INTERVIEW WITH DAVE RITCHIE, FOUNDER OF LES-FEST - PART TWO
In the second part of our exclusive interview with Dave Ritchie, founder of the award winning Les-Fest (Scotland's only Rock and Metal festival), we discuss booking the headliners, what the future holds for the festival and if he has any other events planned under the Les-Fest banner.
When it comes to those headlining bands, these are obviously important choices in order to attract first time attendees, so how do they decide on each headliner? "Well we all know who we would like, but we are currently limited stage size, budget and venue capacity, so we need to be realistic about who we chose", he explains. "We've had some bands on our radar this year and we've been lucky enough to secure some of them, but other times it has been about discussing artists with agents and seeing who might be available around festival time."
"We are offered lots of good sized acts but sometimes we just can't meet their aspirations and the frustration for us is that some of the bands we want are with agencies that currently don't really recognise what we (at Les-Fest) do every year, but that will change through time - we may surprise a few people later this year!"
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Looking at the past two years, I ask Dave for some of his favourite acts who have appeared at the festival: "Difficult and possibly unfair in terms of just being good people, professional and friendly and easy to get along then there are many. The vast majority have been great people - we have had a few egos flying around, but usually from really new young bands.
"For me personally though I have loved Furyon, Monument, Jettblack, Attica Rage, Praying Mantis, Estrella, Massive Wagons, Inferno and Evile but the list really could go on and on. There is of course a reason for this, which is that they have probably been the only bands I have actually managed to see because during the festival, I'm so busy working that I often don't get much chance to see the bands and soak up the atmosphere! Generally, though, I'm happy to say that almost every band we have had on has been great!"
There is a second stage at the festival now which is utilised for stripped down/acoustic performances – how did this evolve? "The venue for stage two was just very conducive to being a chill out area. It's covered over, but still kind of outside, plus it has its own bar with a couple of food outlets so I thought 'why not put a few artists with acoustics out there and let people have a timeout from the Metal madness at the main stage?' and it works really well. One year on, and we have many bands who are playing the main stage also want to play the second stage on their "off day", and I guess it shows a different dynamic of the band to the fans - it is really popular so that will continue onto 2014 and beyond."
Lots of the bigger festivals have signing tents giving the fans a chance to get up close and personal with the bands but Les-Fest doesn't have anything like that yet – is this something the Les-Fest team are considering in the future? "Yeah", confirms Dave, "it's something we're looking into for next year, along with an improved merchandising marquee with stalls and other products as well as a larger outdoor bar area with a wider choice of refreshments and a possibly even a DJ."
"The biggest issue I have with all the things I would like to do, is staffing the event. We have a few really good and supportive group of volunteers and of course my friends and family work tirelessly too, but we are not in a position to pay much, if anything to staff. Other than to give them access to the event and a place to sleep, the only money that comes in is through ticket sales and I am trying to keep them priced as low as possible, but if people want to help out at Les-Fest 2014, keep an eye on the official Facebook page and we'll let you know how to apply."
The festival is growing in size every year, so how does Dave see the future: "I know it started very small, but from 2012 to 2013, camping ticket sales alone rose by over 200%, while full weekend ticket sales rose about 100% and day tickets were a similar figure, so we are building a fan base", he tells me excitedly.
"We actively encourage people to come along for the entire weekend and experience everything the festival has to offer – right down to the Rock N' Roll train!. To be honest, if we can sell another couple of hundred tickets for next year then the event will be a sell out. Having said that, tickets have been flying already, and, as I handle all the sales personally, the pleasing thing is that we already have a loyal following – those people that came in year one, bought again quickly for year two and then obviously brought some friends with them, well, those same people and their friends are now buying for year three!"
One of the selling points of Les-Fest is that the main arena is indoors – are there any plans to bring the festival Main Stage outdoors in the future? "Yes," replies Dave with a definite answer.
"The plan for Les-Fest 2015 is to upscale the event and move the main stage outdoors. L.O.A. (Les-Fest Open Air) anyone?" he adds with a smile. "If the main stage is outdoors, that would allow us to have three stages, which in turn would enable us to increase the ticket allocation, which will extend our budget and then logically, that would enable us to book the bands that can fill a larger arena – it's a good way to move forward."
I ask Dave why he thinks Les-Fest has been so successful to which he ponders before answering: "A lot of people I meet say that I keep playing down our success and we should all be shouting from the rooftops, so success is not a word I would yet associate with Les-Fest.
"I won't be content until we at least sell one out - once we achieve that then it is a success. What we do have, though, is a very friendly inclusive event that the fans enjoy, we are praised by the site owners too, we have the facilities, the excellent security staff, a great sound system and, of course, the bands who enjoy the experience too. I suppose from the outside looking in it is a great weekend, but I am never complacent, so I guess the day I believe we are successful is the day I need to be wary of. You should never be absolutely satisfied - you should always strive to improve and excel. Feedback is always welcome - good or bad!"
Dave Ritchie, Johnny Main, Fede Valls
With Christmas approaching fast, the inaugural Les-Festive is scheduled for the first weekend in December at Ivory Blacks in Glasgow, so does Dave see this as another annual event?
"I think the regional showcase events will become regular occurrences and I would like to take the whole brand – not my favourite word but it is a "brand" now – to a level where we're putting on regular gigs in the North and doing tours and promotion.
"The Les-Festive event will become an annual showcase and it will also be the stepping stone for a dozen or so bands every year to get to the main Les-Fest event."
He is keen to point out that these Les-Fest spin off events are not "a battle of the bands - if twelve bands play and we like, say, eight of them they will all get a slot. If we only like two bands, so be it. What we are trying to create here, are opportunities for bands to get more exposure and ultimately establishing the Les-Fest – here's that word again – brand."
Winding up our chat, I ask Dave what, realistically, he wants Les-Fest to achieve?: "Originally the festival was that one off – that "I have a dream moment" we spoke about earlier, but now I am genuinely setting out to have what many people have told me it should be – a Scottish Bloodstock style event with three or four stages, the outdoors main stage and a crowd of thousands attending.
"To be clear though, never massive as I think we would lose touch with fans but five thousand sounds like a good number to me".
With that we part ways, but with the prospect of Les-Festive approaching and the headliners for Les-Fest 2014 on the verge of being announced, everyone here at MetalTalk Towers wishes Dave and his team the very best for all their endeavours!
Thanks again to Dave Ritchie for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to me.
You can watch Dave and Fade onstage at Les-Fest 2013 here:
Valley International Park
Official Website: www.les-fest.co.uk/