A few week ago, word came out about plans for a new festival, The Stone Deaf Festival, to be held in August next year. Apart from the fact that it’s to take place in the Midlands, at Newark Showground, one the most interesting features of the festival is that it’s planned to be modelled along the lines of the old Monsters of Rock festival at Donnington, a one-day, single-stage event, with what was described as ‘an old-school vibe’. With the first bands in the line-up (The Graham Bonnet Band, Massive wagons and Chrome Molly) just announced, The Midlands Rocks’ Paul Quinton contacted Jason Everit, from the Stonedeaf’s Press and PR team, to find out how the festival came about, and what it takes to organise something like this, effectively from scratch.
To begin at the beginning, how did the concept of the Stone Deaf Festival come about?
A member of the Monsters of Rock and Download Veterans FB group called Steve Hughes put a shout out to ask if any of us would be interested in helping him create a new Festival. Once he had a group of us (13) who were really keen to help, with particular skill sets, we set about a name for the Festival and the concept was born.
What sort of scale were you thinking of at the start, in terms of stature of band and audience size?
Academy size for a headliner initially and build up to maybe the classic arena filler. The bigger the band the bigger the fee, but the bigger the pull, so it’s a calculated thinking process. Being the first year the budget is lower than we would hope to have for year 2,3,4 & 5 down the line. Yes, we are thinking long term and the venue is already secured for the next four years.
The name, ‘Stone Deaf Festival’. Obviously there’s a Motorhead connection, but firstly, we live in a very PC world, have there been any raised eyebrows over this? I’m sure you realise some people might take this the wrong way? There’s also the Stone Free festival in London, the two names aren’t that dissimilar.
A poll was created to establish the name of this festival. All those on the Vets site came up with ideas and a poll was taken of the best and most fitting festival name. The majority vote was Stonedeaf Festival and that’s how we were born and subsequently created the Stonedeaf Facebook page to engage with the public as the selling point from us as a group of aging Rock and Metal fans was to have a festival for the fans by the fans. People mentioned the Motorhead connection but there has been no negative feedback whatsoever in that regard.
On the subject of bands, there was a conversation on your Facebook page about the balance between old and new bands. Obviously the ‘name’ bands sell tickets, but many people feel that, while the ‘classic’ bands are still much loved, the scene will always need new blood to keep it fresh and moving forward. How did you feel about this issue when you started putting the bill together?
During the early stages of the vision for Stonedeaf it was made quite clear by our group that we wanted an old style vibe to the festival (a trip back to the MOR days) but understood that there are some great new bands out there that the Rock and Metal community are connecting with and are the future of such festivals as ours. We knew that a recognised headliner (household name) would sell out the festival immediately, but the financial side had to be in order. We have some irons in the fire for the headliner and special guest but these are details that can’t be confirmed until later this year/early next year.
Having already secured the first three bands however, and a real blast back to the MOR era, we hope that this alone will keep the public’s appetite whet for the announcements later this year and sell tickets to assist in the funding of the festival. So far with the three bands we have secured, Graham Bonnet, Massive Waggons and Chrome Molly, plus the winner of the Battle of the Bands, to which we already have 15 entrants, the thought is we have started a good line up and anticipate a new and 2 older school above to the headliner. All will be revealed in time.
A quote from our booking star, Chris Sumby ‘From being asked to book the bands I wanted as much a nod to the young and hungry as to the old and experienced. The young blood is the future and need to be put on bigger stages to cut their teeth.’
As a group we were all ambitious and hopeful and all the pipe dreams were firmly put in Chris Sumby’s hands. He has the connections and he was given this onerous task of booking the bands. He narrowed down to a realistic mix of big older bands and new enthusiastic bands. We still have bands on the list who if we could book we’ll be high fiving ourselves but as you know if you don’t ask you don’t get!!
Naming no names, how hard did some of you fight for and against going after particular artists?
