A new Americana Festival premieres in the U.K., June 22-24. It’s called Black Deer Festival and welcomes Iron & Wine, Passenger, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Ward Thomas and many more to the inaugural edition at Eridge Park, Kent, England.
Pollstar spoke with one of the festival’s founders, Gill Tee, to find out more about the event, and the current Americana craze in the U.K.
– Gill Tee
One of the two founders of Black Deer Festival
What’s your background, and how did you end up a festival promoter?
My first entry into the world of festivals began when I was working at Capital Radio, as head of entertainment, and was responsible for producing the first ever Party in the Park at Hyde Park with the Prince’s Trust. I set up Entertee Events in 1998 with my business partner Deb Shilling. We now have over 20 years working with many high profile clients producing events and festivals. Black Deer will be the first time we have taken the step to our own festival becoming promoters ourselves.
What made you launch Black Deer Festival? What indicated that there was a market for it?
This has been born from a mutual love of the genre, and a chance meeting at a party with a guy called Colin Lloyd, who had a love of country music. He became our first external shareholder.
We had a belief that there was room in the crowded festival market for something different. There were smaller festivals that were well respected in the U.K., already showcasing this music. Also most towns and city’s have bars where this music is playing. We felt using our experience in the festival marketplace, and a desire to incorporate all the things we believe people would love; by going in at an ambitious level, we would broaden the fan base and showcase some amazing artists that might not get the exposure they deserve.
What happened next?
Having relationships already in place, and a good reputation in the industry, was a good calling card for us. Along with our booker Bev Burton, we went to see the U.K. agents to talk about our ambition for Black Deer. We then went over to Nashville, with a friend of ours, Iain Snodgrass, who had worked in Nashville for many years, and started talking with agents, organizations, managers and artists about what we wanted to do. We have been so grateful for the reaction from people hearing us out, and supporting our vision, everyone has been so tremendously supportive.
Our line-up is testament to the diversity both internationally and homegrown. It’s so important to us that from conception to reality, every element maintains genuine authenticity. We believe that the U.K. is ready for a festival with authentic music at the core, but also showcasing the lifestyle of American heritage, through smokehouse cooking and diverse cultural references, appreciating the great outdoors, but most of all, bringing like-minded people together for great times.
What’s the capacity of the Black Deer Festival premiere?
The festival site has a licence for 30,000 people. We thought carefully about this and set our sights at a maximum of 10,000. We are pushing hard at the moment and if we reach 10k we’d be delighted, but this is our first year and we are realistic. Both Debs [Deborah Shilling] and I have been in this business a long time and know most of all how important it is to grow organically, to gather support, momentum and be attentive to learnings in order to nurture what we have.
We are a totally independent festival and believe in doing things properly. Americana and Country fans are a generous and supportive community. We are hoping they all get behind Black Deer and all it stands for.
Can you exemplify the demand for the event on the basis of how ticket sales are going?
Ticket sales at this point are doing well, and we would like to think that by the time the festival opens its doors, we would have achieved our goals.
– Black Deer Festival
Eridge Park will serve as the scenic site for the first ever Black Deer Festival, June 22-24
What’s your core demographic?
We appeal to a diverse audience; Black Deer is where a passionate set of sub-cultures will all come together for an unforgettable experience. It’s a music lover’s festival, for both die-hard Americana and Country fans to parents and their kids who have a shared passion for this musical genre. It’s for those who maybe know of a few artists but still want to take in and enjoy the lifestyle.
What can visitors expect at Black Deer?
It’s an all-encompassing experience of rich cultures that adapt to modern customs. From the increased interest in the BBQ scene using authentic smokehouse practices, to the rise in the custom motorcycle culture, artisan skills to craft produce; the story of Americana cannot be told without referencing these counter cultures along the way. Complimenting them with music that has deep-rooted traditions and links and highlighting the best of what we believe people want to see from home turf to international territories is where Black Deer is positioned.
What else would you like people to know about the first edition of Black Deer Festival?
It is a festival with a heart. We really care about our customer experience, and want to build a community that will come back time and time again, and bring along all members of their family, whatever the age. If you scratch the surface of Black Deer you will find many more stories that will be told. This genre is all about story telling. Once you enter our world you will be truly welcomed. We may not get everything right in year one, but with the amazing team we have, we will do our absolute best to try.