the festival or on arrival, but only when we had endured the lengthy bar queue to be refused service without them. The menu prices were in pounds but asked for in tokens – making people pay to do maths on a Saturday wins no affections. The non-refundable coupons, available only in £10 increments, had people queuing in their hundreds, and gave the impression of a heartless enterprise rather than an arts festival.
In addition to being forced to buy from the festival, revellers were left with embarrassingly few options. For over 4,000 ticket holders there was only one bar and one burger stand, both extortionately priced (£4 for a can of cider, or 4 for £12 – conveniently more than one strip of tokens), and both unbelievably busy. This left a lot of hungry and thirsty people waiting in long lines next to a pile of warm beef to fork out for second best.
Unhelpful, misleading ticket and the cursed coupons
Last but not least, the much awaited headline act, Pendulum, had their set ruined when the sound system was turned down. An almost total lack of bass meant the PA was barely loud enough to cover my farts, and most of the tent could hold a casual conversation over the drum & bass veterans’ famously intense music.
The day then ended at 11pm, despite a 2am finish time on the ticket – the final three hours, unbeknownst to us, were to take place at the after-parties in Bath’s nightclubs. Transport was not provided, and thousands of drunk students, unable to get a taxi on a Saturday night, stumbled the dark, dangerous roads of Lansdown into the city, three miles away, in search of a warm bath and a hot cup of cocoa.
It seems the guys at Bathfest spent a lot more time talking than they did trousering, and if their efforts to get ‘likes’ on Facebook were redirected onto properly organising the festival, they could have a real gem on their hands. The stock festival photos boasting thousands of Facebook friends, and countless questionable five-star reviews from dubious, gender-confused users, would have been better off replaced by useful information and promotion for paying ticket-holders.
Bathfest was in a quality location and clearly has a lot of interest, as well as links with brilliant artists. It was thanks to these artists that the day was so enjoyable – the high calibre of music was a necessary distraction from the organisers’ shortcomings, and without them it would have been little more than an overpriced fête.
While this is a harsh review, I had a great day and I owe it to Bathfest, but the festival needs improvement if it is to succeed. What are hopefully teething problems can be overcome, and with a bit of elbow grease it has the potential to grow into the young, fresh, and exciting music festival Bath deserves.
It wasn’t all bad