Crowd Pleaser

Nothing brings people together quite like music – particularly when it’s being played outside, accompanied by sunshine, smiles and a steady supply of cold drinks. As organisers continue to hone their VIP offerings, corporate hospitality at music festivals is now a serious prospect


Crowd.jpgLive music is big business. According to The Guardian, over two million Brits attended festivals last year, helping the top 200 events contribute £450m to the economy in ticket sales, travel, accommodation and food. As established events sell out in record-breaking time (this year’s Glastonbury tickets were snapped up in an incredible four hours), brand-new festivals are cropping up all over the country.
From thumping techno to the heaviest of thrash metal, there’s a niche event to suit even the most specialist tastes and, as the total number of UK festivals creeps close to 700, there’s a lot of mainstream choice in between. It’s no longer all about music either. Stand-up comedy is a common addition to the festival line-up, as are chef demonstrations, poetry readings and cabaret acts. At family-friendly festivals (great for entertaining clients who
have kids), you can even count on boutique baby-sitting services.
The fact that society bible Debrett’s has dedicated an entire section of its website to festival etiquette – we’re told to ‘adopt a carefree, sunny spirit’, ‘be friendly to strangers’ and ‘acknowledge your campsite neighbours’ – should go some way to prove it’s not just grungy teenagers who like to get their wellies out these days. Heck, even Prince Charles ‘did Glasto’ last year, albeit in shoes rather than Hunters.

It’s all about glamping
If you’re planning to take clients to a festival, do a bit of homework first. Your choice of event should be guided by the people you are looking to entertain, so be sure to have a guest list in mind from the off. Are you taking a group? Look for radio-friendly line-ups and all-inclusive VIP packages. Entertaining a select few or just the one special client? Here’s your chance to show you care by swotting up on the music they like and organise something special.
The ultimate – and most expensive – hospitality option has got to be Camp Kerala at Glastonbury, an independently operated trailblazer that launched back in 2004. ‘It is generally accepted that the term “glamping” was coined for us,’ says founder Jennifer Lederman, whose trademark Rajasthan-style tent village has grown more luxurious every year. Forget sleeping bags and blow-up mattresses: we’re talking beds, duck down duvets, Egyptian cotton sheets and sheepskin rugs. The price? A cool £8,000 (+VAT) per tent, including top-notch catering, two Interstage Area tickets to the festival and access to Camp Kerala bars and loos, both backstage and on the campsite.
Glamping.jpgGlasto has other ‘official accommodation partners’ but the majority of these will take bookings only from ticket holders, which means they’re off limits to anyone who doesn’t already have a wrist band with their name on it. This is standard practice across the big festivals, so keep a close eye on those release dates. Unless the official festival website tells you otherwise, the way to go about it is to book standard ‘weekend camping’ tickets and add VIP lodging on top.
You could, of course, forget all about accommodation and entertain London-based clients at festivals in town. From Hyde Park giants like Wireless and Hard Rock Calling to boutique offerings such as Kew the Music, Hampton Court Festival and Lovebox, there are certainly plenty to choose from and most offer some kind of ‘VIP experience’, be it access to a backstage bar or full-blown hospitality complete with a three-course meal.

Are you ready to rock?
Believe it or not, some of the most sophisticated VIP offerings come courtesy of an ever-growing number of rock and heavy metal festivals. Download has been operating its ‘RIP’ camping area at Donington for years, most recently adding a Pop-Up Hotel, complete with air-con, flushing loos and power showers, while the London-based rock fest High Voltage, launched by MAMA Festivals last year, offers packages with all-inclusive food and drink.
At Sonisphere, which picked up the gong for best newcomer at the 2009 Festival Awards, ‘Rock Royalty’ VIP packages were very much part of the festival blue print from the off.
‘Rock festivals attract a very mixed audience,’ explains Debbie Scorah, who is marketing director of the festival’s organiser, Kilimanjaro Live. ‘There are the young kids who just want to see the bands but, with legends like Metallica in the line-up, you’re also going to attract an older audience with money to spend and we wanted to create a space for people who want to rock out in the arena but also be able to retreat to somewhere more relaxed to enjoy food and drink.’
Having set up shop at Knebworth, Kilimanjaro found the perfect base for its VIP operation in the venue’s 400-year-old Tithe Barns, where Sodexo usually run events like conferences, product launches and wedding receptions. ‘With all that infrastructure already in place, we would have been stupid not to use the existing facilities,’ says Scorah. ‘By working with the in-house team, we are able to have real quality in our offering.’

