Could good weather kill some events at the newly styled Sidmouth Folk Week?

This is an interesting question, and follows from earlier consideration of 'groups of attendees' at different folk festivals. Traditionally, poor weather was the principal risk factor for Sidmouth International Festivals organised by Steve Heap. This was because most of the 'unsecured' income was derived from the open-air arena, a facility that attracted thousands of extra attendees in good weather but few in poor weather. Now that (for the foreseeable future) the large Knowle Arena concerts have been abandoned, it has been argued that the success of 'folk week' is no longer so dependent upon the weather. This may be true in terms of absolute income. The bad weather risk of the Steve Heap years was almost 250,000 pa, around a third of the cost of staging the whole festival. The newly styled 'folk week' will probably remain a much smaller affair.

However, in seeking to analyse the extent to which both poor and good weather may pose a threat to the viability of the 'new style' festival, it can be argued that probably a larger percentage of visitors to Sidmouth during 'the first week in August' may be primarily visiting the town for its seaside attractions. This is quite unlike at Chippenham (for example) where the only reason to go to the town for a long weekend in May is its folk festival - and whether the weather is good or bad would make little difference to numbers attending the principal events. Also, most attendees are dedicated dancers who buy season tickets in advance - thus securing festival income irrespective of actual attendance.

The influence of a possible 'seaside factor' may have been seen at Sidmouth in 2005 at the very poorly attended ceilidh on the Tuesday afternoon - when for the first time the sun shone brightly and it was ideal beach weather. Despite an excellent band and a popular caller (sadly, Mick Brooks died later in 2005) the Ham marquee was almost deserted. In contrast, the beaches were packed!

The conclusion seems obvious - whilst poor weather has always kept away some 'casual visitors' and reduced total numbers in the town, good weather may now have a more marked effect on attendance at daytime folk events. On average, visitors may now have less loyalty to 'folk week' and more to 'a week by the sea'. For these people, casual attendance at a few folk events may simply be one of their bad weather options.

The only way to secure most income well in advance is by selling 'discounted' season tickets. For 2006, the organisers have adopted an advance ticket sale policy modelled closely on the Steve Heap years but (inevitably) offering a narrower range of events and less good value. However, the critical comparison is not between what Sidmouth used to offer and what it offers now, but between what different (competing) UK festivals can offer now and in the future. The final years of Sidmouth International Festival as run by Steve Heap may never be replicated or equalled, but that is no reason to forget what was once achieved.


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