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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Festival Preview: Aeon Festival 2010

We love small festivals! Illustrator Faye West tracks down wonderfully honest founder Niki Portus to find out what makes this popular Devon festival so special.

Written by Faye West

AEON Fest by Faye West
AEON Fest by Faye West
Illustration by Faye West.

This will be my third year at Aeon, ailment and for me it’s been a wonderful, treat stress-free experience, no queues, suffocating crowds or over-priced disgusting burgers. It describes itself as a ‘Shoestring Boutique festival’ and is set in the beautiful surroundings in mid Devon. A grassy amphitheatre precedes the main stage which sits on the edge of a lake, you are able to camp under the trees and gather around wood burners with friends and strangers. There is no sponsorship or big branding so it’s one of the most naturally visually pleasing festivals around and there’s something about this festival which has a very simplistic charm which embodies what a music festival only really needs to be – friends, music and fresh air.

There are lots of sweet put-together events that take place throughout the day. Last year I was very tempted by the Speed Date plus free meal for a fiver, a hair fascination workshop and a wood cutting class so that you can whittle down your very own wooden spoon from a branch, but of course was too busy frequenting the bar and resting on the grass whilst soaking up the surrounds. I was however encouraged to take part in the bubble wrap race. Once I was wrapped head to toe in bubble wrap, I thought as we all lay there like grubs that I was in for some kind of relaxing spa treatment. Unfortunately we were asked to try and get to our feet, and race each other round a tree and back. I was just left slumped on the floor, immobile from laughter.

Bubble Wrap Racing Aeon Faye West
Bubble wrap racing at Aeon. Photography by Faye West.

I managed to catch the super busy founder of the fest, Niki Portus for a few words whilst the count down for Aeon is on.

Aeon is in it’s 5th year this August, and I know that festivals tend to change quite a bit every year as crowds get bigger and organisers think up new ways to run an efficient festival. Sometimes this is for the worst! What were your goals for organising this year’s Aeon, and was there much you wanted to change or improve on from last year?

I’m a great believer in if it ain’t broke don’t fix it! I think we have a pretty good formula that seems to work and people really like the laid back feel of it all. We had to put the ticket price up this year which was really hard to get my head round but we’ve expanded on production and line up to reflect that – I think it has been more important though to improve on areas where we know we had problems.

We had a big debrief meeting straight after last year and the main area I wanted to get right was the camping as it filled up very quickly last year and was pretty rowdy. So this year we have added an extra area for noisy camping right next to the main site and kept family camping in the old area away from the rowdy bunch. Some of the programming needed adapting a bit but mostly it’s about us wanting to put on a good show and keep it fun for everyone as well as the element of a few surprises. I guess it’s about being realistic about accommodating natural growth as the word spreads, such as having more loos, better fencing and more security but not so it’s in your face. Little background things that cost more money but can make a big difference to the experience for people.

The main thing about Aeon for me is that it has always been about independent artists and strictly no sponsorship or outside funding – the first year was me taking out a small bank loan and maxing the credit cards but I’ve paid the loan off now *lol* and one day I might actually pay off the credit cards! The festival has sustained itself though for the past 4 years on ticket income and by running our own bar on site so it seems to work. I think people like the fact that we’re home grown – it’s very much like a big family now.

Aeon Ampitheatre Faye West

What do you think it is about Aeon that makes it so special and magical? And are you still achieving what you set out to do?

I have no idea! But we have an amazing crew who come up with all sorts of great ideas and are very creative. I think whilst I never thought it would get this far when I first set out on this journey I do feel its stuck to it’s original goal – that’s something I feel very strongly inside but it’s hard to explain! For me personally it’s definitely a love affair – I’ve don’t draw a salary or wage and if I manage to pay myself back for even something like my phone bill it’s a small miracle.

We’re pretty low key with our publicity as I’m always scared of over hyping things. It’s like ‘wow this is the best festival in the world ever’ well no actually it’s one of over 500 festivals in the country and everyone has their favourites for different reasons – you can’t please all the people all the time and there will always be one or two who think it’s crap, that’s just human nature. You see it all over the forums and I always think ‘god please don’t let that be us’ but you can’t control it. Freedom of speech and all that. This is the first year we will possibly have some ‘proper’ festival press on site – I’m terrified they’ll be rude!

