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2 August 2014

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Music Hospitality - Rock Festivals

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Glam Rocks
From Glamping at Glasto to RIP at Download, entertaining at festivals is no longer a mud-spattered impossibility thanks to a new wave of hospitality packages, says
Anna Longmore


Music festival pods - Pods-mod.jpg Allocating an entertainment budget can be a minefield. Sport seems like the obvious choice – but already you’ve lost the interest of a section of your guest list, and that’s before you’ve even chosen the event. But when was the last time you heard someone utter the words, ‘I don’t like music’? The fact is, just about everyone loves a live gig. Whether it’s Kiri Te Kanawa or Pete Doherty, there’s a concert out there to thaw even the frostiest clients.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that music is the fastest growing sector of the hospitality industry. Fixtures in the traditional summer calendar, taking in the Chelsea Flower Show, Ascot, Wimbledon, Henley and Goodwood, are still understandably popular with corporate event organisers for client entertainment, but there’s another season emerging, and it’s singing a new tune.

Maybe it was the sight of Kate Moss strutting through the mud at Glastonbury in Hunter wellies and hotpants, or Sienna Miller’s ‘effortless’ brand of floaty festival boho, but once-grungy festivals have undergone an image change over the past decade. Purists may reminisce about the over-the-fence entrance policies and anti-establishment anarchy, but the 21st-century festival is a tightly-run ship.

As the crusty image recedes and major dates command basic ticket prices of over £100, big brands such as Virgin, O2, Budweiser, Heineken, Orange and BT have turned to music events as a means of communicating directly with the moneyed young consumers they now attract. At Glastonbury, crowds drink Budweiser, at Download, ‘metal heads’ tuck into Müller rice, and at V Festival, line-up bulletins are dispatched via Bluetooth.

Even the hippiest of festivals are opening up to corporate sponsorship, and with sponsorship comes hospitality.

As corporate buyers discover that they can have access to the hottest music events without the mud-splattered hassle, the demand for VIP packages has soared.

‘Buyers are always looking for different ways of entertaining,’ explains John Ambridge, MD of corporate hospitality supplier Ambro Events. ‘People are looking to entertain at concerts now, as it helps them get to know their clients.’

Julie Mann of AEG Live, who manages hospitality at The O2, says that the demand for hospitality packages for concert dates has exceeded all expectations. ‘For every show, people want hospitality of some description to tie in with the event,’ she adds. ‘Music caters for every single taste, from classical to urban and hip-hop, and there’s plenty of flexibility among the different packages, whether it’s a pre-show meal or after-show party tickets. Clients are much more particular about what they’re spending their entertainment pounds on. They want their full perceived value.’

‘Clients let their hair down and have a good time at music events,’ agrees Joe Russell, event director at experiential marketing specialist Momentum Worldwide. ‘It’s more of a friendly environment than a formal client dinner. It’s a brilliant relationship builder, especially for long-term relationships.’

So, whether it’s a weekend rock festival or an evening in Hyde Park, good-quality music hospitality is not only becoming more widely available and easier to arrange, it also promises a return on your investment. Oh, and it’s always great fun too.


FESTIVALS - THE BIG ONES


DOWNLOAD

Fri 13 – Sun 15 June, Donington Park, Castle Donington, Derbyshire

Headliners: Kiss, The Offspring, Lostprophets, Incubus

Expect: Rrrrrock! Established headliners attract older fans; the giants of nu-metal – Linkin Park or Limp Bizkit, for example – draw younger, grungier rockers. The freakier thrash and goth is confined to a designated hardcore tent, and the atmosphere around the site is surprisingly relaxed. Wandering around is fantastic for people-watching, and you can check out the large shopping and eating facilities, and a motorcross display area.

Upgrade: Camping in the main areas can be pretty rough, so opt for the RIP (VIP!) tickets. The Rest in Peace package includes a weekend VIP pass, and diverse accommodation options from camping and teepees, to lodges and luxury hotels. Expect proper toilets, hot showers, a convenience store and a breakfast barn.

Damage: From £410 for ‘Kip ‘n’ Kit’ package (tents are supplied with an airbed and torch).

Who to take: You’ll be surprised how many closet heavy metal fans you know – however, it’s quite a male-dominated event so female clients might not be the first port of call.

