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GUEST,Dazbo at Work 50th Towersey Festival (17) 50th Towersey Festival 28 Aug 14


Let me first off say that I have been to 10 Towersey festivals on the trot now since my first in 2005 and have thoroughly enjoyed them. However, this time (the 50th Anniversary Festival) was an enormous disappointment.

Firstly, let me say what I enjoyed: The Bootleg Beatles were really entertaining (despite the neon sign flashing in my head repeatedly telling me "they are not The Beatles"); Richard Thompson until you see him live, on his own, it's so easy to forget just how brilliant he is on the guitar if only half the singer/songwriters around today could play the guitar half as well as he does; a new band to me The Urban Folk Quartet fantastic musicians and entertainers; John Kirkpatrick; Roy Bailey.

Those were my highlights, few and far between over five nights and four days. Apart from them the artists on the guest list were a lacklustre group but even that is not what made this festival such a disappointment. The whole festival was massively (and dangerously) overcrowded.

We'd got there at about 12:30 on Thursday, three and a half hours after the campsite opened, and it was already pretty full. We found a decent enough space with room for the car and tent and put the tent up. Within an hour or so of finishing putting the tent up our tent was surrounded by other tents and campervans with awnings so close that our tent pegs were virtually under the neighbouring tents. Too close and presenting a fire hazard. I believe that tents should have at least 3m gaps between them but no one was enforcing this or even, as far as I could see, monitoring it. By late afternoon they were struggling to fit new arrivals in (and as far as I could see no one had excessively large tents or gazebos).

I don't think I've ever been to a festival where every single venue we tried to get in was so packed you could only stand at the back and try to glimpse the stage over other peoples' heads and shoulders. In "Venue 65". The big dance/concert venue on site 2, The Bootleg Beatles concert had a least one person being lead out by their friends as they were having a panic attack at the crush. The Richard Thompson concert was even more crowded but the straw that broke the camel's back was the Chipolatas' concert. Here, what in reality should have been an afternoon show just for families was put on at 8pm. The Chipolatas used up half the floor and the other half with families sitting down on it and people standing, with no room to move, around the edges. People with young families were having to fight their way through the crowd to get out and my wife, sat with our daughter, had a big, fat man fall on her as he was trying to get out of the venue. If no one got badly injured in any of the concerts at this venue I'm surprised

The main concert tent was similarly crowded although due to the seating there was not the crushing risk but there were people sitting or lying in the gangways preventing people (including wheelchair users and push chairs mind) easy access or egress.

So what was wrong? Firstly, they just sold way to many tickets for both the size of the campsites and the venue capacities walking around it was impossible to find any venue that had any room in it.

Secondly, and most importantly, there was no proper crowd control at any venue. At Venue 65 for instance the stewards let anybody in who had a wrist band on with no regard to the venue capacity. People were allowed to take in their camp chair to sit on in the venue but the MC (for example) at the Richard Thompson gig was trying to move the crown into the area they were sitting as he obviously thought it was just empty space. There was no control over the exits from the venue people were just allowed to stand there packed in like sardines not allowing anyone in or out. When the Richard Thompson gig finished it took me more that 10 minutes to exit the venue (despite only being about 15 metres from the exit) due not just to the crowds standing at the exit but people trying to get in for the next gig and the area outside the exits full of people standing around drinking (or lying on the floor drunk). God know what would have happened if there'd been a fire or other emergency I'm sure there would have been deaths. The same could have happened at the ceilidh tent or the main concert tent there was no attempt made to keep the exits and gangways clear.

I know it's easy to put the blame on the stewards but I'm sure it's not their fault they're only volunteers helping out and seemingly had no training in what to do. When, after the Chipolata's gig I was trying to find someone to complain to I was just pointed to the feedback form (as many others were). All I can take from this is that there was no "professional" from the organisers managing the stewards or they had just abrogated their responsibilities and left the poor steward to their own, untrained, devices.

I can't see how, if the council's Health and Safety inspectors had paid a visit to the festival it wouldn't have immediately been shut down.

In case you're wondering I did complete a feedback form (not as comprehensively as this but with a lot more anger) and did leave my name and email address so I look forward to hearing from them. In a telling moment during the Urban Folk Quartet gig the lead singer asked the crowd if they were enjoying the festival - he seemed quite taken aback at the very muted positive response from the crowd.

In the meantime I think I can safely say that this was my last Towersey which makes me very sad indeed.


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