No names needed to be honest, we all knew the kind of bands we wanted, all that were within reach of our ambitions and budget. We went through the list with the team and agreed on quite a few bands. Some would be in the same place on the bill, so that was then put to the vote. Overall we’ve agreed on most things. Nobody has tried to push any particular band, although we can categorically confirm we will never have the Prodigy. The only time there are discussions was when Chris briefs the team and tells us there is little coming back from a particular booking agent, so we air our views and the majority rules. It is working really well and the team, who have already met for a site visit, instantly hit it off, which is very positive.
Now you’ve announced the first bands to be playing, talk us through why you invited them? How has the reaction been?
1st was the Graham Bonnet Band – we all discussed how good it would be to have the front man from Rainbow when they headlined the first MOR in 1980. This seemed a great angle to show the vision of a return to the format of MOR and the one-day, one stage festival.
2nd were Massive Waggons – we all agreed that we liked them and they have blown away audiences with their Saxon/Thunder like wall of noise so fit what we saw as the MOR era for the type of sound to portray.
And 3rd, Chrome Molly – they have had a good revival and were about in the era of MOR, they have returned with a great hard rock sound and to add, they came to us and offered to play for free for exposure on the big stage. You can’t kick a gift horse in the mouth when they offer this.
Add the Battle Of The Bands winner – we saw this as a great way to assist in launching a bands career, and you never know they may be massive themselves one day and come back with a big following further up the bill.
The reactions so far have been very positive, tickets are already being sold and we can’t wait to welcome our Stonedeaf family next year. We have over 3000 members on our FB group and that’s a great start to our future as a festival and great support. There have been very limited negatives comments coming to us (mainly around the policy we have all agreed upon when it comes to bringing children to the festival). We acknowledge that we can’t please everyone with our vision to keep this festival on track and within a realistic budget.
On a more serious note, being a new festival, and something of an unknown quantity, how hard was it to convince people that you were a serious proposition, not just booking agents and managers, but the venue, the licensing people, equipment and staging companies, anyone who’s ever put a show on knows how long the list is. Can I ask how much experience there is on your team?
On the point of how serious have all agencies taken us, and I include the people who will be buying the tickets, the team have done a great job in selling the idea in their areas of responsibility. Our band-booking representative has plenty of experience in this area and has communicated very well to secure as above the first three bands.
The venue have been fantastic with our vision and plans, so much so that when we conducted the site visit prior to the launch of the festival and the band announcements, they were very helpful and very encouraging in what we are doing. They were giving great options and advice to meet our needs too, which includes licensing and council integration. The venue has a lot of onsite facilities and bar the expected event insurances etc, they cover many of the requirements we needed.
We have liaised with all companies you would associate with at a Rock and Metal festival and we are all systems go. No one has said “you must be joking”; they are all on side and looking forward to working with us to make this a great success. I think most people are impressed that we are just ordinary fans who are trying to follow through on a great vision.
We have team members who have experience in dealing with bands and their booking, we have a legal member who understands and writes contracts, understands the Ltd company side of the house and copyrighting the name of the company and the festival etc, we have a financial advisor who knows all the pitfalls on that side of the house, we have a social media guru, experts in the hospitality business, experienced fund raisers and PR/marketing personnel, a security guru, a stage organiser and tech specialist, we have an expert in Health and Safety, in honesty we have a real eclectic mix of experience and skills to provide and outstanding festival.
Financially – we have a crowd funder raising funds, we have created and sold merchandise for the event, we have already sold tickets to raise funds, we are securing corporate sponsorship and we have events planned around the Rock and Metal community during the later part of the year to raise funds.
Moving on to some of the other practicalities, you’ve decided on Newark Showground as a venue, how did you come to that decision?
We wanted something; firstly that was big enough, but secondly in a place accessible for all that makes the entire festival what it is. We have team members who live close to the venue, knew it well and suggested it. When it was decided we would go for Newark Showgrounds, booking the venue was straightforward and post the site visit, it revealed itself to be exactly what we wanted. It has a great area for the arena; it has a great area for camping and parking. It has facilities that provide everything you need so everyone, including the bands and security, can enjoy their Stonedeaf experience. The site also has the capacity for us to expand should numbers grow in the future which means we would not have to change location.
