Comments and opinions from folkies on the crisis facing the Sidmouth Festival.
Sidmouth is unique
In my experience (and in that of many others I've spoken to) there's nothing else like Sidmouth on offer at present. Lots of other festivals around the UK are very good, and quite a few are excellent. But they are all good in much the same ways. If any one of them went under, it would be a misfortune, but not a tragedy.
Of course Sidmouth is not perfect. Anyone who's been there tends to have at least one complaint - about the content and structure of the programme, about the facilities on the campsite, about the rather inconvenient topography of the town itself - and so on. But I've never met anyone who didn't feel that their grievances were outweighed by the benefits of the unique Sidmouth experience. Surely this is something worth making an effort to preserve?
Come monsoon or heat wave, Sidmouth is a unique experience, it's whole greater than the sum of it's parts which for me is it's secret. I for one would mourn it's passing in any other (i.e. lesser) form. I really doubt it could ever be replaced elsewhere.
Yes, there is a festival that is on as big a scale as Sidmouth, has sufficient underwriting, has all the venues closer together etc. - its called Cambridge. The appeal of Sidmouth for many people is that it isn't like that - and that's the point.
It is a pain in the neck to get to, but then so are most seaside towns in Britain, leastways, the ones that have retained their character and charm and not been swallowed up by a sprawling metropolis with funfairs, stinky arcades and night clubs. Whitby, if memory serves me right, is even more hilly and less convenient to get to. I've never had trouble parking at Sidmouth, if I was prepared to pay my way (never more than £5) or walk more than 500 yards, considerably better odds and prices than London.
Sidmouth Festival is very special but it is far from perfect and main reason it is not, is the constant uncertainty of its future. The town, organisers and all of us deserve better than this uncertainty and division. It seems like a constant feature almost every year.
Unfortunately, it's the distributed nature of the festival that makes it cost so much, but that's the only sort of festival you can have in a town like Sidmouth. Anyway, it's a lot more fun than Cambridge Folk Festival, which is okay for about a couple of hours, but then you get bored because it's so small, and the bands all play multiple times, and it's the Levellers yet again (I used to live next to the Cambridge festival site, so I was lucky enough to be able to go home and watch TV instead where it got really dull, and look forward to going to Sidmouth!)
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