It’s been a while, but we’re back with another one of our popular ‘Need To Know’ features and this time we’re chatting to Devon-based festival organiser Phil Doodson, who runs Altitude Festival!
It’s all well and great learning about how larger-scale events are brought to life, but there’s a vital stepping stone we are missing in this progression. Phil has not only brought his festival dream to life but he’s learnt how to manage, budget and prepare for all outcomes for an outdoor festival at a grassroots size – we thought he’d be a fantastic contact to introduce you all to!
Check out our chat with Phil below and make sure you keep in touch with everything Altitude Festival is up to at the moment, including their recently announced extra show on Thursday evening right before the main event – to add a delectable starter to this feast of a festival. Tickets on sale now right here and you better be quick, the main event is already sold out!
Hi Phil! Thank you so much for taking part in our ‘Need To Know’ features and sharing some personal details about the past, present and future of your music career and of course, Altitude Festival. Before we get ahead of ourselves, can you tell us who you are and what you do?
I’m the Director of Devon Rural Events and co-founder of Altitude Festival. We aim to provide arts and music activities in rural communities to encourage social inclusion, arts and culture. We also aim to give young people work experience and a chance to get motivated and involved in the music industry.
The festival is our flagship event and 2021 will be our fifth year. We run other events throughout the year and have even managed a couple of socially distanced gigs in 2020. I get involved with everything from curating the lineup to cleaning the toilets. Everything really, but as the festival has grown, it’s more about managing teams of volunteers and making sure everything is done safely and in accordance with our plans.
How did you get involved in this line of work and how did it lead up to this point? Was there a particular moment in your life that made you choose this career path?
It was born out of love and appreciation of all types of music, especially live gigs and at a time in my life where I felt like I needed a new challenge. The first year of the festival was just three best mates doing something that we loved, to see if it could be successful. Since then, it’s grown into something that is hard work, but ultimately fulfilling and rewarding. We are all still volunteers and running the business as a part-time effort.
What is the hardest thing about launching a festival for the first time?
I think it is dealing with the unknown. It’s so much more than booking a few bands, ordering some beer and hiring a tent. Trying to have contingencies for all the unknowns, such as the weather and generator failures are the things that keep me up at night, There’s also the pressure of making sure everyone has a good time and everything runs to plan.
But I would say one of the hardest things is making sure the tickets are sold, as it links directly to the budget and making sure you’re not out of pocket. There are so many festivals at the moment and a lot of competition and if you’re just starting out, you haven’t got any reputation, so it’s all about trying to sell what you do. Branding, thinking about who’s attending, promotion – there’s a lot to think about to make sure the tickets get sold.
Is there anything you have to do in your job that you never expected to do? Good or bad?
The upside is that I get to see a lot of free gigs, socialising with bands and networking. It’s great to mix with people who have a positive attitude and are passionate about what they do. I take the good with the bad so whilst I wouldn’t call it bad, dismantling the festival site and clearing up rubbish is my least favourite activity. Oh, and trying to get your head around a tax return!
What are some of the ‘coolest’ benefits of your line of work?
Getting into Glastonbury free in 2019, has got to be a plus!! Oh, and free drinks are always appreciated.
How have you approached this year’s festival in comparison to other events, due to the pandemic? Have you had to make any drastic changes to the event building process?
We have moved the dates 3 times now and there was a stage where we were planning a socially distanced event, which was taking a lot more time in the planning stages and implementing extra measures to make sure everyone was in a safe environment. We do risk assessments for the festival, so we built in a Covid-19 assessment to limit the risks. It has made us think more carefully and look more closely at our health and safety. For us, we want customers to have a good time, but it always needs to be safe with robust processes in place.
Who are your favourite local artists right now and why?
For me, it’s got to be Pattern Pusher. I first saw them in 2016. Since then they have played the festival a couple of times, and I’ve been to numerous gigs, and seen them grow from small acoustic sets to when they played the Glastonbury after-party at Pilton, supporting Wolf Alice and Supergrass. I’ve watched them grow as a band and their infectious stage energy and upbeat music make every gig they do a great experience.
This wouldn’t be a proper interview if we didn’t ask for a funny/juicy music story, do you have any noteworthy moments for our readers?
Ha! I can’t think of any juicy moments – it’s mostly really hard work.
Do you have any advice for anyone interested in trying to find work in this industry? Is there anything they should be cautious of/keep in mind?
My advice would be to volunteer and work with anyone you can, to gain as much experience as possible. There are some great local organisations doing great work, and social media makes it easy to get in touch. I would say keep in mind that you may not get paid, but you will gain valuable industry experience that could lead to bigger and better things.
Finally, what are your plans for the future?
I think, after recent times, our aim is to try and bring people back together watching live music. For us, the smaller more intimate gigs in beautiful settings are something that we want to do more of. Altitude festival has sold out this year but we’ve managed to squeeze in a one-off night, Altitude Soundcheck on Thursday 29th July and tickets (which includes camping) are still available through our website – https://altitudedevon.com/
We have invested in a 15.0m x 18.0m stretch tent, and have another smaller tent coming soon, so if anyone wants to hire a great looking outdoor space from us, do get in touch.
We were planning Altitude nights last year, which would have been smaller, pop-up, one-off events, with a few hundred people, and would like to revisit the idea later this year, so keep an eye out for us. Also, we were involved with the Acoustica Gigs at the Exeter Phoenix and are planning one for around September time. And of course Altitude Festival 2022. Each year we try to better the previous – and give customers something different. Tickets should go on sale late 2021, so keep an eye out on our socials, and we’ll see you there.