One thing that struck me about Newark was that you already have Download at Donington, in early June, the Rock and Blues Festival near Buxton in July, and of course Bloodstock, near Burton on Trent, in early August, none of which are a million miles away from Newark. How much did that influence your choice of date?
A date in August was very important to us as we tried to revive the MOR experience, a festival that was always in August and always allowed the headline act to play in darkness from the start of their set. Choosing the Bank Holiday weekend will also afford those attending a recovery period after they leave. We understood the locations of all the other festivals and with the Midlands being, in our opinion, the heartland of Rock and Metal, it was a no brainer to hold it in such a place as Newark, plus it’s not that far from the original home of MOR at Castle Donington. There was, however, no purposeful intention to have it so close to the other festivals, the main reasons were that it was close to Donington Park and accessible.
If you add in Rambling Man and Steelhouse, not to mention the several holiday camp based festivals, like Planet Rockstock and the various Hard Rock Hell events, how big a risk do you think there is of the field becoming too crowded? Assuming that none of us have unlimited funds, what do you hope will be your USP to persuade people who have to make a choice?
We don’t believe that by offering another festival we will be swamping the market, but what we do offer is the simplicity of a one-day festival at an affordable price to all. We have looked at the current offerings and believe that our festival created by the fans for the fans will stand us in great stead. We are looking at the USP as being affordable to all, great one-day line up and a great end of season festival. We believe that our biggest selling point is that our festival is aimed at the slightly “older” generation who wish to re-live the good old days of Monsters of Rock and we have always agreed that, no matter how much interest we may get in the future, our format will always be one day, one stage. We are not really trying to compete with other festivals as such but hope that our style of festival will appeal to those who maybe can’t afford the larger, longer festivals and maybe also cannot afford to take too much time off work.
On the subject of Download, I saw that Download supremo Andy Copping was following you on Facebook, too. Has he been in touch in any way?
We think it is great that the likes of Mr Copping are following what we are doing. As yet there has been no approach from him. There are others that the team are aware of who are involved with the established festivals etc that are watching what we are doing, but we are not aiming to take their model and crowd away nor are we in anyway intimidated by them watching us. We won’t be stopping what he can book, we aren’t try to snare an Iron Maiden, a Metallica or the likes of Guns ‘n’ Roses, we aren’t established for that yet, but we will make little ripples to excite the Rock and Metal community.
Moving forward, then, with the first bands announced, what’s the timetable? When can you announce the full bill, and when and where can people buy tickets?
With respect to timelines, Chris is working on further band announcements and will tell all when he has further direction from the irons in the fire he has.
Early bird tickets are already on sale, limited amount available. When they are gone then the next wave of tickets will become available. They are all available on our website at www.stonedeaffestival.co.uk
On a more personal note, how daunting do you find it getting involved in a project like this, starting pretty much from scratch? Do you ever stop and think ‘what are we doing, what have we started?!’
To be honest, we have not been daunted by the prospect of this festival. Personally my wife (legal and PR/Marketing) and I love the challenge. It’s never going to be easy but after 28 years in legal for Helen and 27 years in the military for me, we have a resilience money can’t buy. The rest of the team are also an unbelievable mix of talented individuals who have the same vision and goal to succeed.
The only time any of us stop is to ask what we need to do next to progress the festival forward. We all think we have started something great and the excitement coupled with ambition is amazing. The positive feedback from the people on our Facebook group has been incredibly uplifting and motivates us all to keep it up and make it a reality.
Finally, looking even further into the future, what sort of goals have the team set yourselves? At the end of it all, can you see yourself thinking ‘That was brilliant, let’s do it again next year!’?
We are already looking long term, we all want this to succeed, we all want something for the fans, we all know this will be brilliant and we all can’t wait to do it all over again in 2019 and onwards.