LS21 Live: How To Organise A New Small Festival

LS21 Live is a new 4,500 capacity festival being held in the market town of Otley, just outside Leeds, not a traditional festival venue.  David Brown from Louder Than War spoke to festival organiser George Holmes of Geho Events about the trials and tribulations of setting up a new festival and how he went about choosing a line up.

Otley isn’t a town you’d associate with music festivals. What made you want to set a festival up there?

Having lived in Otley for 31 years & attended music festivals around the Country i thought if they can do it why can’t we. It already boasts a great history in folk music, with a yearly folk festival held in September which is in its 22nd year. Otley like most Northern towns has seen better days due to  the current economic climate. A town that once boasted 30 pubs now has 17. Local shops have closed down, national chains have left, making the town’s main street a ghost town.

Putting an event on like this will hopefully see people from around the country coming to the town and seeing what a nice place it is. It could be the biggest payday for some of the restaurants, take aways and public houses this year. It’s not just about the money though, we are in a great position with Leeds, Bradford, Skipton and Harrogate all within 15 miles of Otley.

You’ve put on gigs in Leeds for the past year or so, what made you decide to do a festival and what challenges did you encounter that are different to being a normal gig promoter?

Like I said in the last question, having something like this in a small market town, will boost the economy & also bring a community together. Next year the Tour De France will cycle straight passed the venue, which again is huge for the town.

Putting on an event of this scale is a huge difference from putting shows on in venues that host music events on a daily basis. We started planning this event in August 2012, since then we have come on leaps and bounds. You are starting with a blank canvas & having to start from scratch. Having Black Sheep on board has been a massive help in boosting the profile of the event. The price is also key, £20 for Reverend & the Makers, The Sunshine Underground, Little Comets, The Crookes & Mark Morriss to name just a few…..you need to keep it within every ones price range as everyone is on a small budget these days.

As it’s a new location, what problems did you encounter getting permission to it and setting the whole thing up?

With any new project like this you will always have some niggles. We found that the local residents weren’t happy about car parking near their houses. Since then we have managed to secure a site half a mile from the venue, that will house free parking for all festival goers.

Timings were also an issue, most festivals go on late in to the night. With ours being in a built up area, we have a stage curfew of 21:30. This means those travelling from far and wide getting public transport home shouldn’t be an issue, with regular bus services to Leeds & Menston train station.

The venue itself is the towns rugby club. Otley RUFC has played host to some great matches in its history including the North Of England team beating the New Zealand All Blacks in 1979 & USA vs Italy in the 1991 Rugby World Cup.

Reverend and the Makers are headlining – how did you go about selecting your line-up?

I’ve been a fan of Reverend and the Makers since i first saw them at The Faversham in around 2006. Jon is a very outspoken guy, but he speaks the mind of most Northern men. I’ve also had Joe Carnall’s  (Reverend and the Makers bassist) band The Book Club play twice for me in recent times in Otley & Leeds – I enjoyed working with him, and I’m looking forward to bringing Otley such a renowned name.

There’s a lot of new unsigned talent lower down the bill, which bands on the bill really excite you?

The up and coming acts we have hand chosen to compliment the line up. First up are Prince Henry’s Grammar School Battle of the band winners Never Ending Reason, we thought that it would be great for a local band to get a break.

Born Thief had Guy Garvey watching them at Night & Day recently. Littlemores‘ forthcoming EP has had some great feedback from Tom Robinson on his 6music show. The Quangos are such a great feel good band who will get the crowd going with their sixties style tunes. Chantel McGregor is one to watch out for too, she’s been winning plaudits all over since being nominated for 2 British Blues Awards.

Is this a one-off festival or is it something you’re hoping to build on and make a regular event?

We hope that it will become a yearly event, but with every outdoor event it has to be the right line up and value for money. You just have to look at the amount of events that get pulled every year, it’s increasing each year. But we are hopeful that we’re bringing the right balance of small town atmosphere vs big names in a picturesque setting and intimate capacity of 4,500 to keep people coming back year after year.

LS21 Live takes place on Sunday 26th May.  More details, including ticket links, can be found on the festival website.  More updates can also be found on its Twitter and Facebook pages.

All words by David Brown. You can see more of David’s work on Louder Than War here 

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