Girls Aeon by Faye West
Illustration by Faye West.

Aeon is a wonderfully afordable festival compared to many others. Is it difficult keeping the cost down, and if so do you think the big festies such as Glastonbury are overpriced?

To the first question – in a word – yes – it’s very difficult keeping costs down! Just the little things like having a full time accountant now all adds up behind the scenes. But I don’t think you can compare it to the likes of Glastonbury – the production that goes in to that one is awe inspiring – in fact The History of Glastonbury is like my bible *lol* I find the stories from behind the scenes really heart warming and you know as an organisation they have set the bench mark for all events – their management structure and Health & Safety awareness is amazing. I like the concept of ’boutique festivals’ though – hence our tongue in cheek ‘shoestring boutique’ moniker.

Equally though there is only so much one person can do in a day and for most people special times involve having a laugh with a group of friends not standing in queues for toilets or over priced warm beers, or spending hours hunting for your friends because you went off on a drunken ramble. That said there are two sorts of people – those who go to festivals and those who work at festivals. All my friends who work at festivals prefer it when they’re behind the scenes making stuff happen.

I do really feel as well that just throwing money at something doesn’t make a party and personally I get a kick from doing things on a tight budget. The crew know I’m tight as a gnat’s arse! We’ve got some awesome artists this year for a really good price and I think part of the reason is the agents know we’re doing it all for the right reasons. It’s not about the big headliners for us – it’s about showcasing the underground well regarded stuff that if you know your music makes you go ‘wow that’s cool’ and if you don’t you know you can take a chance and see something you wouldn’t normally see and it’ll be really good. I did contact a couple of agents about some bigger acts this year out of curiosity to see how much it would be and they were like ‘Aeon who?’

Keeping the balance between family friendly and cool party is in the top 5 of my list of requirements for definite. As a single parent I want to know my son is safe.

Shobrook Park Aeon
Shobrooke Park Estate, Crediton – where Aeon is held.

Aeon takes place in a beautiful part of Devon. It appears to be a very eco-friendly event, is this something important to you, and if so has this been an easy practice to take on?

Honestly? I think it can be easy to over hype being ‘Green’ and in fact not take into account how important it is to support the local economy. I live in a little village on Dartmoor and work at the local preschool there – my family have been there over 30 years so we see firsthand how rural economies struggle and last year I joined a committee to build and start up a village shop after our one was closed down.

At the festival it’s therefore important we use local traders and cafes and encourage them to source locally. There are various community groups from Crediton who run things and fund raise on site as well. We struggled with our recycling last year but this year we have a proper green team on board to take the pressure off us on site and the company we use for our skips has their own processing plant just up the road from the festival site that recycles 85% of stuff. The policies behind landfill are actually really strict these days. We dish out bin bags to everyone and encourage them to take care of the park but in reality we live in a disposable culture that drives me up the wall. I think this isn’t helped by festivals being very fashionable at the moment and companies doing cheap deals on tents and welly boots means that many punters still feel they can leave stuff behind even at small festivals like ours. It’s definitely getting worse for events and certainly puts costs up. We encourage car sharing as well and this year are trying out Festival Coaches to see if a shuttle service from Exeter works too.

*********

Last year I spent a ridiculous amount of money on a larger festival, ensuring I got to see some bands I had always wanted to see. I’m not sure if I am just getting old, or maybe not so rock and roll, but I certainly didn’t enjoy this experience as much as I used to. I got angry at the shear masses kicking up dust, mile long queues to simply refill bottles of water and spending stupid money on horrible food (apart from the tea and toast van, which became my staple). Because others had let us all down by creating fires and explosions with gas canisters, gas stoves had been banned and it was impossible to do any proper camp cooking.

So, when Aeon swung round towards the end of last summer – just as most people were getting over festie camping and portoloos – I surprised myself again with how much I enjoyed the weekend as a whole. There was just no effort or stress involved and it felt like a massive garden party. Although there wasn’t any particular headlining act I had travelled miles to see, the bands were all so easy going and cheerful that everyone danced with the same enthusiam as if hearing their favourite ever song. In fact I shredded my new wellies from all the hopping and jumping. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I might do a way with shoes this year and hop about on the grass underfoot instead. Fancy joining me?

The facebook group for Aeon can be found here. Our listing post can be found here.

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