Life after Folkstock

Helen Meissner of Folkstock tells Festival Insights how, far from taking a well-earned break after launching her festival this year, she has found herself even busier – with the launch of a booking agency

Helen Meissner
Helen Meissner

“As soon as I had decided to put on a flagship outdoor event for the Foundation I started in February of this year, I realised that it was going to be an uphill struggle to stand out in a veritable sea of festivals. I had wanted it to be an event which the musicians who I mentored (for free via the community interest company I incorporated) would be able to aspire to play at, but I soon realised that an event with no-one to play to would be more demoralising than not having an event at all. So I seized the nettle and committed the next nine months to bringing a new festival into the world ! First off I had to think of a name.

“Brand creation and marketing. Not something I had any recent experience of. I had only just set up a Facebook account a few months before and was still getting to grips with that. But I knew what I wanted to say and enjoy writing press releases. Tailored ones. Which was just as well.

“Press started to come quite readily and I am really grateful to the local papers across the county who all ran the story inviting people to apply for places. Marketing was taking up as much time as the planning of the festival. But that’s another story.

“Having set the ball in motion, I felt I owed it to the artists to create something with which they would be proud to be associated. It must have been the classic case of ‘right place, right time’ for this project as very quickly people, who I’d heard of, were asking to perform and the momentum started to grow. Initially I was expecting the festival to be one stage. Event safety plans and site maps were competing with my mission to market every act to whom I committed stage space. In the end we had four stages with over 77 artists performing. This meant that I felt I should see them live wherever possible, post their pics and the video I shot to help market them and their connection to the festival for their fans. Or in some cases, to help them get some fans in the first place.

“I set up a website, invited a local artist, Amy Pettingill, to develop some attractive artwork, added tailored biogs on stage specific web pages, a dedicated voluntary blogger was brought in who did a wonderful job – Kate Snowdon. Her brother at Today Type and Design created the wonderful poster, tracks were requested and Soundcloud sets created and sent to radio shows and posted on social media, and we ended up with at least 10-and-a-half hours of dedicated ‘Folkstock special‘ radio show, in addition to nine lengthy interviews about the foundation and the festival, stages at other festivals curated by Folkstock, countless mentions of the festival and plays of Folkstock artists, retweets by respected movers and shakers in the music world, the whole page inside back cover in Music Week, almost 50 articles in the local press, many features on independent blogs and even a good 30 second plug from BBC Radio 2’s Folk Show.

“But there was an unexpected side effect of the marketing. An almost familial atmosphere had been engendered, people were talking about ‘Folkstock Represents’ and the Folkstock Family and I realised that many artists are working away in isolation, at times lonely, dealing with their dismayed family’s rejection in anticipation of the ever present spectre of a last minute gig opportunity (wears a bit thin when you have got children and everyone asks when you are going to give up your hobby and settle down). The boost provided from being part of the foundation or the festival was relished by many acts who were seizing the marketing opportunity with both hands and many Facebook friendships were formed in the run-up.

“The events which I decided to put on, in addition to the festival, in places out of area such as Brighton and Dorset, with many in Hertfordshire, started to produce a wonderful atmosphere of inclusiveness (so I am told) and academic researchers were getting very community-driven/social gain type feedback. Well respected musicians and industry experts such as Luke Jackson, Reg Meuross and Neil King from FATEA magazine, were offering to help with workshops and I have been approached by someone the other side of the world, to bring the ‘Folkstock Movement’ (as he put it) to his country. It remains to be seen if this will manifest, but it’s interesting none the less.

“I do remember one radio presenter on the Folk is not a Rude Word show asking a Folkstock artist on air what she was doing after Folkstock. Silence. ‘Is there life after Folkstock?’ came her bemused reply before she gathered herself. Amusing and interesting at the same time. So it is perhaps not surprising that the momentum has continued after the festival which was six weeks ago and far from having the expected break, I’ve stepped up a gear. This is partly because I entered the Hertfordshire Business Awards and got to the finals in the Business Person of the Year award and the Business in the Community categories, but also because we have been lucky enough to have got as far as the finals for the Best New Festival category in the UK Festival Awards.

“People have been asking me to put forward musicians to various events since I started this and the combination of another stroke of luck and the demand has enabled me to start Folkstock Represents.
The stroke of luck that I mentioned was that I felt I needed a ‘figure head’ like Patron for the Foundation before I started inviting musicians to apply for one of the 16 places, spread over 4 programmes from students to tour ready acts, on the Foundation.

“What I was not expecting was that the person I decided to ask, Dave Swarbrick, who I met virtually on Facebook, would ask something of me in return. Would I put on a tour for him ?!

“Needless to say, I did not have any contacts or experience in that area either, but somehow or other, a tour has materialised as requested. Dave Swarbrick, who was the fiddle legend from seminal band Fairport Convention and I have come up with an idea which will benefit everyone involved. Swarb is keen to embrace the opportunities.”

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