Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival 2010
Ethos of Highland festival ensures audience loyalty
This article is from 2010.
The Tartan Heart Festival is a special festival. From humble beginnings in 2004, Belladrum, as it’s more commonly known (after the estate it is held on), has grown and grown. Word got out and word spread fast; so much so that 2010 was its second sell out year in a row.
Those who have been can easily tell you why: Belladrum is a festival like no other. It’s not all about the music (although the music is great), Belladrum is an experience for all ages. From debates, comedians and workshops to acts wandering around the grounds such as the wonderful Ego Massage crew and the delight Guarana Street Drummers from Aberdeen - Belladrum always has a surprise up its sleeve. The biggest of this year's being an unannounced K T Tunstall joining the line-up alongside acts such as Feeder, Amy MacDonald, The Wailers and Candi Staton. Whatever your musical taste, Belladrum will accommodate you.
But Bella’s true draw has to be the atmosphere. Fancy dress is actively encouraged, with this year's theme being particularly apt for the event - Wonderland. And while there were your typical Mad Hatters, White Rabbits and Alices; there were also Pink Policemen and a particularly naughty group of Dennis the Menaces and Minnie the Minxes gleefully running around with water pistols in hand (and no, before you ask, this group was not made up of children) What sets Belladrum apart from other festival is the feeling that anything is possible. Every year it's as though you’ve stumbled down the rabbit hole into a secret world of wonderment. One could liken the experience to having a particularly amazing, and also endless, bag of pick ‘n’ mix (Rest in Peace Woolworths.)
I experienced a typical Belladrum moment on the final night, long after the fireworks had banged their last crackle. Tucked away in the Venus Flytrap Palais tent, two wee girls, dressed as fruit, performed a kareoke version of Katy Perry’s ‘Hot n Cold’ - backed by a ukelele band. Yes, it looked as bonkers as that sounds, but there is no denying that it was brilliant. The girls had the time of their life up on the stage and everyone loved them for it.
For organiser Joe Gibbs, a family-friendly festival atmosphere that fosters this kind of thing is exactly what he strives for. ‘I was talking to one festival-goer last year who said he had taken his children to every Bella; that year his eldest son, who had turned 18, helped the family set up their tents in the family camping area. Having done that, he waved them farewell and set off to join his friends in the general camping area on the other side of the hill - it was a rather touching vignette of a rite of passage.’
Gibbs, the catalyst behind Belladrum’s success, is a man who must rank as one of the most socially-aware in Scotland, and it comes as no surprise that the festival was borne out of his vision.
Inspired by a visit to Glastonbury in 1979, Joe wanted to capture the spirit of the 60s and bring a new experience to the Highlands, an experience very much centred around families and the wider community. Through this approach, Belladrum has grown organically over the years, reliant heavily on word of mouth and audience loyalty.
‘There is huge value in having such a deeply-rooted, loyal audience, as they develop a feeling of ownership of the event,' he explains. 'Bella is very much the product of the community from which it springs - the wider Highlands. I feel that small independent festivals such as this, based in rural locations, are very much the 21st Century’s way of communities coming together - an evolution of the county shows, fairs and ceilidhs that began the process.’
The audiences loyalty that is rewarded by the organisers' constantly striving, in a difficult economic environment, to keep the cost of tickets down and maintain accessibility. Joe is also a realist however, and understands that costs may rise in line with ever increasing pressures on the industry. However, he won’t let this alienate the Belladrum faithful.
‘Our core audience comes from an area the size of Belgium, with a population of 250,000 people. Many have to travel a long way to the event; many live in fragile rural communities where sources of income are scarce. If we were to raise ticket prices too much we would start to price out the local community and that would tilt the audience profile to a more affluent, less generic one; we would also be in danger of losing those who have supported us through the difficult early years.’
Thanks in no small part to Joe’s vision, it’s easy to see why the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival is such a wonderful event. Because whilst it may be set amongst stunning scenery and may have one of the finest main stages in the festival world; the thing that makes Bella is the people. After all, they are the heart of the Highlands.
Belladrum returns next year on the 5th and 6th of August - tickets are already on sale