Lovebox_2010_people2.jpgTasty tunes
Food has become a major part of the festival experience, with organisers booking anything from big-name pop-up restaurants to celebrity chefs to help them stand out in what has recently turned into a fiercely competitive market. ‘River Cottage Cafe at Bestival. Giant Robot at Big Chill. Can’t imagine what’s coming next year. Le Gavroche at Glasters? Cider sommeliers?’ tweeted lifestyle journalist Kate Spicer after doing last year’s festival circuit. 
New for 2011, Alex James’s Harvest (a sister festival to Harvest at Jimmy’s) is as much – if not more – about the food as the music. When we went to press, the only music act confirmed was KT Tunstall, but rather than hold back for the ‘very special guest headliner announcement’ foodies were already snapping up tickets off the back of the stellar line-up on the chef demo stage – think Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Richard Corrigan, Mark Hix and Thomasina Myers. Pop-up restaurants, a farmers market and street food stalls are also planned.
At this year’s Hampton Court Palace Festival, there will be picnic food supplied by Jamie Oliver’s Fabulous Feasts, while hospitality guests enjoy Champagne, canapés and a two-course dinner with fine wines and coffee in the beautiful State Apartments of the palace itself. The packages also include reserved seating in the covered VIP area.
For Virgin Media, which uses the V Festival Louder Lounge to entertain VIP guests including press and celebrities, catering plays a big part in keeping each festival fresh and interesting.
‘As it’s first and foremost about profile-building and media coverage, raising awareness of our sponsorship of the festival, it’s important that we make the Virgin Media Louder Lounge a unique experience. We change the theme each year,’ explains the company’s head of PR campaigns, Simon Dornan.
In 2010, his team was brave enough to sign up festival first-timers field&flower as the Louder Lounge caterers, tempted by ‘fresh-from-the-farm’ offerings like seven-hour slow-cooked spit-roast pork. ‘We were determined to offer something new and, yes, we did take a punt as they had never done this kind of thing before, but our gut instinct proved correct and they absolutely delivered,’ says Dornan.
Drinks at festivals are also improving. Cocktail bars are springing up both in and outside VIP areas and we’ve just heard that the Wondering Wine Company, launched by wine wholesalers Bibendum and headed up by Simon Swift (ex-Lord’s), has commissioned brand environment specialists Mobile Technik to create special vintage-styled trailers, designed to store quality wines at the right temperature. Glasses of chilled rosé to accompany an oudoor gig? We’ll drink to that!
Now, read on for our roundup of this year’s best festivals for corporate entertainment.

The Big Chill
4-7 August, Eastnor Castle Deer Park, Herefordshire
EXPECT: much more than music. The original boutique festival has great food, an eco-conscious ethos and a stunning Herefordshire countryside setting, attracting a well-heeled hippy crowd, with regulars who return year after year
HEADLINERS: still TBC as we went to press. In 2010, M.I.A., Massive Attack and Bebel Gilberto topped the leftfield bill
TAKE: close colleagues and clients of a boho persuasion
TOP TICKET: a room at the ‘Yurtel’. The luxury 14ft yurts come with king-size or twin beds, Egyptian cotton and electricity – even chocolates on your pillow. From around £1,000. For general festival information, call 020 7009 3001

Download
10-12 June, Donington Park
EXPECT: three days of growling rock, metal and punk, played to hoards of black-clad, alternative types.
HEADLINERS: Def Leppard, System of a Down, Linkin Park, The Darkness, Alice Cooper
TAKE: dedicated rockers – this loud and hairy festival is not one for the shrinking violets in your contacts book
TOP TICKET: the rough and ready regular campsites are not client-friendly, so look for ‘RIP’ camping or book a room at the Pop-Up Hotel, where rooms come with an ensuite power shower, flushing loo, air-con and a double bed with crisp white linens for £2,150. Book through Ticketweb

Audley.jpgEnglish Heritage Picnic Concerts
24 June–16 July, Kenwood House; 9-13 July, Audley End;
30 & 31 July, Tatton Park
EXPECT: stunning stately home backdrops, leafy surrounds and refined ambience, plus food, music and fireworks
HEADLINERS: Tom Jones, Gipsy Kings, James Blunt, Bjorn Again, Scouting for Girls, Katherine Jenkins and Lesley Garrett
TAKE: the more senior section of your client database
TOP TICKET: at Kenwood, receptions will be held in the house (£199); at Tatton Park, drinks and dinner will cost £132.50, with proceeds going to Francis House Hospice. Audley End will have a marquee set-up (£125). Call IMG (tel: 020 8233 5854)