Booking: Live Nation – 0870 400 0688.

Top tip: Wear black if you don’t want to stand out – no Sienna-inspired boho chic here.


HARD ROCK CALLING

Sat 28 – Sun 29 June, Hyde Park, W2

Headliners: Eric Clapton, The PoliceHydepark

Expect: As green as London gets, Hyde Park in early summer makes a pretty backdrop, and the location is easy to reach (although check whether nearby tubes are closed before you travel). The event starts in the afternoon with an entertaining selection of support acts including KT Tunstall, John Mayer and Starsailor drawing a lively crowd, while evening headliners attract more mature fans. One of the most hospitality-driven events in the festival calendar.

Upgrade: The VIP Experience option, including seating on the tiered grandstand, is sold out. However, Club Experience packages offer a private entrance and toilet facilities, as well as a barbecue-style hot and cold fork buffet, undercover seating, a chill-out area and a private bar.

Damage: From £160 including VAT.

Who to take: Anyone – the location, setting, hospitality and music make Hard Rock Calling a one-size-fits-all event.

Booking: Live Nation – 0870 400 0688.

Top tip: Drinks are not included in the hospitality packages; organise a company tab so you don’t have to spend all afternoon waiting at the bar.


GLASTONBURY

Fri 27 – Sun 29 June, Worthy Farm, Pilton, Somerset

Headliners: Kings of Leon, Jay-Z, The Verve

Expect: The biggest, muddiest (usually) and the best: 2,000 performances to 177,000 people across more than 50 venues in 900 acres. As well as the much-talked-about music line-up, there’s cabaret, theatre, circus, poetry, green crafts and just about anything else you can think of. Excellent food as well.

Upgrade: The small and unremarkable backstage area is noisy and crowded so you’re better off opting for unofficial offsite hospitality. At Winding Lake Farm, hundreds of motorhomes ranging from basic to super-deluxe are rammed full of music industry types. There’s basic catering and a bar too. Just beyond Gate C, boho deluxe Camp Kerala is the definition of ‘glamping’, a village of 150 generously proportioned Indian hunting tents, with duck-down duvets, Egyptian cotton sheets, sheepskin rugs and a plush, communal chill-out area with views across the site.

Damage: Winding Lake Farm, £195+VAT pp.

For Camp Kerala, £7,000+VAT, including two VIP tickets to the festival, accommodation for two, all food, chill-out areas, bar, luxury flushing loos and hot, pristine showers.

Who to take: Young, energetic clients with iron stamina and open minds.

Booking: Winding Lake Farm, 07767 606342; Camp Kerala, 01749 860077.

Top tip: The uninspiring backstage area is worth taking advantage of only for the flushing loos and shortcut between stages.


O2 WIRELESS

Thurs 3 – Sun 6 July, Hyde Park, W2

Headliners: Fatboy Slim, Counting Crows, others to be confirmed

Expect: An eclectic crowd to reflect the varied line-up – dancier on Saturday, rockier on Sunday. The Hyde Park site opens at 2pm (12pm at the weekend) and the afternoon is more relaxed, getting busier and more boisterous as the evening wears on. As well as the action on the main stage, there’s an acoustic bandstand, fairground, chill-out areas, street theatre, food areas and markets.

Upgrade: The VIP option offers seating on a tiered grandstand, but the Club Experience packages offer a private entrance and toilet facilities, a barbecue-style hot and cold fork buffet, undercover seating, a chill-out area and a private bar.

Damage: From £139 including VAT.

Who to take: Dance-lovers on Saturday, rock fans on Sunday.

Booking: Live Nation – 0870 400 0688.

Top tip: The festival ends at 10.30pm sharp, and the hospitality area closes promptly, so makes sure you pre-book a venue for your after-party. Listings on squaremeal.co.uk.


LOVEBOX

Sat 19 – Sun 20 July, Victoria Park, E9

Headliners: Groove Armada, Goldfrapp, Jack Peñate, The Flaming Lips, Young Knives, Young Blood Brass Band

Expect: A boutique-y, urban festival with an eclectic, dance-orientated line-up over seven stages, drawing a bouncy, indie crowd of 10,000. Alternative entertainment includes workshops, yoga, Tai Chi, a flying circus, global food and drink stalls and a funfair. The site is open from 10am – 10pm, with no camping option.

