Festival industry veteran Rob Da Bank discusses the strategy behind bringing his pioneering family-focused music festival Camp Bestival to Shropshire next year.
Robert Gorham (aka Rob da Bank) has taken a long and winding music industry career path that has involved being a BBC 1 DJ and running independent record label Sunday Best, but he is perhaps best known for being the face of the Bestival (cap. 40,000) and Camp Bestival (30,000) events.
Working alongside his illustrator wife Josie, the couple launched the first Camp Bestival in 2008. The event saw the duo take the same creative zest that helped make Bestival such a success and combine it with a focus on family orientated facilities and an uncompromisingly strong music line-up. It was a formula for success. Since the outset, every edition of Camp Bestival has sold out.
With that in mind, and despite the challenges around the supply chain and ongoing threat of government reinstating Covid mitigation measures, Gorham is convinced now is a good time to launch a second 30,000-capacity Camp Bestival.
The plan is to run a Shropshire-based version of the event in Weston Park on 18-21 August next year, three weeks after Camp Bestival’s Dorset outing at Lulworth Castle.
“I suppose it looks like a bit of a crazy time to be launching a new festival but I think the reverse is true – Camp Bestival has never been more popular,” he says. “It has been a tricky two years and all festivals and promoters have been affected, so I’m not being glib about what everyone’s been through but I am confident the demand is there for a second event.”
“I suppose it looks like a bit of a crazy time to be launching a new festival but I think the reverse is true – Camp Bestival has never been more popular.”
He explains that one of the main reasons for the move was that Camp Bestival’s existing catchment area runs up to Birmingham, but the event attracts a lot of interest from festivalgoers further north.
“There’s a huge amount of people from northern England, and from Scotland and Wales, who have said to me ‘I wish it was a bit closer’ because they don’t want to jump in a car with their kids and drive for seven or eight hours to get to Dorset. Shropshire will make it a lot easier for people from the Birmingham area, and further north, to get to us,” he says.
While admitting to not being immediately convinced about the Shropshire location, Gorham says he didn’t have to spend long at Weston Park to fall in love with the place: “The estate down there in Dorset is absolutely stunning but this is just as is beautiful. It’s obviously not a seaside location but the gardens are designed by Capability Brown and there is amazing woodland, lakes and vistas – it’s one of the most beautiful festival sites we’ve ever seen.”
In 2018, Live Nation acquired both Bestival and Camp Bestival via a joint venture between LN-Gaiety and SJM Concerts. Despite no longer operating as an independent, the festival veteran says that despite being employed by the world’s biggest promoter, he and his wife have complete creative control.
“We are pretty much an autonomous festival group; we make all the key decisions,” he says. “It feels very similar to what we we’ve been doing for last 15 or 16 years, which is running shows independently. We just have different owners now.”
Gorham says that although all the stages, tents, zones and creative aspects of the original Camp Bestival will be rolled out at both events, the festivals will feature some different headline acts and entertainment offerings: “We will take everything from the original Camp Bestival to Shropshire. That’s not out of laziness, we have fine-tuned those stages and those areas over 14 years and we know what people love year in year out. We have about 65% of people come back to Camp Bestival every year so we want people to enjoy exactly the same experience in Shropshire as they do in Dorset.”
The festival founders will maintain the existing Camp Bestival team at the event, with many having worked on the festival for years. Among the core team is production manager Andy Grey.
“We like the balance and stability that brings; the same old family back together again,” says Gorham.
While there is less balance and stability in the wider festival market due to staff shortages, huge lead times on kit and a general shortage of infrastructure because of the pandemic and Brexit, Gorham is mindful of the supply chain issues and the fact that demand is expected to be extremely high next year.
He says, “We saw supply chain issues this year – we had issues with tent suppliers, toilets and fencing shortages, even crew catering companies going bust at the last minute. People were literally having nervous breakdowns from the stress.”
“But we’ve been planning this for a while, and we’ve steamed ahead and booked people for next year so we are in people’s diaries. We’ve chosen the weekend before the bank holiday; it is not the busiest weekend and we are confident that we’ve got all our ducks in a row. Anyone running a festival needs make sure they’ve got their infrastructure booked in early.”
With the live events calendar next year shaping up to be one of the busiest on record, there will doubtless be challenges across the sector, but Gorham is optimistic that it will mark the beginning of a new era for the industry.
He says, “The industry has lost a lot of staff to other sectors but we are well prepared for the year ahead, and I am very confident about us delivering both shows safely and with a full crew of staff.
“Hopefully more young people will come out of university or college and want to join our dynamic and creative industry. If the ‘roaring 20s’ thing does kick off as predicted, we might have a real renaissance, a boomtime.”