Tickets for Sidmouth Folk Week (Sidmouth Festival) 2007.

Generally, when trying to organise members of the human race, it is thought to be a good idea to aim for order rather than chaos. After all, chaos tends to arise quite naturally. Ask any schoolteacher.

Just to be different, albeit with the best of intentions now that the Knowle Arena is no longer available to accommodate ticket holders who find they cannot get into other events, the organisers of Sidmouth 2007 decided to rewrite the Rulebook of Life. They decided to attempt the impossible - to maximise income whilst pleasing all of the people all of the time.

This resulted in a range of ticket options, perhaps rather too many for their own good. A parallel from Modern Times is the complexity, waste, fraud and general insanity of New Labour's tax credit system. It started as a Big Idea (never a good sign) and with laudable intentions - to help the poorest in society and to make everything fair. But it has grown (via tinkering, inept crisis management and empire building) to become so complicated that hardly anyone now can understand it, least of all the people it was designed to help. Of course, the fraudsters can understand it - they are clever enough to take advantage of the general mayhem and to the tune of maybe 5 billion a year (give or take a few billion?). But I digress....

If the aim was to bewilder and confuse then the Sidmouth organisers appear to have succeeded to an extent never before seen at any folk festival - and (somewhat as an admission of the fact) they produced a 'Janet and John' story detailing how happy families and single parents everywhere could sit cosily by the fire to choose their tickets.

Are you sitting comfortably? Do you have your Ibuprofen capsules ready? If not, then an old-fashioned aspirin or two might do. And your mug of Horlicks? Then we shall begin.

Here is an extract from the official Sidmouth website, downloaded on 10 May 2007. It is to be noted that some tickets were discounted only until 15 April, and (well before 10 May) Platinum Seasons were sold out. So, not only were some options no longer available, the cost benefit of others had changed. But why let pertinent details spoil a good story?

Which Ticket should I buy?

First of all remember that all tickets (except the Bulverton season) are discounted until 15 th April if you buy online.

Here are a few examples…

John and Barbara are a couple who like to enjoy a variety of events at the festival and love the freedom of not needing to pay extra to go into any event they would like to see. They enjoy seeing some of the big concerts – perhaps not every day but at least 3 in total. They are particularly keen on the music of Salsa Celtica and thought that they would forego seats at the Ham for a lively evening up at the Bulverton.

John and Barbara should buy our PLATINUM tickets. If you are planning to see more than 3 of the 16 programmed evening events [ link to evening concerts] at either the Ham or the Bulverton, then this represents the best value for you.

Single mum Cheryl is bringing her two children, Sam (10) and Ella (7), for the first time. She is delighted with the new flexible children’s package deal in which the second child is free – no matter how many adults there are in the party. Sidmouth becomes affordable for her, since Ella can now go free. She will get a GOLD Season ticket for herself, since she looks after her children during the evening. However, she is hoping to sneak up to the Late Night Extra which is included on her season ticket, if she can persuade a friend to babysit.

For families of up to 2 adults ( GOLD tickets) and 3 children, the new children’s package is a similar price to last year’s family package – and it accommodates different types of family units.

Joe is a student at Bristol University. He and his friends are keen to check out the new Bulverton – all the dancing they can get until the early hours of the morning, followed by chilling out at the campsite (only a few hundred yards down the hill).. The new BULVERTON season ticket is great for him – he can go to some workshops (probably in the afternoon!) or soak up the atmosphere in town or on the beach for a while and then back to the Bulverton in the evening.

The new BULVERTON season offers people between 18 and 25 access to all the main bands at the Bulverton, all other Bulverton events and workshops in the town – all at less than half the adult platinum season price. And the Bulverton ticket is discounted until 31 st May.

Emma (17) has been to the festival for many years with her parents and wants to go with her friends who have just turned 18. She is delighted that the YOUTH and BULVERTON season tickets are the same price, so that her friends can afford to come with her and her parents. Her parents are delighted that they are free to go to the events they want to see while Emma and her friends are at the Bulverton.

The youth season is the same price as the Bulverton season, but allows access to all events. It is only discounted until 15 th April!

So if I buy a Season Ticket, how do I know I will get in?

For 2007 there will be no pre-bookable event tickets for smaller venues such as the Bedford Hotel and the Manor Pavilion.

However, it is in everyone’s interests to make sure that events are well attended; artists perform better, and we can keep the season ticket prices as competitive as possible. For this reason a limited number of event tickets may be available early for selected Ham and Bulverton site evening events. To help us decide, which events we will provide pre-bookable event tickets for, and how many, we would really appreciate your feedback.

We invite all PLATINUM season ticket holders to let us know before 1 stJune:

  • Are you likely to attend the Show of Hands concert on Friday 3 rd August?
  • How many other Ham evening concerts are you likely to attend during the week?
  • How many Bulverton evening concerts are you likely to attend during the week?
  • Can you tell us any specific concerts you will/won’t be attending?
  • How many platinum seasons are there in your party?
  • What is your name (or booking reference number?)

You are welcome to contact us via the website or when you book your platinum ticket. Please respond only once for your party.

You are not obliged to give us this information, nor to stick with your plans.