Upgrade: Details were still being finalised as we went to press, but last year the clubby Green Room had a Champagne bar, water features, stunning flower arrangements, comfortable sofas – even catering by Nandos – and it was all absolutely gratis once you were inside. Entertainment ranges from video games to band-spotting, as it’s where the artists hang out. There’s also a Golden Circle area with perfect views of the stage.

Damage: £255+VAT per person, per day.

Who to take: Trend-conscious clients that you want to impress.

Booking: 020 7292 8619.

Top tip: Check out bands you’ve never heard of. If you wander around, the stages tucked away around the site hold some hidden gems.


BIG CHILL

Fri 1 – Sun 3 August, Eastnor Castle Deer Park, Ledbury, Herefordshire

Headliners: Leonard Cohen, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Bill Bailey, Thievery Corporation, Roots Manuva.

Expect: One of the safest, politest festivals on the circuit – ‘more a weekend than a festival’, say the organisers. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise any of the acts, you’re not supposed to. The tranquil setting in the grounds of a castle sets the tone for the event, which features a Victorian funfair, comedy tent, late-night alfresco cinema and campfire stories.

Upgrade: As we went to press, no hospitality was secured for the 2008 event, but it’s worth checking with the organisers on 020 7685 0525. You can book a tent or teepee with Tangerine Fields ([email protected]). Your accommodation will be pitched for you, and filled with all manner of sleep-enhancing kit. They can sort out camping for groups, usually 5-20 minutes walk from the main arena. Alternatively, rent a hobbit-esque Podpad hut with airbeds, lighting, fitted carpet, a mirror and a lock on the door.

Damage: £129 for a weekend camping ticket; Tangerine Fields from £55 for a two-person tent to £840 for an eight-person teepee; Podpads from £375 for double/twin.

Booking: 0871 424 4444 for tickets, or 020 7685 0525 for info.

Who to take: Thirty-something festival virgins.

Top tip: Don’t bother taking any supplies with you – the selection of food on-site is excellent.


V FESTIVAL

Sat 16 – Sun 17 August, Hylands Park, Chelmsford & Weston Park, Staffordshire

Headliners: Muse, The Verve, Stereophonics, Lenny Kravitz, Kings of Leon, Amy Winehouse, Maxïmo Park, The Kooks, Kaiser Chiefs, Hot Chip – the list goes on.

KanyeExpect: A well-organised and established event with a contemporary cross-genre bill on twin sites featuring mainstream rock, pop and dance acts. Supported by über-brand Virgin Mobile, it’s the most corporate of the festivals with plenty of cash to splash and a heavy business presence.

Upgrade: Officially reserved for Virgin staff, suppliers and clients, the hospitality ranges from a quieter grassy area with a bar to the beach-themed Virgin Louder Lounge. It’s the Rolls-Royce of official festival hospitality, with a menu of free food and drink, roving masseuses and make-up artists and a liberal dousing of ‘slebs’. There’s also a VIP campsite with Podpad accommodation. You can’t buy your way in here, but it’s worth noting that the festival does consider sponsorship from relevant, non-competitor brands.

Damage: Pretty much sold out, although tickets including National Express coach travel are still on offer for £179.50.

Who to take: V is low on mud and crusties, is mainstream and corporate-friendly, and Chelmsford is 30 minutes from Liverpool Street – so if you do manage to wangle hospitality, you’ll have plenty of takers.

Booking: vfestival.com

Top tip: As you’d expect, there are plenty of points for mobile phone charging, but it’s worth taking along a spare phone with a charged battery to avoid the queues.


READING & LEEDS

Fri 22 – Sun 24 August, Little John’s Farm, Richfield Avenue, Reading, Berkshire & Bramham Park, Leeds, West Yorkshire

Headliners: Not confirmed as we went to press – but expect an impressive line-up. Rumours include Rage Against the Machine, The Killers, Green Day and Metallica.

Expect: A big, raucous affair. Indie-rock acts and a young, up-for-it crowd are spread across the two sites, although Leeds is greener and less frenzied. It remains to be seen what changes the divorce from long-term sponsor Carling will bring, but recent years have seen a broadening of the music policy.

