The 21st Century Village Fete

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On Sunday (31st July) I was fortunate enough to be part of the Hope and Social Garden Party, having been invited along to help out doing some social media stuff (mainly video) on the day. It was a truly amazing event, best summed up, I think, by Mike Chitty, who described it on Twitter as “perhaps the perfect combination of culture, commerce, community and conviviality“. Mike also suggested that Hope and Social are in the “memories business” rather than the music business.

I am not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the day, others have and will do that, and I’d just miss too much out in any case, because I was busy a lot of the time, and some of it just passed me by. There was too much going on for any one person to take in. And this is my topic. I think. on Sunday, Hope and Social re-invented the Village Fete for the 21st Century, and offered a model many others should follow.

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If you are not familiar with Hope and Social, you should check them out, mainly here. They are less a band, more a modern phenomenon, trail-blazing the way for new ways of working in the 21st Century music business, offering their music on a “pay what you can” basis, and pushing back the frontiers of social media interaction with their fans. I worked with some members of the band, mainly guitarist Rich Huxley, last Autumn to put on a Social Media Surgery for Musicians in Leeds, and this was an illustration how they not only want to reach out to their fans and supporters, but help their fellow musicians find new ways of operating in the changed landscape where probably no one is ever again going to make multi-million profits from the sales of music alone. At this point, I should give a special mention to Ben Denison, who organises a lot of stuff the band does, particularly in the social media and event management fields.

Hope and Social go much, much further than most musicians in engaging with their audience. Not only do they use the usual social media channels to interact with the public, but they seek to draw their fanbase into their community so engendering a feeling of one big family, having fun together. Key to this is the organisation of events which enhance their performances and make them a much more interactive experience than standing or sitting and watching them play on stage. So, last year they mounted the Hope and Social Funbus which involved hiring an open-topped bus and taking 70 people from Leeds to Runswick bay on the Yorkshire Coast, playing their music on the way, on the beach, and on the way back. And then, last winter, there was the Hope and Social Snowball which started off touring Leeds pubs singing carols, performing “Living on a Prayer” on the steps of Leeds Town Hall (see video below) and then performing a gig in a magical winter wonderland.

The point about all this is, not only do the band and their supporters have a great time, but, because the audience is having so much fun, they tell their friends, it’s an experience they want to pass on, and, in the age of social media, many of them use the available tools to tell their stories about it. So, blogs, tweets and Facebook posts inevitably spring up, creating a buzz around the event, and inspiring a sense of jealousy in those who were not part of it, which makes them determined to be at the next one.

HSGP3And so, to Sunday’s Garden Party. As well as two different stages, showcasing a range of different bands from midday to after 8pm, Hope and Social had organised so many things for people to do that there was no excuse for boredom at all. There were some of the trendiest and most cutting-edge local food retailers there, along with a bar selling cocktails and local ale. There was a Hula Hoop demonstration,

a delightfully messy Paintball Swingball,

And many more wares on offer

Vodpod videos no longer available.  

What perhaps summed up the spirit of the day for me, more than anything else was when Hope and Social band member Ed Waring led his headphone-clad party from the Silent Disco in the next field into the main stage field to dance through the audience, oblivious to the music of the String Fellows who were playing on the stage at the time.

All-in-all it was a brilliant day, capped off by a barnstorming performance by Hope and Social themselves, which can be heard on this recording by East Leeds FM. The whole event was an assault on all the senses, with something to please just about everyone.

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And so, returning to my theme. I think this was a 21st Century Village Fete. I reckon there are very few events that successfully fill the gap between the rock festival-type happening, which mainly appeals to young people and hardened festival-goers, and the village fete /country show-type thing, which is mainly of interest to an older or specialist audience. What Hope and Social created was something that had a very wide appeal, and I reckon a large part of the audience were in the 25 to 50 age range, which probably doesn’t get properly catered for by traditional events. And it was helped by the fact that kids were let in for free.

