Harfest: Lincolnshire’s DIY festival

On Saturday the 7th of September, Lincolnshire’s Sunnyside Farm will host an indie festival with a twist. Harry Violet’s Harfest is a festival funded purely from donations, created to showcase undiscovered talent across a wide range of genres from folk to hardcore punk.

Alex Johnson interviewed the man behind Harfest, Harry Violet, as he prepares for this year’s festival.

Pictured: Harry Violet

Pictured: Harry Violet

The Linc: Why did you start Harfest?

Harry Violet: I basically thought ‘My dad has some fields, all I need to do a gig is to get a generator for power, I should really do it’. I’m constantly trying to prove something to myself and as a result I don’t really sit still. It just started out as a bit of initiative and a bit of guts to just go out and try and make the world a place I want it to be.

TL: You’ve said the inspiration for Harfest was Californian bands driving into the desert for remote gigs, how does this translate into an agricultural county in England?

HV: Haha, so the superficial translation is that instead of heading off big thirsty vehicles with pockets full of American sundries we have a tractor and trailer forming the main stage and source any further items that can found on the farm to make the festival out of. On a slightly more abstract note, I believe the festival shares the same atmosphere. Whilst the fertile Lincolnshire fens are different to a desert, what they do share is the near-absence of other people surrounding you, and an absolute flatness meaning you can see for miles and miles. For me, both of these factors make you feel very free and liberated.

TL: Why have you forgone tickets and decided to be funded by donations?

HV: Basically because I’m not trying to make money out of the event. There are a whole bunch of different motivations for me doing the event, whether that be to satisfy my ego as having ‘done’ something, or to mix with other creative type people and lure them into my farm! But ultimately I just want to make a really cool gig. I’m obsessed with music subcultures and am a compulsive Wikipedia and biography reader on bands, and love the individuality that comes with doing something which is a bit DIY. I think handmade stuff is always much more special.

I used to put on a whole bunch of gigs but Harfest kind of eclipsed them as that one gig a year I could put on that I thought was really cool. The end goal is to make a really special gig and for people to have a really good time. The only reason I have to pester people for donations is because of the costs involved, and I have faith that people believe the event is worth donating a couple of quid. I’ve found that if you’re not chasing people for a ticket in that horrible kind of salesman way, and actually appeal to them on a fundamentally human level of ‘I’ve done this thing that cost X amount, I’m pretty sure you’ll have a really good time if you come, could you please donate a couple of quid to cover the costs because if everyone does then it’s really cheap’ it creates a really harmonious, friendly and thoughtful atmosphere, where no-one is looking to squeeze as much value out of it as they can, but people just want to get along. We live in such a cynical consumer driven world these days that it is so refreshing to deal with people with that kind of fundamental honesty.

Picture: Harfest's Stage

Picture: Harfest’s Stage

TL: How has using Kickstarter changed your approach to Harfest this year?

HV: I already knew that I wanted to promote the festival and make it bigger this year which in itself led me to do a lot more publicity, building a website and so on. I think Kickstarter made me think of the festival and something that transcends the festival just being a day out though. It made me reflect on the more abstract notions of the festival, the community element, the DIY aspect and the kind of positive opportunity it is for people. Of course for some people it might just be getting drunk in a field, and my mother still questions why I go to such an effort ‘just to have a party’ but it always meant more to me than that, and making a Kickstarter and a plea video definitely made me engage more with that other side.

TL: What are people’s initial reactions when they see how different Harfest is to other, more commercial, festivals?

HV: I’m always cynical about what to expect from people, and always start with a kind of basic zero expectation. But a surprising amount of people have really gotten on board with the ethos of Harfest which has manifested itself in different ways. This year, due to better publicising of what we do, we’ve had some helping hands. Ambient Sound came forward and offered us a reduced price on a really nice soundsystem, I’ve had people get in touch who do photography or video who again love the ethos and want to come and make something from the day, but then equally there are people who come year after year, even though they probably don’t have an allegiance to half the bands or people that play, but just love the festival’s atmosphere. I know people who are pretty culturally elitist and probably look down their nose at some of the pop leaning acts that play, but whole heartedly support the festival, and I have people I would never expect supporting the festival and sharing our content online. I think people have different expectations of Harfest from the outset, compared to commercial festivals, which is actually really reassuring, because it would be easy (and fair) for people to walk away from what we do and think it’s not as good as say Leeds festival.

TL: Where do you see Harfest in the future?

HV: It’s still kind of surprised me that we’re already in our fourth year. I love the fact that it is continually growing and building mass but in a very organic, people-centric way. I don’t want to sound like a radical, but I think there are a lot of things in this modern world which are very contrived, and I really like the idea of doing something real which exists on its own terms. I want Harfest to become the best gig it can be. For me this means consistently improving on the strength of the lineup, and bands who really treat their music with passion and getting a really eclectic line-up too. We’ve kind of tweaked everything to be that bit better this year. As far as I can see our limiting factor is just how many people know about the festival. The field we use is huge, so we have a ridiculously high capacity for people – it’s not like an indoor gig where you can only have X amount. The sound is now super professional and loud as we could ever need, and so all we need to do is get more people in the field. I just hope Harfest can keep sustaining itself and if we keep building year on year I think it’ll be great. I don’t really mind what direction it takes as long as we keep moving forward, keep getting people to come out, and keep giving a platform to bands who play real music.

TL: What makes this year’s Harfest unique?

HV: This year is where it has really matured. Everything that previously held it back or was a bit rickety, but could be justified by virtue of it being a DIY festival has been improved. The sound system has gone from a cobbled together vocal 1kw PA to a full 5KW PA with a professional sound engineer, and I can’t get across enough how good the sound will be. A huge amount of bands applied to play this year, rather than just mates and acquaintances messaging me which means we have an increased quality of serious indie musicians and bands playing, but will also be much tighter and regimented in turning bands around so it’ll hit you much harder. We’re getting catering in and doing other little touches like seeing if we can get any cool crafts or arts stalls in. It’s the breakthrough year for Harfest where the game has been upped and the foundations are being built upon. It’s a very exciting time to be a part of it.

Harry Violet’s Harfest is taking place on the 7th of September, just outside of Boston on Sunnyside farm.

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