Ending a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus, Boomtown Fair (cap. 66,000) was back this year for what its co-founder Lak Mitchell says was a triumphant, if hair-raising, return.
Despite temperatures reaching 38°C, a major scaffolding supplier pulling out at the last minute and supply chain costs rising by millions of pounds, Boomtown’s Lak Mitchell says this year’s event was one of the best yet.
“It felt cohesive and grounded. We spent many years being overly chaotic but two years of Covid gave us a chance to step back and really consider and understand exactly what Boomtown is as a festival, what our values are, and what we’re here to do. We have got an incredible team of 40 people, their combined experience is phenomenal, and to have two years to plan it out meant we could perfect it,” says Mitchell.
The Boomtown team may have been delighted by the end result, but the festival’s co-founder says it didn’t come without some major challenges, not least a scaffolding supplier pulling out a week before they were due to start building an entire area on site.
Says Mitchell, “We have more scaffolding at Boomtown than probably any other event in the world. One of our major scaff contractors pulled out because they were tied into Operation London Bridge, they said they couldn’t take the risk of not having the kit available. That was just so stressful and difficult, it meant that at the last minute we had to build it all in-house.”
Boomtown has long been one of the festival industry’s most aesthetically impressive events, not just for the scale of ambition but the intricacy of its designs across a multi-zone entertainment format that sees each area given an individual identity through set dressing. At a time when supply chain costs have been escalating to eye-watering heights, such complexity was not easy to pull off this year.
Says Mitchell, “In the back end we really struggled. I know Glastonbury had the same problem as us because of the complexities of our events, they’re just so complicated in terms of the scale of infrastructure.
“The rises in all infrastructure and operational costs in the last few weeks was just insane, it resulted in us having to pay millions of pounds extra. We were really lucky because we were able to put some extra tickets on sale at a higher price, get some last-minute partner deals in, and because it was really hot people were drinking more, but it was pretty scary from a financial perspective.”
With soaring costs and temperatures making for hugely challenging conditions, Boomtown’s co-founder says the team worked incredibly hard to make sure the event ran smoothly: “We’ve experienced extreme rain, then in 2019 we had extreme wind, then this year we had the heatwave. All of it was just teetering on the edge of just about being possible, but the vibe in the crew was just like nothing else I’ve ever seen – the community spirit of being back together, that coming together in one field and living with your mates – that’s what pulled us all through.”
While Boomtown’s audience capacity was unchanged this year, the layout of the event was entirely reconfigured. Mitchell says he was delighted with the result: “When Covid hit we got the chance to start again. We needed to do that because we’ve grown at such a phenomenal pace that we’ve never had the chance to take a step back and design the site in the best way possible.
“We really worked with the topography of the site and focused on the sound sources. I don’t think there were many people outside our core team who weren’t nervous about Boomtown putting everything back into the bowl because we’ve been so spread out in the past. We had relentless crowd management meetings and planned out everything. Over the event weekend it was perfect in terms of crowd density, flow and the sound levels.”
Despite the challenges, Boomtown’s team increased its work to make the event more environmentally sustainable. Working with Emily Ford at Hope Solutions, Boomown switched its fuel source to hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) and reduced emissions from fuel consumption by 90%. The 10-14 August event also saw the unveiling of a new stage, Origin, constructed with live plants and recycled components from an old stage.
Among the acts to play the event were Four Tet, De La Soul, Kojey Radical and Kae Tempest but Mitchell says there was a concerted effort to move away from focusing on headline acts in favour of spreading the investment more evenly across the whole lineup.
“We never set out to be a big headliner festival, we set out to be a creative living theatre but we fell into the trap of booking bigger and bigger acts.,” says Mitchell. “We want to focus on a broad, eclectic line-up covering and promoting all styles of music rather than a few artists costing hundreds of thousands of pounds. We want to distribute that money in a fairer way, and the audience at this year’s event were genuinely really happy with that. A few people wanted refunds, but it was great to be able to be really clear about our focus going forward.
Despite a 45% stake in Boomtown having been acquired in August by Live Nation (18%), SJM (9%), and Gaiety (18%), Mitchell says the festival’s original team will remain firmly in charge of the decision-making process.
He says the funding will not only help make Boomtown more financially robust but enable it to become more environmentally sustainable: “We’re still autonomous, in the same way Glastonbury is, but if we do have a bad year, then we have the support to still pay people at the end, which is something we’ve never had, so now that stress and worry has been lifted.
“We’ve been the biggest independent festival in the country, by double, for the last eight years, with no support financially, so it’s great to have Live Nation, Gaiety and SJM’s support.
“Ultimately, there’s no way they want to jeopardise the enthusiasm or excitement of the festival organisers because then it all falls apart and the investment is worthless. We still run the company and make all the decisions.”
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