Ben Street on Wild Fields 2020
By Sebastian Lloyd
I caught up with Ben Street, Founder and Director of Wild Paths/Wild Fields, over the phone during the final preparations for Wild Paths 2020 at Norwich Showground.
There’s brand new restrictions as of Monday, has that raised your blood pressure about people coming who have got tickets or has it generally been ok?
Generally it’s been ok, it's been a close call but people have responded to it really well in terms of realising that the situation is changing. Obviously we’ve been very lucky in that we’re a Saturday/Sunday event, the one exception to the rule was we had a band travelling from Scotland, a younger band whose parents were quite worried so we’ve had to make arrangements for another band to come in. Attendee wise people are still buying tickets, still have people getting in touch, you know sort of asking if it is 100% going ahead and really hoping it is. There is a bit of confusion that’s been whipped up with the latest government decision but generally it hasn’t really negatively impacted us.
Well that’s good to hear, is that Spyres that can’t make it?
It is, it’s a really sad one because they were meant to be at Wild Paths as well and we were quite excited to finally get them down here but we’ve got a really good other act that we will announce in the next couple of hours or so. (The Islas replace Spyres on Saturday)
Was the decision to host at Norwich Showground solely because of Covid or were you interested in doing something other than a multi-venue Festival anyway?
It was entirely adapting to the situation, we had to be innovative and think around the problem and at showground there’s loads of space and it’s a big outdoor venue so that was solely the reasoning behind that.
Any particular artists you’re excited to see?
As director I have to be careful if I say one or the other because it comes across like there’s a favouritism there but put it like this, the line-up for this weekend is a lot of my favourite artists I have on rotation on Spotify at the moment. Its Ben's favourite Spotify playlist, I’m gonna be in my element the whole weekend.
I saw there wasn’t much Grime or British rap at the Festival, was that a purposeful thing or could you not get any bookings?
We had a little suggestion of it at Wild Paths, we were gonna have it again this year because Wild Fields is a more distilled version of Wild Paths. We’ve only got space for about 30 acts, we had to be a little bit more selective in the genre types that we went for. Unlike Wild Paths where we try to hit every demographic, and we try to as much as we can, Wild Fields had to be a little more focused. So one day we’ve got sort of Indie Rock and Folk and the other day we’ve got Neo-Soul and Jazz and Contemporary RnB. Given another 20 vendors like with Wild Paths we would have added another couple of stages to it. In fact we were meant to be working with Wordplay, and they were gonna do their own stage at Wild Paths this year. Wordplay is Grime/RnB/Hip-hop/UK culture sort of magazine so with more space yes we would definitely have had Grime, RnB and UK Hip-hop. We’ve booked it in the past and we’ll book it again but for this event we just had to be a bit more focused.
It sounds cool giving Wordplay their own stage.
That’ll be back in 2021, that’s a little exclusive there, we’ll definitely have Wordplay at Wild paths.
Has there been any difficulty trying to collate the line-up for this year, has there been a purposeful attempt to get local acts due to there being the possibility of disruption or has that not been part of the discussion?
No not really, we always try and champion the Wild Paths brand, Wild Fields now, we always try and champion local and regional stuff. Its just made it as a logistical thing easier definitely and politically as well because the microscope is on us and what sort of travel plans we’re engaging in. To be honest it’s what we started with Wild Paths, get a few established bigger names in and then get some regional acts who are really gonna benefit from playing on the same stage as those artists and share their crowd. We didn’t have to change that much, I just realised today that we’ve got a 46% female, 19% mixed and 35% male line-up which is pretty unheard of. We have a skew towards a female line-up which is obviously going against the trend of the industry. We’re actually a Keychange pledge fair so our focus is to support gender equality and its pretty impressive especially at a time when Reading + Leeds are bringing out an all-male headliner, 6 main stage set-up so that’s part of our goal as well. To support local, support regional and support gender equality.
Do you have any ideas of the demographics that go to the Festival, in terms of certain age groups not wanting to travel as much?
I think at Wild Paths last year we had maybe 47% of attendance come from outside of East Anglia which is pretty shocking but this event I can’t see that being the case in the same sense. I imagine it will be heavily skewed in terms of regional East Anglian attendance but in terms of age demographic it’ll still be fairly broad. We had a really broad age turnout for Wild Paths, it tends to be in between 25-35 but we get people all the way up to aged 65-70 enjoying it because we try and be as broad as possible (in terms of music) and it attracts a really varied demographic.
What do you think has been the single biggest challenge of the ‘Covid responsible Festival?’
To make the Festival seem appealing and fun whilst balancing that level of responsibility and communicating that the safety measures have been put in place. It’s (finding) that balance you know? Festivals are meant to be this little pocket of hedonism and escapism and communal gathering but now you must slightly change the goal posts. Its saying ‘yeh you’ll be in your isolated pod but you’ll still be in a crowd with other people in isolated pods around you, you’ll still be feeling that collective energy but you wont be elbowed in the ribs or have beer spilt over you.’ Communicating that has been a challenge.
Has that come into the way you sell the food stalls as well, in terms of advertising extra hygiene, do you think that’s been a harder sell?
No I actually think its really helped, our Covid policy is on the website so we’ve made it quite clear that there will be heightened sanitising, cleaning procedures and deep cleaning the toilets on regular occasions. Things like wearing PPE and telling staff to regularly sanitise their hands. I don’t think it been difficult to put that bit across its just been balancing that with ‘Yes these are all the Ts & Cs that might seem boring but its important and this Festival isn’t boring!’ It’s a Festival at the end of the day. It's that juxtaposition between safety and also saying you can come and have a dance in your pod, let loose, have a few drinks, have a good time and watch amazing live music, so its bringing those 2 worlds together.