Glastonbury
22-26 June, Worthy Farm, Pilton, Somerset
EXPECT: four hedonistic days of music, art, comedy, theatre and more as 180,000+ people descend on a Somerset farm, come biblical rain or blissful sunshine
HEADLINERS: U2, Coldplay and Beyoncé
TAKE: creative types, your favourite clients, big prospects
TOP TICKET: just when you thought Camp Kerala (tel: 01749 860077) couldn’t get any more luxurious, they introduced
ensuite toilets, divan beds and a spa. It’s £8,000 per tent, but that includes access to the all-important interstage area (where the Kerala Winnebago offers food and luxury loos) – great for zipping between the festival’s various stages

Greenwich Summer Sessions
26-31 July, Old Royal Naval College, London
EXPECT: an eclectic line-up of open-air gigs in the stunning Old Royal Naval College on the Thames. Perfectly placed for the City
HEADLINERS: Mark Ronson, Status Quo, The Pogues
TAKE: a different set of clients each night – the handy location will ensure good attendance – Mark Ronson & The Business Intl for youngsters, Status Quo for soft rockers
TOP TICKET: championing a more contemporary dinner-free format (substantial canapés instead), the Quintessentially Music Experience includes backstage passes and bar tokens. From £159. Contact Quintessentially Music (tel: 0845 388 2777)

Hampton Court Palace Festival
8-18 June, Hampton Court Palace, Surrey
EXPECT: an all-encompassing line-up playing to an intimate (3,000 capacity) crowd against the backdrop of one of this
country’s most magnificent palaces
HEADLINERS: Bryan Adams, Jools Holland, James Blunt,
Don McLean, Simple Minds, Ringo Starr, Alfie Boe
TAKE: business-minded clients for a subtle ice-breaker
TOP TICKET: a Jamie Oliver picnic in the gardens sounds fab, but we’re hankering after VIP hospitality with a pre-concert dinner in the palace’s stunning state apartments. From £295. For more details, call 020 7603 6033, or visit squaremeal.co.uk/hcpmf

Hard Rock Calling
24-26 June, Hyde Park, London
EXPECT: a generous helping of rock ‘n’ roll nostalgia served
up to an up-for-it crowd in the middle of Hyde Park HEADLINERS: Bon Jovi, Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks
TAKE: London-based clients: thirty-somethings on the Saturday, fifty-somethings on the Sunday
TOP TICKET: with the Platinum Experience, you’ll meet
for Champagne and cocktails at Harvey Nicks across the road, before you laminate up and head across to your VIP area in the park, for £550 per person. Contact Live Nation (tel: 020 7009 3484)

Harvest at Jimmy’s
9-12 September, Jimmy’s Farm, Suffolk
EXPECT: a hippy, happy, family-friendly festival of food and music in the East Anglia countryside. Pop-up restaurants, chef masterclasses, kids’ cookery and boutique camping
HEADLINERS: musicians Eliza Doolittle and Gilles Peterson; chefs Mary Berry and Richard Corrigan
TAKE: serious food-lovers, families, festival virgins
TOP TICKET: of all the ‘glamping’ on offer, our pick is the Harvest Hotel, a carpeted 14ft yurt with a king-size or twin beds, Egyptian cotton sheets, a duvet and towels, plus an eye mask and ear plugs. Prices to be confirmed. Call Big Wheel Promotions for more details (tel: 020 7292 7121)

High Voltage Festival
23 & 24 July, Victoria Park, London
EXPECT: posh rock. A boutique festival weekend with a
line-up of classic, progressive and hard rock, plus an on-site
beer fest. All in E3, so no camping required
HEADLINERS: Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Dream Theater,
Black Country Communion
TAKE: rockers with taste – they’ll love the backstage bar!
TOP TICKET: for £325, you’ll be well catered for in the ‘Classic Club’ backstage hospitality area, but nothing screams VIP like designing your own rock-star pad with the High Voltage team
For more info, contact Jody Patterson (tel: 07799 627729),
or visit squaremeal.co.uk/highvolt

Hop Farm
1-2 July, Paddock Wood, Kent
EXPECT: festival democracy. You won’t find the Aviator shade brigade with their AAA passes here. No VIPs, no sponsorship – just live music in the Kent countryside
HEADLINERS: Eagles, Bryan Ferry, Brandon Flowers, Morrisey, Lou Reed, and Iggy & The Stooges
TAKE: genuine music fans with a hippy leaning
TOP TICKET: no hospitality here, folks, but if camping isn’t your thing you can head down for the day from London – shuttles run to and from Paddock Wood station all day – or hire a camper van for the occasion. Day tickets are £70, weekend £130, with a camper van fee of £70. Call 020 7644 1445 for details

