Pollstar had a few questions for Peter and Ella Nosworthy, managing and creative directors of Nozstock: The Hidden Valley, a boutique festival in Herefordshire, England, which celebrates its 20th anniversary, July 20-22.
Alex Avery – Nozstock 2017
Last year’s closing fireworks
Both father and daughter talked about the Nozstock’s history, its presence as well as the challenges and benefits of running a 5,000 capacity boutique event in today’s festival economy.
How did it all start?
Pete: It started as a BBQ for family and close friends. We had a band playing, a few burgers, we called it Nozstock as a joke (play on Woodstock). We never set out to have a festival, we certainly never thought we would being doing what we are 20 years later. It just grew organically year on year. Adding a bar, having some more bands, eventually adding a few stalls, another stage, a cinema. It grew a little each year until we realised we were holding a festival completely by accident!
I remember walking into the farmhouse and there was a queue of people in the kitchen making egg sandwiches! Walk outside and there was about 1000 people on the farm, and I didn’t know any of them. Plus by that time it was costing quite a lot to put on. I realised we either needed to stop what we were doing, or get a licence, start selling tickets and do this ‘properly’. None of us wanted to stop so I guess the rest is history!
Over the years there’s been a few highlights that have made us feel like a ‘proper’ festival – like when Andy C first came, or when my son’s childhood heroes Jurassic 5 headlined. It’s been 20 years of amazing memories and although we never set out to achieve it, we all fee very proud of what we put on.
– The Nozstock Family
MD Pete “Noz” Nosworthy, his daughter and creative director lla, with little Edie
Are there too many festivals taking place today?
Ella: No, I wouldn’t say there are too many. There are loads of festivals now, but what they are offering has changed. There aren’t just about music and that out-of-normal-life experience anymore. They appeal to a much wider range of people and cater to much more specific interests. There’s the Bluedot science festival, a jazz and aubergine festival in Greece, and as I understand it a festival of asparagus in Worcestershire. That’s pretty specific but the appetite for it is obviously there.
Still, the competition in the music space alone must be insane. How do you survive as a boutique event in the economic climate of today?
Ella: Of course there is a lot of competition and that makes it really hard, you need to be doing something really different to stand out and attract your crowd, every time you put on an event there is a massive element of risk, but if you are good at what you are doing with a clear and successful marketing strategy and a product that appeals to the public I think you can survive.
Pete: For Nozstock personally, we are lucky in that we own our own site so we can do long-term builds and reduce hire costs. Our crew are amazing and go over and above to get the job done, but keeping the budget under control as a small festival is very hard. We put on a lot of entertainment on at a very high level for the size of festival, which of course has financial implications. It means we are spending more on entertainment than many events of a similar size but it is also what’s kept people coming back: the amount they can see on such a small site where everything is so intimate and you can easily find your friends.
With so many events around, has it become harder and harder to secure acts? Or can you fall back on the reputation you’ve built over the years?
Ella: A bit of both. For the dance music side of things we have definitely built up a reputation over the years and now worldwide-level artists actively approach us looking to play. It is much harder for the live artists, where one of the main problems we encounter is exclusivity clauses, which prevent us from getting the artists we want. It reduces the talent that’s actually available to us.
Pete: I agree. Exclusivity is an issue that affects us every year and so many festivals going for the same acts can be difficult if you want to stand out. But if you can do joint deals with other festivals, it can make the budget go further and attract people to your event that you may otherwise not have afforded. Rather than the amount of events around, budget for us is probably the biggest issue, finding those artists that are headline worthy but still affordable is no easy feat.
Can you talk about the AIF initiative you’re part of, pledging to give newcomers a stage?
Pete: It’s something we’ve always done. People come to festivals to hear new music and to find new favourite bands so I would say it’s imperative that as a promoter you are looking for new artists and new sounds. Plus there’s so much good music out there, why wouldn’t we want to give artists a platform? We are very passionate about it and supporting local talent as well. We also work with our local BBC Introducing presenter and they have a takeover at the event to showcase the best regional, unsigned artists.
You won an independent festival award for last year’s light show, proving that boutique doesn’t mean meek. What can you do as a comparatively small event, that a 90,000-cap festival cannot do? What are the areas you can pay a lot of attention to because you’re keeping it family?
Ella: Well, we can sell ourselves on our size and intimate atmosphere for one. We can promote the rural, homemade element of the festival which could be lost on a bigger site. We can also promote the fact that it is a small family farm – you are literally dancing in our garden – which adds such a unique element to the experience, dancing in the old barns and cowsheds. It is a beautiful setting but the fact that it’s a working farm means more often than not the chickens are wandering around, which actually our visitors love.
– Nozstock: The Hidden Valley
A thoroughly family-friendly festival
For the family side of things I truly believe that me being a new mum has made Nozstock a better festival. Since having my children I’m a lot more aware of the practicalities of families attending events. Before I only really thought about the entertainment for families, what the kids could see and do whereas now I’m so much more aware of how tiring it can be! We offer a bottle-warming service, a storytelling corner, a changing mat, that kind of thing, just to make the experience as smooth as possible.
Pete: And I’d add to that it helps to show the families that we care, that we have tried to consider things from their point of view and that we really welcome them here. It’s all about the small touches that go a long way. Because we are a small site it’s easier for me to get around and meet some of the punters whilst they are here, get their direct feedback and build a bit of a relationship.
You also received an Outstanding Attitude Award from Attitude is Everything for your detailed online access information. Can you elaborate on that?
Ella: We started working with Attitude Is Everything in 2015 and it made such a positive difference for access at Nozstock. Before I think we felt we were limited in what we could achieve because of our small budgets and the fact that we had a greenfield site but Attitude Is Everything helped us to see that small changes can make so much difference. It’s about being honest about what you can do and what is available on site and allowing customers to make their own informed decision.
For example, I like putting photos of our terrain on our website. It only took a few minutes to put together but it has such a positive impact for customers allowing them to see what to expect. Large print copies of our programme, for example, is such an easy thing to do and will mean so much to someone who needs it. Ultimately doing that is going to lead to more people coming to your event and more positive PR anyway.
Have you been offered a buy-out by one of the big promoters in the past?
Pete: No, no offer yet. Do you want to pass on my number?! No, all joking aside, Nozstock works because it’s family run, it’s a reflection of every member of the family and frankly we put everything we have into this to make it special and the type of festival we would want to be at and to run. If it changed too much I don’t think any of us would feel comfortable with it.
Are tickets too expensive these days?
Ella: As a general I think ticket prices are high but they are reflective of the sheer amount of entertainment on offer at a festival. There’s 24-hour entertainment for three, sometimes four entire days. When you could spend £50 on one night out how can you quibble at the sheer volume of what’s available for £125? I think, although it seems a lot, festivals do represent excellent value for the money.
What does it mean to you, to be running a family event?
Pete: We all have strong personalities at Nozstock, so running a family business can be hard – there’s a lot of late nights and frazzled tempers, going over the same issues, but it also means I’m working with people who I trust 110 percent and I know have a dedication and a love of what we are doing just as much as I do. Who wouldn’t want a team as committed as that? It also means we aren’t afraid to speak up when we disagree and it makes the festival the absolute best it can be. I wouldn’t change it for the world.