Organising a successful music festival these days takes much more than having your finger on the pop cultural pulse and sticking a few Portaloos in a field.
The modern-day festivalgoer has high expectations, not just in terms of the quality of entertainment, but the facilities and services on offer.
Meeting those expectations is the key priority of the UK’s festival organisers who, according to research by UK Music, now cater for an astonishing four million music fans annually. It’s a serious and big business.
Among those organisers are the dedicated team of professionals and volunteers behind Head for the Hills. Hosted at Ramsbottom Cricket Club in Lancashire, the festival has won much acclaim, not just for its eclectic roster of local, national and international acts, but the quality of its organisation.
For several years Pennine has contributed to that organisational success by delivering resilient public and secure private wi-fi networks. These are crucial not simply for facilitating social media and email communications, but in enabling the smooth running of the event itself.
The 2017 festival was no exception with a team from Pennine IT Services installing a wireless controller and eight access points. The latter were strategically located so they could deliver network access right across the site, both out on the pitch where much of the festival action takes place and inside the clubhouse.
In addition, the temporary box office and wristband exchange point were equipped with wireless point-to-point, wired and wireless network. Recognising the importance of these functions to the running of the festival, Pennine delivered added resilience by siting an access point here as a back up to the cable service. There was also the inclusion of a 4G connection which could be accessed remotely in the event of an outage elsewhere on the network.
This robust configuration proved crucial in enabling the smooth throughput of the 12,000 people who attended over the weekend.
… We didn’t have any problems or issues and that’s down to the bar code scanners and the speed and quality of the internet connection.
LEE HORNSBY, MARKETING & AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, THE MET
“We need everything to run smoothly so people are happy and not waiting in long queues,” explains Lee Hornsby, marketing and audience development manager at The Met, the local arts centre behind the festival.
“With the wi-fi enabled we can access our box office system which means we can track everything. We can respond to customer queries, update the income we’re taking through the tills and monitor footfall to ensure we’re not going over capacity for the grounds.”
It also enabled the box office to process card payments for those buying tickets on the gate. That, of course highlighted the need for high network security which Pennine guaranteed through specification of a WatchGuard firewall.
With Head for the Hills using an e-ticketing system, the vast majority of visitors arrive bearing tickets they have printed off at home. These are then exchanged for daily or weekend wristbands.
The potential for delays is obvious, but Hornsby reports that all worked well with bar code scanners and laptops linked to the booking system via the wired and wi-fi networks. “We didn’t have any problems or issues and that’s down to the bar code scanners and the speed and quality of the internet connection.”
The latter was guaranteed through Pennine specifying the dual internet connection which enabled effective load balancing and delivered impressive resilience.
The network played a wider role too in supporting organisation of staff, contractors and volunteers.
“Operationally people needed to be emailing each other to keep up to date with any changes and share important messages,” says Hornsby.
Once inside the festival, fans had access to free public wi-fi utilising the guest portal. This gave the organisers the potential to harvest social media and demographic data to inform its targeted marketing communications.
The same functionality is available year-round back at The Met where Pennine has also installed wi-fi to give visitor free wireless access for the first time in the venue’s long history.
“It’s definitely on my radar” says Hornsby who, having only joined The Met in mid-2017, says exploring Purple potential for honing the venue’s marketing effort is high on his to-do list.
Meanwhile, those who couldn’t make it to the festival in Ramsbottom were nonetheless able to sample a flavour of Head for the Hills, courtesy of BBC Radio Lancashire. Pennine created a virtual local area network (VLAN) with a guaranteed broadband speed so that the station could broadcast live from the site.
“The BBC needed a good connection to be able to record, upload and broadcast,” explains Hornsby. “They recorded quite a lot of performances for a two-hour show, The Drift, which covers roots and acoustic music.” These included an acoustic session recorded in the cricket club’s changing rooms with Friday night headliners Maximo Park, along with sets from festival hits such as Tankus The Henge, Mat Skinner and The Eskies.
The VLAN provided presenter Phil Brown and his production team with a vital data and communications links to the programme’s producer at the station’s Blackburn base.
That everything ran so smoothly was down to meticulous planning. The Met’s chief executive, Victoria Robinson, set the wheels in motion early doors, meeting with the Pennine team to outline the festivals needs and wants.
Hornsby later picked up the baton. “I checked in with Pennine once or twice in the days and weeks leading up to the festival. All the communication was really clear and everything organised at both ends.”
Plans turned into action the day before the gates opened, with Pennine engineers joining stage contractors, vendors and volunteers to set up what proved to be another highly successful festival.
The weekend saw Head for the Hills host over 50 acts across its five stages and, saw 4,000 fans flow seamlessly through its gates on closing day, securing its largest ever Sunday crowd. Hornsby neatly sums it up, saying: “It was a good festival. Everything ran smoothly and everybody enjoyed themselves.”