“I don’t really like interviews by the way”, jokes Kendal Calling’s Head of Operations, Julie Cotton as we catch up on the phone over an afternoon tea, both suffering from hay fever fatigue. “I like being behind the scenes”. It’s an interesting comment for a woman who steers the logistical reins of this sprawling summer festival in England’s Northwest Lake District. “I think there are a lot of women behind music festivals and events that people might not necessarily be aware of”, she continues. “Maybe that’s a female issue; we don’t like to take risks as much”.
Yet start to scratch the surface and you’ll unearth a number of powerful female figures taking risks, many of which are underpinning the UK’s festival scene. Take Glastonbury’s co-organiser, Emily Eavis who only recently spoke out on the need to re-address gender balance at UK festivals and their efforts to create a safe space for its lady goers at the festival’s first ever women-only venue, The Sisterhood. Greenman’s Director, Fiona Stewart has shown strength, resilience and sheer determination within her working life, now running the award winning Welsh festival. Meanwhile, music programming duties for the queen of arts festivals, Latitude sits with Live Events Producer and international new music maven, Natasha Haddad who spoke with TGA only a few years back on the very subject. What is it they say about every great man, eh?
“I can’t speak for everyone but the backbone and the people behind it are predominantly women. Now, more and more, in big roles coming through, it’s going to be time for women”. Beginning her career in Kendal’s Arts Centre, Cotton has over fifteen years experience in the events and festival scene, both in the UK and abroad and has taken in every role from runner to the obligatory merchandise desk. But it was a meeting with Kendal Calling Founder, Andy Smith that would lead Cotton to her true calling; the fields. “I’ve been here since we had to litter pick ourselves”, she tells us fondly. “It was very grassroots at the beginning, to keep the field we had to make sure there weren’t’ any ring pulls, you know! It’s really nice coming together every year with a much wider family”.
For Cotton, this is only growing. Ahead of our call, she’s been on a site visit for a new event in Chester, Blue Dot, which will take place the weekend before Kendal, set within an equally magnificent backdrop of Jodrell Bank Observatory. Kendal Calling meanwhile (actually set much closer to Penrith but without the same ring to it) is nestled within the Lowther Deer Park in Cumbria which Cotton is quick to champion with an unsurprising caveat: “The site is beautiful, but you’re in the Lakes so there’s bound to be a bit of rain. Kendal has found its real home here”. And much like any good host, the festival organisers also go out of there way to try and welcome everyone into its fields: “A few years ago we had a request. There was a kid who had visual impairments so we made sure he could stand with his Dad in the pit. It’s amazing because you’ve created that experience for someone and that’s what it’s all about”.
Indeed, Kendal Calling has gone to great lengths to support the wider community collaborating for the past four years alongside Attitude is Everything, an organisation working to improve deaf and disabled people’s access to live music which has seen access for their customers really expanding. Speaking enthusiastically about the work they are doing to improve access year on year at the festival, Cotton explains: “There are little things we can do; we have a fridge that people can store their medicine in, which you wouldn’t necessarily think of if you didn’t have access needs yourself”. “Different types of people have different access requirements. Some might not like be crowds – which sounds silly talking about a festival – but how (Attitude is Everything) manage that means they don’t have to miss out on something they really enjoy”.
With such passion for the project and the collective spirit that envelops the team up in the hills each summer, it’s unsurprising to hear Cotton reflecting on the natural comedown that hits as they bid farewell to their festival family for another year. “Once you’ve finished it, you do want to get going again. You’ve been working towards something and then all of a sudden it’s finished. The good thing about it is, it is a roller coaster”. But for a role so immersed in logistics like Cotton’s, she’s never really off-duty. “Even if I go to a gig in Manchester, i’m looking round to see how full it is at any time has that support band brought in enough to report back to the bookers. You get ideas from that though. It’s just you don’t look at things the same way”, she laughs.
So with operations in full swing for Kendal Calling at the end of the month, will there even be time for Cotton to kick back and enjoy it whilst she’s there? “We’ve got a Beyonce hip hop special this year. That’s where me and my team have decided we’re going to end up”. As an artist who has previously headlined Glastonbury and continues to dominate the media, it’s not bad Saturday night company, is it? Here come the girls, Kendal.
Kendal Calling takes place from 28-31 July in Lowther Deer Park, Penrith. Join Julie in the Beyonce tent and pick up the last few weekend tickets over at the website.
Follow Cheri live tweeting from the fields @thedivinehammer or via @thegirlsare