Upgrade: As at Glastonbury, the music focus at Reading and Leeds means that backstage schmoozing is discouraged. The hospitality area is basic (especially without a beer sponsor) and is reserved for sponsors, promoters, record company bods and press.

Damage: TBC.

Booking: 0870 060 3775.

Who to take: Bona fide rock fans – not one for the faint-hearted.

Top tip: Reading is best tackled as a single-day event. It’s a long walk from the station so if there’s a large group of you, arrange return transport from London to avoid the scrum for the train on the way back.


BESTIVAL

Fri 5 – Sun 7 September, Robin Hill Country Park, Newport, Isle of Wight

Headliners: My Bloody Valentine plus Aphex Twin and CSS.

Expect: An eclectic collection of live acts, DJs and comedians from superstars to complete unknowns, curated by Radio One’s Rob Da Bank. It’s a quirky boutique festival that doesn’t take itself too seriously (as the widely observed fancy dress policy confirms), for people who don’t regard festivals as exercises in endurance. Set in a country park on the Isle of Wight, surprises include a WI cake tent, farmers’ market, hidden disco, burlesque tent, toboggan ride, Bestival village green and special guests.

Upgrade: The Boutique Campsite was designed to provide an alternative to a musty canvas two-man. The Bivouac camp consists of 20 traditional fully lined pole tents with carpeted floors. They’re equipped with hand-woven rugs, cushions, lights and power, cotton linen and velvet bedspreads. Teepees, yurts and Podpads will also be available.
Damage: £650 for an unfurnished tent for four adults, £800 for a two-person Bivouac with a double bed and linen. Other accommodation prices to be confirmed.

Booking: 08700 667753.

Who to take: High-spirited clients with a hippy streak – young or old.

Top tip: Pear cider – festival fuel. Also, try to get into the main arena early for the headliners as the marshals close the area off when it gets too full.


TRIED & TESTED


DownloadDownload

Even the most hardcore music events have top-notch hospitality facilities, as evidenced by heavy metal festival Download, where there’s a leading restaurateur behind the scenes. A dedicated rocker himself, Christian Sandefeldt is more than happy to sort out back-stage catering at high-profile gigs but his day job is a much more refined affair. As chef/proprietor of top London fish restaurant Deep (tel: 020 7736 3337), he is used to serving intricate cuisine in sophisticated surrounds – and more than a bit of that glamour was transferred to the Deep-sponsored VIP area at last year’s Download. The difference here being that crowds of ‘metal heads’ – naturally all dressed in black – conjure quite a different atmosphere to the SW-set who frequent Sandefeldt’s Imperial Wharf restaurant.

Now, we’re no strangers to the festival scene, but with pierced and tattooed fans attracted by acts like Iron Maiden and Linkin Park, this one’s a whole different ballgame to most other events and it’s easy to feel out of place in a Glasto-style flower-print dress (or even jeans with a T-shirt that’s any other colour than black). But we soon found out that the atmosphere throughout the festival is actually very friendly.

The nightclub-style hospitality tent split into restaurant, bar and closed-off VIP areas for sponsors and bands, all serving surprisingly cosmopolitan food and drink. Sure enough, Deep’s bartenders served up a never-ending stream of beer but cocktails were equally free-flowing. Cooking, meanwhile, ranged from hearty breakfasts to beautifully presented three-course meals, involving anything from tuna perched on sushi rolls to perky chilli beef salads.


Live Nation Hospitality at Hyde Park Calling

The Live Nation hospitality tent was buzzing as we arrived on a sunny afternoon for the Hyde Park Calling music festival. Catering, provided by Embassy, ranged from burgers barbecued to order to buffet-style salads, an array of cold meats and delicious tiger prawns. After enjoying a beer from the cash bar, we headed out for the first act, The Feeling, by-passing the posh-looking VIP grandstand in favour of standing ‘rock-and-roll’-style upfront. Crowded House gloated that London was having much better weather than Glastonbury, but five minutes later the words proved false as the heavens opened and the ground quickly turned to Glasto-style mud. Luckily for us VIP-ers, shelter was just a short sprint away. An impromptu party broke out inside the Live Nation tent, as people danced to cheesy tunes. Ice-cream, fresh berries and Krispy Kreme doughnuts were served. When the rain eventually eased, we returned to the mud-bath for the final act, Peter Gabriel, who managed to end the soggy proceedings on a high note.


