“They should have booked INSERT MASSIVE BAND HERE!”, we all cry. “Why don’t they just put on more loos?”, we ask. Seriously, when it comes down to it, we don’t know much about running a festival. But that’s okay, because we’ve tracked down the people behind your favourite events, and asked them all the questions you’ll ever need to know. (Okay, maybe not the toilet one.) Next up, we have Emma Zillman from Kendal Calling, which takes place this weekend (26th-29th July) at Lowther Deer Park in the Lake District with sets from The Libertines, Run DMC, White Lies, Declan McKenna, The Sherlocks, Black Honey, The Amazons, Tom Grennan, Pale Waves and more.
Hey Emma, how did you get into working on festivals?
I spent eight years in various unfulfilling media jobs, before a good friend helping me through a quarter-life crisis hooked me up with working on a tiny festival in the New Forest in my spare time.
It completely took over my life – I loved it! A few months later I introduced myself to Kendal Calling director Andy Smith in a bar in Brighton, and the rest is history. Without any prior experience, I pretty much relied on passion and determination.
It’s incredible how quickly Kendal Calling seems to sell out every year, what do you think is key to the festival’s success?
There is just something for everyone at KC. From secret sets from headliners in a 200 cap cabin (Tim Peaks) to hidden disco ball bars in the woods and performances spanning everything from Brian Wilson to Snoop Dogg, I just don’t think people ever get bored there.
It’s not unusual for people to come alone and leave with a gang of new lifelong friends.
Tell us about how you choose bands to book, what do you look for?
We sell so many tickets before we release the line-up, that I ultimately want to please the audience that have shown so much faith in us. So I generally go for a mix of bands with singalong back catalogues and new artists making a splash, while covering as many genres as possible. It’s fun to throw in a few curveballs too, like the African Gospel Choir last year singing Paul Simon’s Graceland.
And I go to a lot of gigs! It’s all about the live performance. People just want to be entertained at the end of the day.
You must have to deal with lots of difficult musicians and agents, have you had your share of outrageous demands?
I couldn’t possibly name names, but one of my favourite ever requests from a certain DJ was that the security working the tent prepared a poem and dance routine for them. Outrageous rider requests are the best though – I wish someone would make a book of them!
What does a typical day look like to you?
Booking festivals does sound like a fun job, but in reality, it’s just a lot of emailing. And occasionally phone calls if your emails aren’t getting answered. So I spend a lot of my time at my desk, but it’s countered by the time in the fields in the summer – seeing it all come together is undoubtedly the best bit.
What advice would you give others who’d like to work on live events?
Go and get some experience. The live music industry is a close-knit but welcoming community so make sure you work hard and get to know the people around you. It won’t be long before your networks of people and events grow, and other opportunities will present themselves.
Kendal Calling takes place from 26th-29th July at Lowther Deer Park in the Lake District.
Words: Sam Taylor