Kew the music
6-11 July, Kew Gardens, London
EXPECT: a broader line-up as the festival formerly known as Summer Swing rebrands to fit a wider variety of music styles. The beautiful garden setting remains the same, while a Sunday evening concert has been added
HEADLINERS: The Feeling, The Noisettes, Jools Holland, Jamie Cullum, Bryan Ferry, Orchestra Buena Vista Social Club, Blondie
TAKE: just about anyone – there’s a great range of music
TOP TICKET: this year’s hospitality offering is a relaxed affair, with Champagne and substantial canapés rather than a sit-down meal. Prices start at £175pp, call 01923 710970 or visit squaremeal.co.uk/ambro-kew for details

Lovebox
15-17 July, Victoria Park, London
EXPECT: three one-day festivals in a single weekend. The site, in Victoria Park, captures the away-day vibe perfectly with music, circus, cabaret and entertainment across 10 stages
HEADLINERS: The Wombats, Snoop Dogg, Scissor Sisters,
2 Many DJs, Blondie, Jessie J, Groove Armada, Robyn
TAKE: hip clients who like a good party
TOP TICKET: the £165 backstage VIP package features all the usual perks – fast-track entry, luxury loos – plus an all-day free
bar and BBQ lunch. Groups of 30+ can custom-build their own exclusive ‘pod’. For more info, contact Jody Patterson (tel: 07799 627729), or visit squaremeal.co.uk/lovebox

Somerset House Summer Series
7-17 July, Somerset House, London
EXPECT: a stunning open-air courtyard setting, indie acts and a suitably reverent crowd of refined gig-goers. Don’t be surprised if the thirty-something next to you is drinking wine
HEADLINERS: Professor Green, Stornaway, Imelda May, Beady Eye, Blondie, Hurts, Ellie Goulding, Lamb, Eels, Hurts,
My Morning Jacket, Aloe Blacc
TAKE: a varied cross-section of your client list
TOP TICKET: details still TBC as we went to press

Sonisphere
8-10 July, Knebworth House, Hertfordshire
EXPECT: a rip-roaring, bat-biting rock fest. The UK’s largest metal festival attracts goths and grungers from across the country
HEADLINERS: The Big Four (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax), Biffy Clyro, Slipknot, Airbourne, Limp Bizkit, Motorhead, Weezer, Bill Bailey, Volbeat, House of Pain, You Me at Six
TAKE: rockers – soft, hard, old and nu
TOP TICKET: there’s a distinctly un-grungy vibe in the Rock Royalty VIP (with garden terrace areas and a Rock Disco). Seven different food styles served throughout the day include ‘Pie & Mosh’, ‘Donersphere’ and ‘Raj Against The Machine’. From £325 (own tent) or £1,685 (tipi for four)

V Festival
20-21 August; Hylands Park, Essex
and Weston Park, Staffordshire
EXPECT: a dreadlock-free zone. V is the most mainstream festival on the circuit, both in music policy – pop and chart rock – and a crowd that’s heavy on day-trippers
HEADLINERS: Arctic Monkeys, Plan B, Eminem, Rihanna
TAKE: younger clients, large groups, pop fans
TOP TICKET: hospitality has sold out at Weston Park, but we’re still hanging out for a four-sleeper Winnebago at the Chelmsford festival. A cool £6,000 buys you wood-panelled splendour with proper beds, a power shower and plenty of entertaining space. For more details, email [email protected]

Wireless
1-3 July, Hyde Park, London
EXPECT: three afternoon-to-evening one-dayers, with a festival buzz in the middle of London, plus the promise of a cab ride home at the end of the evening
HEADLINERS: The Black Eyed Peas, The Chemical Brothers, Pulp, Tinie Tempah, Plan B, Bruno Mars, Grace Jones, Foals
TAKE: young (or young-at-heart) pop-lovers on Friday,
dance-music fanatics on Saturday and an indie crowd on Sunday
TOP TICKET: top-end VIP packages come with grandstand seating, but we like the ‘Club Experience’ – mix it with the hoi polloi and return to the VIP area for chill-out, loos, barbecue food or drinks. From £149. Contact Live Nation (tel: 020 7009 3484)

Wychwood
3-5 June, Cheltenham Racecourse
EXPECT: a family feel, with morning-to-night entertainment, from circus, craft and dance workshops to comedy and music
HEADLINERS: The Waterboys, The Charlatans, Cornershop, Justin Fletcher, Ian Anderson, 3 Daft Monkeys
TAKE: families – each adult ticket allows two free under 10s
TOP TICKET: the festival is within easy reach of London, but if you’re planning to stay, swap the Millets one-man for a five-person Soul Pad, all set up for your arrival, from £219 per person. Call the organisers for further information
(tel: 01993 772580)


This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, spring 2011