Middle class people love festivals. For a few days, they can pretend they are creative and a little bit rebellious with the help of glitter and a yurt. Then they go back to their professional jobs and reading the Daily Mail or Daily Telegraph.
It is big business. Now that nobody buys music, festivals are increasingly the main commercial gig for music acts and the music business. That is why Live Nation is busy buying up festivals like Wilderness and turning them into ‘shopping malls in a field’.
So, the last thing Peter Jukes and I wanted to do was to create another festival. As an ex punk and playwright, we were happy running Byline.com, the world’s largest crowd-funded site for independent journalism and Byline Investigates, that fights for truth and justice much to the trepidation of the Daily Mail and Murdoch Press.
Then Trump, Fake News, Brexit, Universal Credit came along in 2016 and the world seemed much darker, so we thought we needed to do something bigger and reach more people so we decided to create Byline Festival. It was important to us to bring people together and show that not everyone wanted to be a billionaire or to lie and cheat.
We wanted to combine talks and workshops about serious issues with comedy, music, spoken word and theatre, but all with a bit of attitude. We had no idea if it would work but we tried it out in our first festival in 1000 acres of ancient forest at Pippingford Park in East Sussex last June. We were relieved when 3000 people turned up and had a great time.
One of the highlights of last year’s festival was the Bad Press Awards, presented by John Cleese along with Joanna Scalan, Andy Hamilton and Hardeep Singh Kohli. In our workshops, people could write a protest song with a well-known punk band, find out how to make podcasts, investigate corruption, learn stand up comedy and how to riot. We all danced to the London Ska Festival and over 70 music acts headlined by The Blow Monkeys. Also, importantly, our foundation funded young people from under-represented and misrepresented communities to come to the festival.
This year we are far more ambitious. We are expecting 5000 people and have extended the festival to four days as we have so much more to cover and also added three more venues. We have partnered up with the Frontline Club, who are the world’s most famous journalist organisation.
We are determined that the festival will be even more fun, but importantly, more thought-provoking and inspire people to be more activist. So, as well as a spectacular circus from New Orleans, more bands, art wars, rap battles; we are running ‘The Assembly’ every day to develop a ‘Bill of Wrongs’. We will present this at the Opening of Parliament. The Assembly will be facilitated by Birgitta Jonsdottir, who led an initiative to crowd-source a constitution for Iceland and Jamie Kelsey-Fry from Occupy.
Also, the Cambridge Analyitica whistleblowers Chris Wylie and Shahmir Sannie, will be speaking along with Lauri Love who successfully fought his extradition to America.
As well as politicians like Damian Collins, Sir Vince Cable, Baroness Warsi, Rushanara Ali and Tom Watson, we have many panels with people who have real experience of homelessness, mental health, poverty, asylum seeking.
This year we have some new areas in the festival including: Trumpton’s Village Fete that will offer a post Brexit vision of England with Morris Dancing and a Sexy Vegetable competition. Also, theOther Bit at Byline Festival will be created and run by an enthusiastic Millennial group of Byline supporters.
Our speakers and performers this year include: Bonnie Greer, Hugh Grant, June Sarpong, Gary Lineker, Kate Mosse, A.L. Kennedy, Martin Bell, Alexei Sayle, Jonnie Bayfield, The Vapors, The Priscillas, Rhoda Darkar and Caroline Cadwalldr.
Our mission for the festival is to ‘Dance, Discuss, Laugh and Change The World’. As long as we can do this well, we think there is room for just one more festival.
Byline Festival, 24-27 August, Pippingford Park, Nutley, East Sussex, TN22EHW
Tickets and information at www.bylinefestival.com