The Green Room at Lovebox

Walking into The Green Room’s ‘Philosophi Lounge’ at Lovebox, I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, someone had created a festival VIP area that looked good. Water fountains, flowers and palm trees were dotted around, interspersed with garden furniture and tables bearing bowls of fruit. A stylish marquee had been fitted out with comfy couches, a trendy Zebra-print rug and DJ booth, while two Xboxes, a foosball table and a giant Connect Four game were available for those who wanted to play. The Movida-sponsored bars served complimentary drinks to band members and VIP-ers alike, while Nando’s doled out yummy chicken burgers, salads and snacks. The highlight, of course, was the gloriously clean and queue-free loos, complete with hand products and mirrors – a true luxury, as any festival-goer knows.


Glamping at Glastonbury: Camp Keralaglastonbury

At ten o’clock on the Thursday night before Glastonbury, when 150,000 festival-goers in the valley below were gearing up for a big muddy weekend, I hadn’t heard the twang of a guitar, smelt a whiff of Portaloo or hammered in a single tent peg. This, after all, is not Glastonbury, but Gl-ah-stonbury – a world away from the damp canvas and warm beer of the world’s largest festival that sprawls across 900 acres of Somerset farmland, just a few hundred metres from Camp Kerala’s gates.

If you watched last year’s festival from the comfort of your sofa, you’d be forgiven for having felt just the tiniest bit smug. It wasn’t pretty. Unless, of course, you’d ditched your Millet’s two-man and baby wipes (the festival equivalent of a shower) and shacked up at luxurious Camp Kerala. No wonder the camp’s 150-odd residents were looking so pleased with themselves (another reason could be that they all have healthy enough bank balances to part with £6,000 for the privilege of staying here!).

This is the ultimate VIP festival experience. Of course, technically, it’s camping, in the same sense that dinner at The Ritz is eating or diamond-encrusted Gucci platforms are a pair of shoes. On arrival, we were shown to our accommodation, a custom-made Indian hunting tent with twin mattresses, duck down duvets (Hungarian), cotton sheets (Egyptian), sheep-skin rugs and a wash room. Then there were Hunter wellies, Jemma Kidd make-up products, fluffy white bath robes and rubber Crocs for the arduous walk to a block of hot showers and flushing loos so clean you could eat your dinner off the floor.

However, Thursday’s dinner – all six courses of it – was not served on the floor, but on real plates in a pretty makeshift dining marquee courtesy of award-winning local restaurant Bruton House. Eating langoustines and beef fillet, and drinking cold wine from a proper wine list, in the rain in a field in Somerset was a strange but very gratifying experience. I had to keep reminding myself that this was, in fact, Glastonbury and that just a couple of hundred yards away, the welly-wrenching, gluey chocolate mousse of mud was waiting for me.

The camp, run by the irrepressible Jennifer Lederman, has a homely charm all of its own, which sets it apart from, say, checking into a hotel. There’s still a definite sense of being part of the festival, albeit with a layer of expensive wellington separating you from the mud.

And a stay at Kerala not only brings with it the privileges of the camp itself. Among the rainbow collection of wristbands assigned on arrival was a backstage pass to the festival, as well as fast-track wristband that meant we didn’t have to queue at the gates or faff around with paper tickets.

Whether many of the Kerala residents ever got as far as the festival is another matter. The mixture of trustafarian twenty-somethings, designers, models, bankers and internet entrepreneurs seemed more intent on popping open the Champagne as the breakfast plates were cleared in the communal bar area, which is all scatter cushions and loungy low-level seating, with a sweeping view over the festival site. At the end of the night, it’s just a short stagger from the gates back for the after-party.

The price of a stay in Camp Kerala is going up to £7,000 per tent this year – no small consideration. But this is the most exclusive hospitality at the world’s greatest festival, and it’s absolutely guaranteed to blow the cashmere socks off even the most jaded of clients. There’s only one problem – once you’ve done Glastonbury Kerala-style, you can never go back.

For further information about Camp Kerala call 01749 860077.


This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Spring 2008.


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