Comments and opinions from folkies on the crisis facing the Sidmouth Festival.
The Fringe - many views, but it is an integral part of the whole
The fringe elements of most festivals rely on the ticketed parts to provide the infrastructure of campsites, toilets, catering facilities, marketing, licensing, insurance, public relations etc. So if the ticketed part of the festival goes, it would be difficult to see the rest of it carrying on in anything like the same format. Granted a group of people could all decide to go to Sidmouth together and book into hotels, B&Bs or guesthouses, but from the way some people talk, they wouldn't be happy unless there was a campsite with scouts providing cooked breakfasts and the opportunity for late night sings.
The non-ticket buyers certainly contribute to the local economy and there is already a feeling in the town that the official festival organisers would wish to be able charge everyone for everything. Charging visitors for admission to the arena, is an example of what is thought by some to be a step too far. What is gained in revenue from this, is thought worth more than the further distancing of the official festival from the town and casual visitors.
There is a symbiotic relationship between the fringe events and the official festival. I certainly don't agree with the idea that the fringe has more like a parasitic relationship. Indeed, rightly or wrongly many feel that is the official festival that is already trying to suck their blood.
Fringe festival goers benefit indirectly from the existence of the core events and organisation. In order to have the whole fringe - the sessions, tune and music, the social dances in the Anchor, the activities on the prom, the dance displays, the processions - there has to be more than a fringe. (And it works the other way as well.) In order to have that central core of events, including the organisational stuff and the underwriting, more money is needed than comes in from the ticket receipts and the collections.
The facilities are mainly in place as this is a town festival. The regular attendees to the fringe events probably make more contribution to the local economy. As the main official events now tend not to take place in the town but in the out-of-town arena. So if the ticketed part of the currently organised festival should go - most of the current fringe events would have little difficulty in continuing. Some indeed now take place at Sidmouth in the winter.
The fringe would lose its edge if the main festival were not there. Often the sign of a good festival is the fringe elements around it - and not just folk either.
The Sidmouth fringe is very different. Most informal sessions etc, at are least referred to in the official programmes of other festivals. Unless things have very recently changed - the Sidmouth programme does not list the pub sessions etc and the two events tend to exist side by side, but as if in a different universe. I am not sure if the official event finished tomorrow, that it would make very much difference or if some folk in the town would even notice.
When the festival was small, most of it happened in a small area of the town. The dance displays were along the Esplanade, in the Market Square and in the Blackmore and Connaught Gardens. Singing events were in various places but the Late Night Extra was in the Drill Hall. Morris workshops, tea dances and concerts were held in the Ham Marquee.
An awful lot of casual attendees do not directly contribute to the festival coffers. If each paid about fifteen/twenty quid on average the festival could survive the odd year of rain. How many people go to the festival to enjoy the fringe sessions Radway, middlebar, seafront entertainment etc but do not actually contribute financially to the festival? I've heard people boast that they they don't pay anything to the festival I wonder if they will be boasting this year.
In the case of Edinburgh, the so-called fringe is now what many think is the core festival. The main core festival events there may have originally created this fringe (largely by charging high prices) but are now, I would suggest the background and would not be missed if they stopped.
I think it'll be a damn shame if Sidmouth was lost, it's the only festival where non folkies know about it, it beats the hell out of Cambridge and is a folk festival for all people. How about some Government intervention or why don't the audiences just buy some rain jackets!?
The festival has been kept going for many years by people who care about it, but can't afford to subsidise it indefinitely. The official festival and the fringe have a symbiotic relationship, and many sessions in the Theatre and Middle Bars have benefited from free performances by booked guests. It's not really helpful to cast aspersions on the various organisers, who've managed to keep it going for 50 years in spite of all the problems.
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