Teething problems to be tweaked for 2020
AT the end of new one-day city festival The Gathering on Saturday singer Robert Robertson of headliners Tide Lines praised the 5,000-strong crowd for serenading the band.
But people also got vocal about one to two-hour waits for drinks with queues stretching across the Northern Meeting Park from mid-afternoon on.
As one festival-goer Laura Tuddenham commented on the event’s Facebook page: “Great line-up of music, but lessons to be learned.”
And Suzanne Macleod Grant wrote: “Appalling queues for the bar. Two hours and still not been served.”
Promoter Dougie Brown explained: “We started getting a few messages on Facebook saying that there were delays and people saying ‘It’s taking two hours at the bar’ and we are looking out and saying ‘That can’t be right!’ We sent some of our staff over to join the main bar queue and it was a 15-20, 25-minute wait at a push for the main bar at any given time which is a little bit longer than you would like, but it is by no means exceptionally long for an event.
“But the main bar wasn’t the problem. It was the second bar and I think there was a bit of confusion when people walked in the front gate, that was the first bar that you saw.
“That bar was never designed to be the main bar, it was a little add-on extra with options from the craft suppliers and was only meant to be a token bar where you could have a drink when you were listening to music at the stage there.
“By the time we realised what was happening, we got security to come and tell people not to join that queue. But it had been happening for an hour or so by then.
“We put two staff out every hour to join the back of the main bar queue to time how long it took to get served and it was between 15 and 25 minutes at most.”
Mr Brown added: “It was keeping things simple for year one, but we will be learning from it for next year.
“We might look at introducing tokens or card payments, but you have to test the water and the demand and for the Gathering, the bar was a lot busier than it has been for similar events.
“We are not an inexperienced team and we have equations that a lot of festivals run to for food and drink per thousand people.
“But all the food traders as well were so busy and did much better than they had forecast and all had to go and restock.
“At a festival the food stalls usually get busy between 5 and 7pm – at ours queues were maybe a little longer.
“But their forecasts were up 50 per cent on the numbers that they were expecting.
“Everyone was eating and drinking a lot more than at similar events and you can’t judge that in year one.
“For year two we will base our figures on the levels of consumption of food and drink that happened at The Gathering this year.”
He added: “I think because the food was so good, as well, people wanted to eat multiple times and wanted to try things.
“Even at the end of the night, once the music was finished – what usually happens is people go out and grab something in town – but we had another surge.
“The food traders all had queues at the end of the night because people wanted to catch a last bite of something nice before they left. I think that is a positive sign that we got that right.
“Realistically, I think we will have another one or two traders next year which will be a higher percentage than most festivals would have per thousand people, because it seemed our festival-goers wanted to experience the food as much as the music!”
The Gathering was announced early in October last year and with a line-up including what the organisers called “the most exciting traditional and folk-based bands from the Highlands and Scotland”, it quickly sold out.
The festival headlined with the Celtic soul and big guitars of Tide Lines and the full -line-up featured The Vatersay Boys, Elephant Sessions, Hò-rò , Torridon, Siobhan Miller, The Trad Project, and City of Inverness Pipe Band across the main stage.
Island sensations Peat & Diesel from Lewis with their quirky humour and celebration of the Western Isles headlined – and had to be postponed due to the volume of people coming to the second tent stage called Còmhla (Gaelic for together.
Earlier entertainment there had come from local Fèis groups – including; Fèis na h-Òige, Fèis a’ Bhaile, Fèis Rois and Fèis Inbhir Narainn – followed by Gaelic singer Kim Carnie, then Gaelic beat boxing, step dancing and body percussion with TradBeats.
But the Peat & Diesel crowd had to wait half an hour before the set went ahead, just four songs being played before safety concerns stopped the show.
Dougie Brown said: “When we booked Peat & Diesel back in October, no-one knew who they were, but we had seen a video online and thought they were really fun, so we booked them to headline the second stage. You book a festival line-up and contract all the bands, so between the time we booked Peat & Diesel they exploded in popularity, but we couldn’t put them on the main stage as some people have suggested because you can’t go to a main stage band and say ‘You’re not playing any longer’.
“So our choice was to cancel Peat & Diesel or put them on and ensure it was as safe as it can be.
“We postponed it to see if the crowd would thin out hopefully a little bit when Tide Lines came on,” said Mr Brown. “Then we put them on after asking the crowd to move back four paces to ensure the safety of young kids who were at the front. But adults were crowd-surfing and we have to think of safety first, so we stopped it. The band got to play four songs – they had been due to play about seven.”
Once the main event finished at the Northern Meeting Park, the action moved to the Ironworks from 11pm where a near sellout late night festival club saw another performance from Peat & Diesel, Acoustic Punk featuring Davy Cowan and his teenage son Sam on drums plus The Gathering All Star Super Ceilidh Band with members of The Gathering bands who had played throughout the day.
During the day, The Gathering had also hosted craft stalls, local food – offering everything from strawberries to fish dishes, stone-baked pizza to cup cakes.
Artisan drink suppliers offered tastings and told the stories of their products in a series of presentations called Meet The Makers throughout the day featuring whisky, craft beers, gin and vodka.
A children’s area provided games and fun activities plus there was an old-fashioned carousel and a helter-skelter.
“We will be announcing details for next year’s event in the next week or two,” said Mr Brown. “We genuinely feel the festival was a huge success with one or two tweaks to make the event stronger next year.
“The core event that we have had in our heads for the last few years, I genuinely believe has – like Belladrum – the potential to be here in 10 years’ time.
“It’s all about using local suppliers and Highland talents.
“With a couple of refinements to the way the bars and food are run, I think we will have an amazing event for year two.”
ALSO: on www.whatson-north.co.uk a music review of the day plus live pix!