In recent months I have noticed what looks to me like an increasing downturn in interest for niche music festivals. I was lucky enough to attend the 29th Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival where I was doing some video recording for one of the main acts. I’d been to this festival many years ago and it remains the biggest niche festival of its kind in the UK. Like many niche festivals, it has a central stage and then different satellite events in the local town of Colne. There were some great bands, including The Wolves who I filmed, but I was genuinely surprised that there was not a much bigger audience for this premier UK festival.

I have blogged a lot on the niche ukulele festivals and how these are also declining in recent times. The longest standing “Ukulele Festival of Great Britain” is no more despite suggestions from some enthusiasts that it would return. Other smaller events have taken a pass on 2019 due to financial considerations and there appears to be a definite trend for such events. The UK is saturated with events called “ukulele festivals” and when the same performers often appear, it’s inevitable that there will be casualties. Some rely extensively on assistance from Arts grants and I’m now seeing crowdfunding attempts to help with financing Many of the remaining ones rely on sticking to the same formula, which will have financial consequences. 

Steve Heap, chairman of the Event Industry Forum and general secretary of the Association of Festival Organisers, commented that the industry has been “swamped” with new festivals.

“More and more of these events are cropping up, and more and more people are realising that, if they want to go to festivals, they can go to one relatively near to home,” he says. As well as the number, the nature of festivals has also changed dramatically, with greater focus on the “experience” of the event, rather than just headline acts. “More and more festivals don’t depend on the big act,” Heap says.

As he says “more are cropping up” BUT often these quickly disappear as well…

Inevitably with niche festivals, there are not many “main acts” to choose from, so organisers are forced to either have the same acts at each event (the public may then just choose on geographical considerations) or try to create “the experience” This is a delicate balance of maintaining predictability and creating something new so these events still attract audience interest. 

As a lover of music and especially niche music, I’d love to see more live music opportunities, especially for artists playing original material. I’ve sponsored artists and events previously, literally putting my money where my mouth is, but from what I see, there’s a real problem in the UK as audeinces shrink.

Brexit is not going to help matters as Arts funding is tougher to get and the public is more wary of how they spend their money. I suspect this trend will continue and the old model of niche festivals is in need of a reboot. I don’t pretend to hold the full answers to this problem, but my hope is that a new model will emerge that sparks greater public enthusiasm for attendance. 


Are we seeing a downturn in UK niche music festivals?

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