Observations from FolkWeek - 2014 and 2015.

Tickets - yet more rearrangement and complexity!

2014 was notable (for me) as the first time in over 15 years that I didn't either steward at the festival or buy a season ticket. There were several reasons but primarily a sprained arm that was refusing to heal. Several other local regulars did not buy season tickets either - and local participation in social dance was much reduced as a consequence.

In 2015 I decided to do what many locals do - just ‘buy as you go’ and be selective about which dances to attend. In the event the excellence of the Tom Hinds contra dance workshops in Blackmore Gardens meant that whereas in 2014 I hardly went into the venue, in 2015 I spent most of my dance time there.

In 2014, 'residents discounted tickets’ - were advertised on the FolkWeek website but with no details of the actual discounts available. I phoned Sidmouth Tourist Information Centre before the start of the week - they told me that they thought the scheme had ended as they had transferred sale to the festival box office - they thought it as just for advance ticket sales prior to the start of the week. So I phoned the box office - who initially didn't know anything about the scheme. After consultations I was told it applied to afternoon tickets (2 reduction) and evening tickets (5 reduction) - so I asked if it applied to workshop tickets and/or to all events. Further discussions resulted in an uncertain opinion that there was 2 off a book of workshop tickets and that discounts 'on the door' at events for which advance tickets were not sold by the box office was 'at the discretion of the stewards on the door'. This seemed highly unlikely - so I asked at a couple of social dance venues one evening, and of course the stewards knew nothing whatever about the scheme.

The website mentioned only Bulverton and Ham tickets - but as we know from long experience, what is on the FolkWeek website, what the box office say or what is in the programme is not necessarily what happens. In 2015 I didn’t even bother to ask about any resident discounts: long discussions with box office staff on matters they should know about are simply not worth the effort. An amusing story from the campsite early in 2015 was that a punter who had made a block booking was told he could only have one printed programme per booking, not one per season ticket. Eventually the staff admitted their mistake. Are these people trained at all?

It doesn’t help that the FolkWeek ticket structure becomes more byzantine every year. In 2014 Sidmouth Town Council gave the festival a further 10,000 to pay for 'residents tickets' and for subsidising 'family tickets' but the discounts on offer were only for Ham concerts and for events at the Bulverton - the latter being perhaps of little interest to typical Sidmouth residents. So apart from Ham tickets being subsidised, the scheme offered little, and social dance was given no specific encouragement.

A dance-only season ticket?

In 2015 as in 2014 and previously, one of the principal problems facing dancers is that, if they do not elect to buy an expensive season ticket, any alternative entry to a dance is irreversible - if you find there are no suitable partners you cannot go to another venue - except if you pay a further 9 or 10, or in 2015, 12! This is severely inhibiting. A solution would be to offer dance season tickets - if the cost was set at (say) 100 for the week to cover all workshops, dances and ceilidhs, few dancers would actually attend more than 8 or 10 events (few are that energetic), but they would have the knowledge that they could 'pick and choose' whenever they wanted. At the moment their only choices are 200+ for a season ticket (viewed as far too expensive by many people who just want to dance occasionally and saunter along the seafront the rest of the time) or 'pay as you go' but with the prospect of finding that there are no suitable partners (and/or likeable music) in each of several venues in turn.

The weather - lucky once again!

A sour note in 2014 was the weather. After several weeks of baking sunshine in Sidmouth and with not a drop of rain (despite heavy rain in nearby Exeter and Ottery St Mary) there was a downpour coinciding with the opening Anchor Gardens ceilidh on the Friday (1 August). There was also extensive rain overnight on the Friday - which at least would have softened the baked earth of the campsite. The weekend and Monday saw very little rain, Tuesday started very wet but promised to clear by early morning. It did for a while, then it rained heavily! In all however, what rain there was during the week was largely overnight, so Sidmouth was quite lucky with the weather. At least the weekend was quite fine, and Sidmouth attracted the usual hordes of day trippers. The weather was much better in 2015 - not too hot for dancing and with the only rain of the week occurring on Wednesday night. The latter part of the following week was quite wet with some periods of heavy rain. There were floods in Eastbourne and flood warnings across much of the UK. Sidmouth escaped quite lightly but Broadstairs FolkFestival may have suffered during the last days of their 50th celebrations.

Anchor Garden. - I have notes from 2014 that say “Three Penny Bit were vastly too loud as was the strident caller - someone who is far too fond of the sound of his own voice.” I’d long forgotten them but they were back for 2015! This year however, a sound level limit for the venue was set by EDDC - and it made the events far more pleasant for dancers, who could hear themselves think. So for once - well done EDDC. Otherwise the Anchor remains much the same as it ever was, an almost unchanging feature of an ever changing festival. If a proper level dance floor could be constructed in the Anchor - what a difference that would make! Sidmouth needs a good quality dance venue which is 'completely open' where people can watch the dancing instead of it being largely hidden away in Church halls or at the isolated Stowford Rise venue.

Excessive volume of bands in the Anchor are further addressed here and here.

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