Not being a Jazz musician, or for that fact an enthusiast, going to a big festival for jazz was daunting.
Arriving at Cheltenham Spa station, finally, I was disappointed not see any signs pointing the direction I was to go. So I guessed and I followed the road for about 20 minutes, still unsure as to whether I was going the right way or whether I would have to turn around. Just as I was starting to doubt my sense of direction, I noticed the infamous “Big Top”. WOW! This was striking, and frankly did a brilliant job.
The park was full of food, craft, art stalls. Pup up stages were everywhere all encircling the Big Top. Bars appeared at night with lights over head like the good 'ol Morecambe illuminations. And the smell of food and sugar was thick in the air. I loved it!
I spent the first few hours there finding as many of the venues around Cheltenham as I could. This is where some serious banners came into play. As far as I could work out they were colour coordinated with the venue. Whether that be The Town Hall or Everyman Theatre. Throughout the town centre, huge banners litters the road sides. This meant that I knew when a venue was coming and all I really had to do is make in the general direction of the banners. This was completely different from the lack of signs upon my arrival.
People who where attending the festival didn't seem to be there solely for the music. There was this MASSIVE festival vibe and it ran through the day and half I was there. The look, feel, sense of the whole thing worked. They had a clear look and that showed.
How do they manage this on such a large scale? How many hours are put in? How many staff and volunteers? All questions that continuously ran through my head. Is this what Cheltenham was always envisaged as, or did it develop from many a trial and error?
What did I take from Cheltenham? That I want to create a festival, not just a jazz festival but one that invites people in, where they can spend the day. That and a Big Top!
- Jen Benson, festival manager