I’m sure you’re familiar with the moment. You’re sitting (or standing, depending on the venue). You have a nearly finished pint in your hand and you’re having a really interesting conversation with someone you’ve just met who shares your love of beer. Or maybe it’s a nice person of the appropriate gender, and chemistry is just starting to develop. You’re settling in nicely for the evening.
Then there’s an ear-splitting squeal from the speakers (which look like a scale model of Manhattan) and the band begins to play. For some reason, the band (one you’ve never heard of and will never come across again) thinks that you’re there to listen to them, so they’ve turned their Dixon’s budget amp to maximum.
The result is an instant shock to the system. You glance at your beer, and see that it is bouncing like the cup of water in Jurassic Park as the Tyrannosaur approaches. As conversation is now impossible, you indicate by sign language to your new friend that you’re going to the bar for a top up.
Once at the bar, a member of the bar staff approaches and indicates non-verbally that he’s ready to take your order.
‘Half a Crudgie please’ you scream at him.
He looks puzzled. ‘HALF A CRUDGIE PLEASE!’ That hurt – you think you’ve loosened your tonsils.
‘Pint of what?’ he bellows back.
You indicate with your finger and thumb. ‘HALF – HALF – HALF A CRUDGIE PLEASE!’
‘WHAT DID YOU SAY?’
‘I SAID, WHAT DID YOU SAY?’
Eventually you walk back from the bar with a drink you didn’t ask for. You don’t even know what it is. The band is so loud that you can’t really hear it. It’s just a sharp pain in your ears. Your new friend has gone.
As you can tell, I have a bit of an issue with bands at beer festivals; and I’m not alone. I, and I believe the huge majority of attendees at beer festivals, do not go there to ‘listen to’ (i.e. be deafened by) a band that believes (as they all seem to) that louder is better, loudest is best. Their ears may be useless wreckage, but I have no desire for mine to be.
The problem is that the noise completely inhibits conversation. It is unpleasant, and frequently injurious to the hearing.
I’ve held these opinions for many years, and am very sorry to see that bands are now becoming a fixture at nearly all festivals. The worst festival for this, in my experience, is the Wigan Beer Festival. It is held in a huge gymnasium, three or four badminton courts in area. The acoustics are the worst it is possible to imagine. There is nowhere else for the ‘entertainment’ to go, so they’re in the gym with the rest of us. Maximum volume. The sound bounces mercilessly around the space, making talking quite impossible. It’s a really horrible experience. Wigan CAMRA generously provides what they call a ‘quiet session’ on one afternoon of the festival. Note – one afternoon. If you don’t want your ears to bleed you have to start drinking at lunchtime. I don’t like drinking at lunchtime, I like drinking in the evening.
I wasn’t at the National Winter Ales Festival this year, but my spies there informed me that they had the same problem. The band was in the same room as the bar. Apparently, when the band started, a large proportion of the punters drank up and left, and during the performance, takings at the bar dropped considerably. One of my sources said the noise eventually gave him a headache, and he left the festival an hour and a half before he had planned to. He says he’s not going again.
So what is the point of a live band at a beer festival?
Do they draw in more punters? – most likely no, but the people who are attracted by a live band when they are not attracted by the beer festival itself, are not the sort of custom we’re looking for at a festival. They are the wrong sort of punter.
Do they add value to the festival? – this depends on the band. If they are poor (and let’s face it – the bands that a beer festival can afford are going to be trending that way) then no. If they are good but too loud then no. If they play reasonably well at a reasonable volume, then probably yes.
Are they value for money? No.
Do they provide more takings for the charities supported by the festivals? – no, quite the reverse.
Do they increase takings at the bar? – Demonstrably not. Again, quite the reverse.
The answer is quite straightforward to my way of thinking. If a band has to be hired, the following areas should be addressed:
1. Is there a separate room for the band to perform in?
2. If not, will the band undertake to play their music at a level that will permit non-shouted conversations?
3. Is the band truly worth the price that’s being paid for them?
4. Would the money spent on the band be better going to the charity supported by the festival?
5. Do you really want to depress your beer sales?
6. Do you really want to lose a portion of your attendees early?
7. Do you really want people to stay away for fear of aural assault?
I think the majority of festival attendees would be happy with a little gentle piped background music. Really, nothing else is necessary. Less is more.
Those of us who think this way should be prepared to speak to the organizers of festivals and make these feelings very clearly understood. The simple and plain fact is that overloud bands are ruining our beer festivals. Please stand up and be counted.
Words are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.