For all events at all sites, so long as no ticket holders are waiting to enter, and no earlier than 15 minutes before the start of an event, individual event tickets may be available at the door for any spare capacity at that time.

Will there be event tickets on sale in advance?

Subject to the level of sales of season tickets, we are planning to sell some tickets for the evening Ham and Bulverton events in advance [ See timetable of concert dates ]. These will be limited to provide sufficient space for Platinum and Bulverton season ticket holders. Advance tickets will go on sale in June and will range in price from 12 - 25, depending on the popularity of the artist(s).

We strongly recommend that anyone who wants to see more than 3 out of the 16 programmed evening events buys a Platinum season ticket.

As you might imagine, the complexity produced a few comments on the Internet in mid 2007: here are some from Mudcat.

There were a large number of complaints in 2006 about the 'new' ticket arrangements - see the above link for some discussion - but no-one seems to have explained why it was necessary to change the well tried and much loved ticketing arrangements of the Steve Heap years. Back then, you could buy a good-value Season ticket that (in theory) got you into every event. If your chosen venue was full, there was always the Arena with something worth watching. Even if it was pouring with rain........

In 2005, the first year of the downsized 'Folk Week', many events were run as 'stand-alone' ventures, hence there were no season tickets. This was quite understandable and everyone marvelled at how well the organisers had done to put on the events at all. However, the major comment received in the 2005 feedback was "Give us back our Season Tickets".

Dutifully, the organisers obliged - but this generated a whole new set of problems that Steve Heap never had to contend with - simply because the old-style festival was so big, offered so much, and had a 'reserve capacity'.

In essence, the primary problem now is that the 'reserve capacity' of the Arena has been removed.

The secondary problem is that the 'value for money' of the 2007 Season Tickets is less than in the Steve Heap days and people will be far more annoyed if they do not get what they thought they were paying for. In the old days, no-one minded a few 'House Full' signs - people still felt good about the overall value for money.

Now, if your chosen venue is full, there is nothing, apart from perhaps another limited capacity venue that also may be full. Hence the scrabble for ideas of how to both fill venues and limit the number of disappointed people.

Short of producing 'event only' tickets for every major event (this would maximise income and produce no disappointed punters) there is simply no way - short of good luck each and every year - that the organisers can hope to succeed. The system just doesn't have a built-in reserve or 'redundancy' any more.

Other festivals have experienced similar problems - memorably at BunkFest a few years ago when so many people with Season Tickets piled in to see a headline act that many who had bought 'event only' tickets couldn't get in. Maybe someday the penny will drop - the only solution is what evolved naturally to become the old Sidmouth Festival - large (which helps the diversity factors), lots of choice (makes people feel better about the cost) and a large reserve capacity (to help limit disappointment). The other (expensive) solution is to make each and every venue so large that everyone (or most people) can get in if they wish to do so. Venues may (on average) be half full rather than packed out. This may be seen at Shrewsbury in 2007 where the festival is relocating to a huge new site following a few problems during 2006. The dance floor will apparently be twice the size of that in 2006 despite that it may be much under utilised. But you can't do this at Sidmouth - there isn't the space within the town and there certainly isn't the up-front money.

All of this comes back to the analysis produced earlier on this website. This questioned the mid-size viability of the Sidmouth festival.

The central lesson from 2007 may turn out to be that to survive financially, the festival must guarantee full venues each and every year. To do this, whilst maintaining customer loyalty in the face in high ticket prices, may mean guaranteeing somewhere 'worthwhile' to go even if chosen 'headline act' venues are full. And that may mean bringing back the Arena - maybe with a part-covered audience area and maybe with a much less expensive stage infrastructure than in past years - maybe just a marquee dedicated to childrens events workshops and/or concerts? In good weather it would provide the 'overflow' or reserve capacity that is now lacking, and in poor weather it would not (it is to be hoped) lose too much money. The first of many problems in doing this might be to change the attitudes of many Sidmouth people and not a few of the shopkeepers - who saw the Arena as taking the festival (and its rich pickings) out of 'their' town centre. Strangely, they have not commented on the planned increased usage of the Bulverton marquee in 2007 - something that was necessary if the venue was to produce a positive return.

Never forget that festival weeks during 2005 and 2006   and 2007 were blessed with good weather. The test of viability is yet to come.

As of the end of June 2007, two of the Ham evening events (Altan and Show of Hands) were sold out, the official website was still woefully out of date and there was no detail available about buying dance workshop tickets in advance. More worryingly, many people who were Sidmouth dance stalwarts let it be known they were simply not coming in 2007. Quite a few local people (and for the first time in years) announced they were not buying a season ticket, some of them because they felt the social dance programme was not 'up to standard' for Sidmouth, others because they felt the whole week was now too expensive for what was on offer.

In terms of the standard of their social dance workshops and events, Sidmouth and Chippenham were once equals. Sidmouth may now find it difficult to regain its former position. On the positive side, the decision to relocate the social dance into the town centre for 2007 has been almost universally welcomed - and there remain many people who will continue to support the Folk Week organisers simply to give the event the best chance of long term survival.

next page

back to top of section

back to home page