With festivals across the UK now back in full force, the opportunity to work behind the scenes has captured the attention of many within our community. For MA Innovation in Sound student Adam Berwick, he got much more than he bargained for.
"I've always had an interest in running nights and event organisation - I've run a few myself, actually. Handling the licensing, liaising with the council, sorting out the artists and venues; I love that stuff. So the opportunity to work at a prestigious festival that's run by some amazing people was a no-brainer."
I join Adam remotely almost two weeks after his eventful time at We Out Here festival, "my voice still isn't back to normal. I basically came home with laryngitis from shouting for a week!"
No stranger to festival work, Adam applied through a management support trainee scheme, which previously saw him working at Sunfall Festival, amongst other smaller events. When he landed a place at this year's We Out Here festival, he had no idea what was in store.
"I arrived on site in the early hours of Tuesday morning and then started my first shift at 9am, where I was told I'd be the technical manager's assistant, which basically had me handling production and also running across the site making sure each stage was fully stocked with all the necessary gear and things were ticking over smoothly.
"That evening, I overheard on the tech radio that the manager for Big Top had dropped out due to COVID-related illness, which put the whole production team into a chaotic meltdown. Not long after, the Main Stage manager also dropped out because of COVID, too.
"I heard this call come over the radio and straightaway I thought 'I can do that - I'll do it. Why not?' The senior staff kind of looked at me and asked if I'd ever done any stage management before, and I had but only for DJs and live electronic artists; never for live bands before, so that was a pretty big learning curve."
Less than 24 hours since arriving onsite, Adam was now managing the Big Top stage and working alongside his team to desperately get everything ready for the start of the festival. With so many things to contend with, it would be the prolonged absence of live music that proved to be one of his biggest challenges.
"We Out Here was one of the first festivals back, so everyone was kind of juiced and pretty high-flying to be onstage again and it was just so hard. That was the hardest bit; just getting people off the stage, getting new artists on and trying to keep the programme running to schedule."
Adam and his team were working flat out. With the stage running from 11am - 3:30/4am the following morning, there was little respite in between. With 30 artists a day to get through, time was of the essence.
"There was only 20 minutes turnaround between artists, and we were bouncing between DJs, then 10-piece jazz bands using three bassoons, tubas, and even some instruments I'd never even encountered before and had no idea how to mic up properly.
"One day we lost power to Big Top, which wiped all the presets from the mixing desk. On another day one of the Technics 1210s just decided to jump from 33 ⅓ to 45 RPM mid-way through someone's set and we had to get a new turntable; it was tough."
[Photo credit: We Out Here]
A positive mentality
If by this point you're feeling a little anxious hearing Adam's experience then join the club! Festivals are made up of so many moving parts, most of which are entirely out of your control. As the stage manager, Adam was often the one people looked at when things went wrong, but somehow he managed to keep his head above the water.
"I think having the mentality of, 'It's okay. We're alright. Everything's going to be fine. It's just this little thing at the moment,' was really invaluable to managing my own and the wider team's stress levels. It's really easy to get overwhelmed when so many people are looking to you for answers, but this experience taught me that having the right attitude when speaking with the rest of the team can turn a super stressful issue into something easily fixed. You definitely develop an appreciation for how things can just disappear, but you've just got to roll with the punches.
"I was really lucky to have a really nice sound system and amazing sound engineers; they made that tent sound incredible all weekend. I'm really thankful for all the hard work they put in to get us past those challenges."
Against all odds, Adam and his team were able to surmount every challenge thrown at them - and we've only covered a handful of them. Adam's experience may sound like business as usual for seasoned festival workers, but for everyone else you'd be forgiven for assuming the Adam was put off future festivals - but it's quite the opposite.
"As an experience, it was pretty unbelievable. I was really thrown in the deep end, but it really inspired me to do more stuff like this on my own terms. Something like curating a stage or trying to take a stage of my own creation to a small festival."
Igniting a fire
It's clear that Adam lives for this kind of thing, despite the gruelling work a festival brings, "No day will ever feel as long as one of those at the festival". What's more, his time at We Out Here not only reinforced his passion to continue growing his own events, but it's also had an impact on his other creative endeavours too.
"It's really inspired me to jump back on projects that I'd left behind while I was focussing on my masters and releasing new tunes. There's a plan to start a label with some friends and start a sound system as well. It's ignited a fire again and reaffirmed that this is what I want do.
"I want to take this collective; the sound, stage, artists, merch and just give it to an audience to enjoy and to be the one running it. I ran a stage for four days at We Out Here and I'm certain I can take what I learned there and create something of my own to be really proud of."
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