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From the Fields’ Andy Smith breaks down ’23 season

The UK festival promoter reflects on the mixed fortunes of this year's Kendal Calling and Bluedot in a new interview with IQ

By James Hanley on 04 Aug 2023

Andy Smith

From the Fields co-founder and MD Andy Smith has reflected on the mixed fortunes of the UK promoter’s Kendal Calling and Bluedot festivals this summer in a new interview with IQ.

Held in Lowther Deer Park in the Lake District from 27-30 July, the 40,000-cap Kendal Calling sold out for the 17th successive year, headlined by Nile Rodgers & Chic, Kasabian, Blossoms and Royal Blood.

“It’s been a phenomenal year,” Smith tells IQ. “It’s been a hard year, but it’s definitely been worth it.”

The goodwill generated from this year’s festival has helped it break its first-day sales record for the second successive year, with more than 40% of tickets for next year’s edition, set for 1-4 August 2024, snapped up yesterday.

“We’ve got a very eager and passionate audience,” Smith tells IQ. “People love the festival – it’s as simple as that. We’ve got a very strong, loyal audience who come every year and they know that it sells out every year – 17 years in a row – so they just want to know that they have a ticket and then not think about it again until we announce the line-up, at which point they get all excited again. I wish I was that organised!”

In another positive development, the festival saw a greater uptake for its Thursday opening night attractions this year, which helped ease traffic issues over the weekend.

“It’s normally a three-day camping ticket with the addition of a Thursday night for traffic measures, trying to reduce the amount of cars arriving at once,” explains Smith. “With Scouting For Girls and Chic & Nile Rodgers, we had about 60% of the audience coming in early, which resolved the traffic issues, so that was a great success.”

“Every year we seem to have record amounts of rainfall, and this July is no exception with it being 40% above the norm”

The site’s infrastructure also held up well against the expected weather challenges – with the help of some novel tactics from organisers.

“Every year we seem to have record amounts of rainfall, and this July is no exception with it being 40% above the norm,” says Smith. “It normally turns into quite a mud bath, but we managed to avoid that this year despite having our fair share of rain.

“One of the things we did, which we’d never done before, is we didn’t cut the grass,” he continues. “People turned up and thought we were mad because the grass was up to their knees in places, but there was a theory behind it and it was twofold. Firstly, for the immediate enjoyment of the customers – once you’ve had 10,000 people walk across any high land, it isn’t knee-high anymore and you end up with a carpet below you. That meant that, even after 10 hours of rain on Saturday night, the fields were green and they still were 12 hours later.

“Secondly, from a sustainability [perspective], when you mow 2,000 acres of grass, you turn it all into silage, which goes straight to the cows and into the atmosphere as methane, which is no good. But when you trample it into the ground, it stays there. It’s like a carbon sink, so that was very good for our sustainability policies and very good for the environment and for customers.”

From the Fields’ 25,000-cap science and music event Bluedot was not so lucky in its battle against the elements, however. Taking place at Jodrell Bank Observatory, Cheshire, between 20-23 July with artists including Pavement, Roisin Murphy, Leftfield and Max Richter. But it was forced to cancel Sunday day tickets due to extreme weather conditions after an “unprecedented amount of rainfall” rendered the day ticket holder car park, pick-up and drop-off point and entrances “impassable”.

“It was a shame we had to refund day ticket holders on the Sunday, but it just wouldn’t have been fair to drag them in and out of the car park”

“That a was a very tricky production,” concedes Smith. “We had more rain there than we’ve ever had before, but we had an audience that was prepared for it: they know to wear cagoules, they know to wear the right shoes and they know to bring some spares. With certain shows, you get audiences who are more or less prepared and Bluedot’s 100% saw it coming.

“When we knew [adverse weather] was inevitable, we got an extra 1,500m of trackway down – I think they got 130 tons of wood chip from our local [supplier] – and a number of other measures that were put out throughout the weekend, which ensured the show could go on. Considering the amount of rain, it was very impressive work by the site crew and by the management to keep it going.

“It was a shame we had to refund day ticket holders on the Sunday, but it just wouldn’t have been fair to drag them in and out of the car park. But for everybody on site, it’s strange – the audience seems to come together a lot more in times of adversity. So whilst one may not have expected it to be so well received, looking at the socials afterwards, it seems to have been one of the best we’ve had yet, if not the best, which is just phenomenal.”

Returning to Kendal Calling’s Leave Nothing But Memories sustainability programme, From the Fields launched new game Flappy Tent to raise awareness of the impact of festival-goers leaving tents behind and commissioned local band The Lancashire Hotpots to write a song about the issue.

“Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better, and surveying Kendal Calling site on the Monday morning in 2019 was very depressing,” says Smith. “Then we had the two years off, and then last year pretty much everybody took their tents away. It went from being an uncountable mess down to about 284 tents.

“I was very worried this year, because it rained a lot. But by the initial count, it’s looking like we’ve done the same as last year, which I actually think is really good. Through all these initiatives, I think the message has got through.”

Kendal Calling and Bluedot have been backed by Superstruct Entertainment since 2019 and 2022, respectively.

“We’ve got support where we need it,” adds Smith. “We’ve always had great team but there’s that extra level that’s very refreshing, especially when you’re days into a festival and it’s quite tiring. It’s great to have somebody on the end of the phone who’s got a fresh mind and fresh pair of eyes. Nothing’s changed unless it’s been needed and we find their level of support so refreshing. It’s a wonderful partnership.”


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