Headline performances from Beyonce, U2 and Coldplay helped Glastonbury win the best major festival award at the eight annual U.K. Festival Awards, held in London last night (Nov. 15).
The title of best medium sized festival went to Secret Garden Party, which featured Blondie and dance act Leftfield among its 2011 headliners. End of the Road won best small festival, while Bestival - which this featured performances from Bjork, The Cure, PJ Harvey and Brian Wilson - was honoured in the category of fan's favourite festival. Croatia's Outlook won the best overseas festival title.
In the artist categories, Ed Sheeran beat fellow nominees Bruno Mars and Jessie J to the fan-voted title of best breakthrough artist. Paolo Nutini's set at Latitude Festival won him the headline performance of the year prize. Universal -signed dance duo Chase & Status won the award for anthem of the summer for their U.K. smash "Blind Faith."
Veteran folk music and dance promoter Steve Heap received the lifetime achievement award at the ceremony, which was held in London's Roundhouse venue. Awards were decided through a combination of online fan votes and music industry experts.
"The Festival Awards is all about recognizing the hard work everyone in the industry puts in, and sharing the thanks and love from the public for those efforts," said James Drury, Managing Director of Festival Awards, Ltd., in a statement. "Everyone involved - not just the winners - should be rightly proud of what they've achieved in a year has been more challenging than others."
The health of the U.K. festival market amid challenging economic conditions was also a recurring theme of the 2011 U.K. Festival Conference, which was held prior to the awards and featured a lively keynote speech from Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn.
"It's a competitive market in difficult economic times but for people to start suggesting that somehow [the U.K. festival industry] is in trouble, I don't believe that," stated Benn, whose company runs a number of U.K. and Ireland festivals including The Big Chill, Latitude, Electric Picnic and the dual-site Reading and Leeds events. Festival Republic's international roster includes Germany's Berlin Festival, Norway's Hove Festival and its new U.S. venture, Orlando Calling. Benn also has operational responsibility for and is the license holder of Glastonbury Festival.
"People are still going to want to go out and have a period of separation from normality, and that is what a festival can bring them in any number of ways. They want the enjoyment, they want the freedom that festivals bring to them. So I'm absolutely certain that the demand for festivals will continue to grow, declared Benn, who is expected to bring back the U.K.-held Phoenix Festival in 2012.
"If you look at some festivals now compared to what they would have been ten years ago, I think we're improving all the time," he continued. "But we have to improve the infrastructure offering as well as the artistic offering. If we don't people will stop coming." Benn declined to reveal any line up information for any of Festival Republic's 2012 events but did express his support for headline acts signing U.K. or European exclusivity deals in a bid to maintain audience demand.
"I think it's certainly going to happen more and more," he told the audience. "I don't think it's going to become prevalent but I think there are going to be some acts that do it. People often forget that Europe is so accessible. The fees that bands get [for appearing at a festival] on mainland Europe is significantly less than they get here in the U.K. Therefore, when a mainland Europe festival goes on sale the price often is significantly cheaper that here and that's actually because the U.K. is subsidizing the European tour of these particular headliners."
"In that context, that exclusivity should be thought about," he continued. "The bands are resisting it, as you would imagine, and will only accept a U.K. or a European exclusivity on the basis of a big fee, but I do think that's slightly unfair."
Questioned by a member of the 400-strong conference audience about the negative impact that territorial exclusivity has on an artist's capacity to earn touring revenue, Benn reiterated his belief that the practice will, nevertheless, become increasingly standard for the largest global acts.
"With certain headliners it is going to be the case," he said, adamantly. "There's no question about it. Because the bands want the big fees from U.K. festivals and we want something in return."
The festival conference also featured panels on a number of pertinent issues in the live sector, including maintaining customer loyalty, social commerce and, following a number of tragic events at outdoor music events this summer, the question of audience safety.
Introduced by video footage of the stage collapse at this summer's Indiana State Fair, Rudi Enos of Special Structures Lab, a Sheffield, England-based stage design company, issued what he termed "a clarion call for the whole industry."
"Perhaps we should now make allowances for and instigate procedures for much worse weather than previously anticipated," he told delegates. "Tents and stages can be better stabilized and supported. The crucial fact that more equipment and time will be needed means the cost will rise but that's a fraction of the festival takings."
"We need our own higher standards," he continued. "We need to approach structure design with humility... We've had too many close calls. This speech should be taken a clarion call for the whole industry. In the past we've allowed commerciality to drive our industry. If we ignore the imperatives and the challenge it will be at our own cost."