Sandra Bhatia

Sandra Bhatia is the Managing Director of the music festival OneFest with her two business partners Stephen Budd (SBM – MAMA Group) and Graham MacVoy (GMC Events). M caught up with Sandra to find out how a festival is put together.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 20 Mar 2012
  • min read
Sandra Bhatia is the Managing Director of OneFest, one of the first outdoor music festivals of the year, with her two business partners Stephen Budd (SBM – MAMA Group) and Graham MacVoy (GMC Events).

OneFest grew out of the huge success of last year's Honeyfest, an event which came from the Barge Inn Community Project and featured in the BBC television series Village SOS.

Sandra was drafted in to breathe life into the Barge Inn’s project using her PR, marketing and promotional skills in addition to her enviable music industry contacts drawn from previous positions including Head of Daytime at In The City Music Conference in Manchester.

M caught up with Sandra to find out how a festival is put together.

What is involved in putting on OneFest?
Our festival didn’t develop in the traditional way as it sprang from a TV show which had the National Lottery as a resource and the leverage of the BBC, so our kick-off event was different in that respect but the general mechanics of it was the same as all the other festivals – the local PR, the production, we have a battle of the bands to engage local people. OneFest has a deliberately very strong regional identity which came about from the Lottery involvement and the way we wanted the festival to go. Its ethos is around the local community – local produce, food and talent. We’ve been labeled a super-fete, which we’ve always kept in mind when constructing the event.

Was it difficult to obtain a space to put the festival on?
Honeyfest was on the pub’s land. The pub was the vehicle for the project so we already had the space we just needed to get permission from the freeholder. But for OneFest 2012, we had to recce all over the county and try to find the most appropriate space that would sit in with the identity and personality of the festival.

For the first event we had big problems with local residents who didn’t want it, they thought a Glastonbury-type event was going to turn up to a quiet village. A festival had never been held there before and there were plenty of objections. We had to go to a hearing to win the license and it all went to the wire as people are generally apprehensive about these types of events coming into their area and you are ‘guilty until proven innocent’.

However, after Honeyfest had taken place, the locals actually complained when we wanted to move it!

The new piece of land we’re using is very English. It’s beautiful and the perfect backdrop to this kind of folk festival. It is difficult to find the right land as you need the space and the access. The land needs to be level, you might need a certain amount of coverage – there are so many factors and a lot of thought goes into it.

What are the challenges to defining the festival boundaries?
The first event, as a comparison, we didn’t have a lot of capacity which left us with a 400-deep waiting list, so security had to be good. With this site we have a different problem as the land is so vast that we need to falsely create the intimacy by being creative with the boundaries and fencing and how the traders and stages are set.

How do you go about making tickets available?

We have ticket sellers, we use Ticketweb, Ticketmaster and Seetickets but we’re also very locally-minded and discounted tickets are being sold from the original venue, The Barge Inn, who we still maintain a relationship with. Tickets are also available from the music shop in Malborough, the nearest town to the event.

How did the line-up for OneFest come about?

It shows how this industry works. Honeyfest was this little event on a campsite but we had Laura Marling who had just won a BRIT award, Damien Rice who happened to be in the country and fancied coming along and the Magic Numbers who did it for expenses which was incredible.

Having someone like Damon Alban performing, he’s like a Rubik’s Cube isn’t he? He has so many fan bases through Gorrilaz, Blur, opera fans for Dr Dee, there are all those different market segments there.

Our connection with Damon came through his work with OneFest partner Stephen Budd. Obviously Stephen was involved with MAMA and runs his own company SBM, manages Magic Numbers along with working on Africa Express with Damon. Stephen also manages another acts we are excited to have perform, Dry The River who are making a big splash right now. Stephen heads up the music programming but it’s a joint effort on how we build the brand musically. I think I suggested Damon to Steve as I knew he had the relationship. So again there’s not a monetary value, it has to be something Damon wants to do, that works for him and we have to make the most of that moment.

Because of the ethos and area the line-up is quite folky and English and what we are trying to do is to educate people about new music. There is some incredible talent in the area. I’ve been blown away by the level of artists that has come through the battle of the bands.

We also have Nick Harper who is the son of Roy Harper. Nick is very big in the local area. Jodie Marie who is getting a lot of attention, Raghu Dixit is playing as well as Michele Stodart from The Magic Numbers. We also have the  BBC Introducing Stage with acts from the surrounding counties, so the acts all complement each other.

One of the biggest compliments we had from last year was that it was an intimate event, you could see the acts close up and then they would be having a beer or having something to eat amongst the festival goers, it was a nice experience.

Is being one of the first festivals of the year a challenge?
We find it an absolute advantage! The weather for the past few years in April has been incredible whereas the summers haven’t been so good. Also it goes a bit quiet after Christmas and you’re building up for the summer, it’s good timing, it’s Spring, there’s renewal and it feels a bit magical in that rural area all thrown in. It’s a nice gateway into the festival season.

Why do think we have seen an explosion in the popularity of festivals over the last decade?

The popularity is down to something really basic and human about people wanting to be together and listening to music. I experienced it quite intensely at our festival last year, the music was like the gel for the moment of people being together and enjoying themselves. People want a break from their normal life and they want to enjoy a bit of escapism together in the great outdoors.

Yes, you’ve got the added bonus of watching your favourite acts but it’s the excuse of being there amongst something and like-minded people.

Last year it was more of a promotional tool to showcase what you could do with an event, this time around it’s more of a commercial venture and we didn’t have to convince people.

Why did you decide to put on another festival this year?
Last year I said on camera that it would never happen again but I never had feedback from anything I’d ever worked on that was as great as this, so I thought maybe we should. I went back to Stephen Budd and Graham and we said ‘why don’t we take it on, give it a shot’. It is a very saturated market but on the other hand we did get a head-start with the TV exposure, so it was a case of grabbing the opportunity with both hands. Being a promoter is like being a gambler, you have to give it your all and even if you have, you still don’t know how it will turn out.

OneFest takes place at Rockley Manor, Marlborough on Saturday 14 April. Gates open at midday.