And that brings me to another point. Costs. This could only happen because people paid to get in. I think it was a bargain at £15 per adult, with kids for free. There are lots of public events these days, often paid for by local authorities, which are free of charge, but often have a declining audience. Hope and Social have proved that relevant, entertaining, events can be done for a reasonable cost. Many of the publicly funded events are under threat now, because of declining budgets. There are lots of entrepreneurs out there who could do what Hope and Social have done, and they could do it by putting on events that people really want to be part of, not what has traditionally always been done.

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Hope and Social brought together some amazing talents from far and wide, coupled with amazing food and drink, and other entertainments. But, every community has people who want to, and are able to, perform, every community has people who can make food, and every community is capable of making its own entertainment. Hope and Social have developed the blueprint for the 21st Century Village Fete, I hope more communities, individuals and organisations will take up the challenge to spread the model.

A more or less complete set of my videos from the Garden Party can be viewed here, and my photographs are here.

For more material, which is emerging all the time, search Twitter, Youtube, Flickr and elsewhere for #hsgardenparty

Guerilla Opera in St. George’s Square, Huddersfield

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Tomorrow (Saturday July 23rd 2011) sees the first of two open air performances of a “Guerilla Opera” in the centre of Huddersfield. In partnership with the Huddersfield Creative Arts Network, Huddersfield Youth Opera will be performing Rimsky Korsakov’s “Mozart & Salieri” in St. George’s Square on successive Saturdays. In a first for the opera group, their small troupe will take to the flagstones outside Britain’s most attractive railway station at 2:30pm on both days.

I caught up with the Youth Opera’s General Director, David Heathcote, Director of the production, Janet Cowley, and cast members, David Fearn, who plays Mozart and Jamal Rahman who plays Salieri, to find out what it’s all about and why they are doing it.

I think this is a fantastic initiative, and applaud the group for making productive use of the expensively refurbished square which stands unused for most of the year, in between a few high profile, and well-attended, formal events. Perhaps even some casual passers-by will pay attention to the production and decide that opera is something they want to find out more about.

Here is a snippet of David and Jamal in rehearsal for the production.

Some of the costumes which will be on display on the two Saturdays are quite spectacular and a credit to the work of Huddersfield University students including Natalie Lawson and Emily Hargreaves

Emily Hargreaves and Natalie Lawson show off one of the costumesI very much hope that this initiative will lead to more regular use of the space that is St. George’s Square. The people of Huddersfield need to feel that it is their arena for them to make use of.

Looking for Sponsor for 1st Yorkshire Musicians Social Media Surgery

This is a new departure. Following on from the success of the burgeoning movement of Social Media Surgeries, started by Nick Booth of Podnosh.com and now spreading around the world, particularly in Yorkshire, I am now working with Rich Huxley of Hope and Social, and Pat Fulgoni of Kava Kava to organise the first Social Media Surgery for musicians.

We are aiming for this to take place in Leeds, some time in October 2010. The intention is to advise musicians on how best they can use social media to reach their audiences, in particular learning from the experiences of the likes of Hope and Social in how they engage people and draw them into their community (Note to self: wonder if this means I have to mug up on how MySpace works these days).

We want to make this a Surgery with a difference, and, I ask my social media-savvy friends to give up a lot of their time to help out with the usual Surgeries, so I reckon we need a little incentive for them to turn out at yet another event. Thus, we are intending to have a little bit of live music at the end of the Surgery, and, we’d like those who are giving up their valuable time for free to be able to have a bite and a drink too.

So, I am looking for one or more sponsors who can help us make this happen. I’m looking for £300 so we can lay on some refreshments for our hard-working and dedicated Surgeons. Please get in touch if you can help. This will be quite a high profile event, we will be making sure it gets lots of publicity via social media, and in the mainstream and music press. You will get a prominent mention in everything that goes out to the world.

Please get in touch if you can help
http://twitter.com/johnpopham
john[dot]popham[at]johnpopham[dot]com