The advantages of the full-on, three-day British festival experience can be hard to recall as pounding rain churns the ground beneath you into a swamp and gales send your tent pinwheeling into the distance. At such moments, the Saturday morning at a giant festival such as Glastonbury promises not just a musical heaven, but two more endless days of staying soaked, and the whiff of trench foot. One-day festivals spare you these horrors. No matter how bad it gets, at least it's short.
"That's a massive advantage with kids, because you're limiting your exposure to anything bad happening," observes Oliver Jones, co-promoter of North Yorkshire's new Deer Shed festival, whose headliners include The Young Knives and The Wedding Present. "If one of your kids goes mental, you're not trapped. There've been festivals I've run away from the next morning, like Glastonbury 1997 and 1998, which were terrible. You're riddled with guilt thinking, 'I should be enjoying this, but I can't walk without supportive wellies, and I've not sat down for two days'." With Deer Shed you can imagine someone in Sheffield packing up the car Saturday morning, being here by 11, and back that night. It's less to take on, for them and us."
Wireless, basically three linked, consecutive one-day festivals in London's Hyde Park, which this year stars Pink, LCD Soundsystem and Jay-Z, removes risk even more ruthlessly from the festival experience. "The appeal was to create an urban festival with your own house as the camping site," says Steve Homer of its promoters Live Nation. "The main objective was to say, 'You can come and watch multi-stage events, with all the trappings that you can get at a Reading or a V. However, you can also go home and have a shower and a normal life without that scummy festival feel'. We find that a lot of people who come haven't experienced a big festival with camping – they're sampling the bits they think they'll like. Or, especially on the dance day, we're satisfying that market that used to go off to Creamfields and Homelands, and don't want to go all night any more. They still like the music, but finishing at 10.30pm is appealing to them. It has that coffee-table dance festival element. We're also down the road from London's offices, and there's no queuing to get onto the site, or putting a tent up. You can be sitting with your mates in the pub on a Friday, and decide, 'We can go to that'."
The obvious problem with an event such as Wireless is that it sanitises so many of the gruelling realities of festivals, that what's left is hardly a festival at all. "They're just three one-day gigs," says veteran promoter Vince Power. "I see the Roundhouse venue in London is saying a few gigs they're doing amount to a festival. It depends on your definition, doesn't it?" Homer partly concedes the point. "It has its downside, because one thing people get from festivals is that sense of community from camping for five days, where it becomes a mini-village."
Field Day, in east London's Victoria Park, is a very different one-day beast. Growing out of an alternative folk festival in The Griffin pub's car park in 2004, this year's bill – including Gruff Rhys, The Fall, Lightspeed Champion and the Silver Apples – reflects co-promoter Tom Baker's taste in rock. Its theme celebrates the countryside in the city. This helps Field Day aim for the crucial festival element Wireless ignores – creating an atmosphere, among a community of like-minded people.
"It's a very music-centred event, attracting people who want to discover new artists," Baker says. "I book things that people like and sell tickets, but I also book acts that will challenge people – like The Thing last year, a three-piece, properly out-there jazz trio from Norway, and Toumani Diabaté, the Malian kora player, who both got a really good response. The people there are excited by seeing new music and that creates a vibe, alongside the village fête mentality – there's an egg and spoon race, tug-of-war and a carrot-eating competition, which gets people who don't know each other together."
But the disadvantages of one-day festivals for organisers, especially outside central London's enormous catchment area, are huge. "Doing it just for one day does limit you creatively," says Baker. "Glastonbury can build and grow things that are in place for months. You put a hell of a lot of thought into making something really special, and in a day it's gone." Homer emphasises the financial risks. "They're higher because the returns aren't as high. If you're stuck on a festival site for a weekend, you have a captive audience for food and drink." Baker now puts on the Underage Festival the day after Field Day, and rents the infrastructure to DJ Tiesto the night before. "The first year, when we built a whole site, with bars, drainage and water in the middle of nowhere for just us, it was a financial struggle."
Outside the big conurbations, one-day festivals make most sense as ultra-boutique experiences, limiting the risk for organisers and attendees at small events scattered around the country. "Planned might be a better word than controlled," says Matthew Linley of the Home Festival, set in the gorgeous grounds of` where a crowd of 600 will watch Bassekou Kouyate and others. "There's an implicit guarantee it will be a great customer experience. A band would have to literally blow the roof off the Hall for us not to be wet-weather-proof. And audiences and artists will literally be rubbing shoulders with each other. It should be a much more personal exchange."
Grow beyond this and true one-day festivals have problems. Oliver Jones is already contemplating expansion. "Even with a day-ticket, most people camp. Next year, we may have more easygoing and, frankly, cheaper acts on Friday night and Sunday breakfast."
Vince Power, who once ran the Reading Festival, returned to major promotion with 2008's Hop Farm, a one-day event with acts built around headliner Neil Young. Power had his fingers burned when he added a second day with a weaker bill last year. So 2010's Hop Farm started as this year's strongest one-day event, headlined by Bob Dylan. Only with that day certain to sell out was a second announced; the majority of festival-goers will now spend the weekend.
"One day worked well with the artists the first year," Power says. "But everyone wanting to leave at the same time was a mess. I started carefully this year. Then it's a balance of, 'How much extra will it cost were I to open for a second day?' It's difficult to make it stack up financially."
For Power it was a controlled experiment, as it is for most who attend them. But the ideal future was always plain. "A three-day festival, on the international map – that's how you develop it, that's how you make it profitable. A one-day festival can't be an end in itself."Reuse content