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Eden Sessions founder and highly experienced promoter John Empson reveals the strategy and ambition for a show series at the Wasing Estate – a location closely linked to the evolution of the UK festival industry.

Launched last year by Sony Music Masterworks-owned promoter Senbla, On The Mount At Wasing’s initial run saw the 6,000-capacity concert series host headliners Gabriels, Jack Johnson, Primal Scream, Ben Howard and Sigur Ros in a stunning grassy amphitheatre enveloped by woodland.

John Empson

From 17 June, the show series will return with a line up including Underworld, Jungle, Crowded House, Paolo Nutini, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s biggest headline show to date. The event will also see boutique camping introduced for the first time, along with the opportunity to indulge in everything from wild swimming to saunas.

On The Mount At Wasing is the latest project for Empson working under the Senbla Presents banner, having been taken on by the company in 2020 to launch an experiential events arm that has seen him promote and produce successful shows such as the Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival.

“I’ve worked in the immersive space and I’m fully aware that the audience experience is really key to making an event enticing and exciting,” he says. “From the moment you get out of your car, you are in a field that is beautiful enough to be a festival site in its own right. After that, it’s a 10-minute walk through amazing woodland that we’ve lit and decorated. When you arrive in the arena, you already feel cleansed; you’re in the zone.”

For Empson, the beautiful bucolic surroundings were just part of the reason he wanted to stage shows on the estate, with the Eden Sessions promoter having a history of working on events in remarkable locations. Among the events he has promoted are Wilderness (10,000), Citadel Festival (25,000) and the Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival (20,000).

“The festival scene is constrained by all sorts of things and it’s become fairly flat and a bit homogenous.”

The ex-Mama promoter says programming the shows at Wasing has felt like a homecoming, with the festival scene going full circle: “We chose the estate primarily because it’s a beautiful site but also because it has this rich history with festivals. With it being so close to Aldermaston and Greenham Common, it was home to anti-nuclear protests led by CND and out of that came an alternative culture that grew into the free festivals scene, which all these years later has become this behemoth of an industry. The Glade Festival is obviously a big part of Glastonbury now but that started at Wasing, and in 2009 Underworld headlined The Glade, so it all feels connected.”

Having offered facilities such as wild swimming, ice baths and saunas to artists last year, with Jack Johnson and Ben Howard among those to immerse themselves in the lake, Empson’s team is rolling out the offerings to the public this year.

“We’re not going out as a full camping event but there’s going to be a boutique camping facility and within that there is the opportunity to do all those things,” says Empson.

No event operator has been immune to the soaring supply chain costs and wider economic and political turmoil, but Empson is convinced that On The Mount At Wasing will prosper due to it being a fresh offering: “There has always been challenges with staging live events and festivals, and in this post-Covid time with an increased cost-of-living and staff shortages it has been really difficult. Because of that, we made a very conscious decision to try and do something a little bit different. I’ve always tried to do that. The festival scene is constrained by all sorts of things and it’s become fairly flat and a bit homogenous. With Wasing, we wanted to bring venue and artists together in harmony, which is what we did at the Eden project. The shows are artist specific. We all know if you just go out with the same lineup and cut and paste it in lots of different venues, it has limited appeal to an audience but also has limited appeal to the promoter as well.”