Since 2021, Reggae Land have supplied bass, rhythm and good vibes to Milton Keynes. Over the past two years, they’ve brought artists like Julian Marley & The Uprising, Aswad, Janet Kay and Channel One Soundsystem to the area, encompassing the many styles of reggae and dub on a large scale.
But things are changing. For this year’s edition, the festival will expand, moving from Campbell Park to the 65,000-capacity National Bowl.
Reggae Land’s expansion means more rhythm, more bass and more good vibes for reggae enthusiasts from Britain and beyond. But what goes into an operation like this? We wanted to find out the challenges and surprises that come from such a move.
So, with that in mind, we caught up with Jorge Meehan, Reggae Land co-founder, to discuss operational challenges, the cost of living crisis and much more. Scroll down to read the interview.
Reggae Land is moving to the National Bowl in Milton Keynes this year. Can you talk us through how the organisation of the festival changes when you expand like this?
“This year’s move to the National Bowl is a tremendously daunting blend of excitement and challenge. The upcoming Reggae Land in 2023 holds the promise of significant divergence from previous years. Nearly every aspect has undergone substantial planning and expansion to varying degrees. Working on an entirely new site has resulted in dramatic changes to all previous planning and processes. In addition to the actual planning and execution of the site, new marketing strategies are being implemented to attract Reggae enthusiasts from both near and far.”
Were there any challenges that arose while executing the idea that you hadn’t faced when organising the event previously? If so, how did you deal with them?
“The transition to the new site presented numerous challenges, with the most demanding one being the safety of customers during their entry and exit from the premises. The site comprises three entrances and is of considerable size, requiring multiple operations to guarantee the utmost safety for our customers. Additionally, traffic management has proven to be a complex undertaking, considering the various routes leading to the site. As a result, meticulous planning has become a crucial process for us this year.”
With expansion comes more attendees, but aside from that, what does the expansion allow you to do that you couldn’t do before?
“The venue provides us with ample space to accommodate activities that were previously beyond our reach at Campbell Park. Recognising the need for an increased variety of food options, we have expanded our selection by hosting over 60 food traders daily, thanks to the additional space. Notably, significant improvements have been made to adapt the production elements to the site we occupy.
A grand total of four stages will feature within the festival grounds; the main stage, a brand new imposing structure boasting dimensions of 36 meters wide with imags and 16 meters high. Our SFX package is our biggest festival package to date. Including CO2 jets, pyrotechnics, confetti showers and explosive stage mines. Making its debut this year, the Big Top will accommodate a vast audience whilst showcasing an array of Reggae legends. The beloved carnival stage returns, strategically positioned in a corner of the outer permitter of the bowl, and Rompa’s Reggae Shack will commandeer the fourth stage for the first time. Given our expanded capacity, our marketing efforts have significantly broadened, with an international campaign in full swing.
This year will see festival-goers arrive from Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, America, Spain & Italy.”
Based on your experience of putting together a festival that’s expanding, what advice would you give to other festival promoters looking to add more to their event?
“I highly recommend approaching things with a steady pace. It’s crucial to avoid getting caught up in the excitement of operating a festival and finding yourself in a situation of financial loss, as we have experienced in the past. Instead, concentrate on the specific elements of your festival that you wish to cultivate and improve things step by step.”
The cost of living crisis has been well documented with lots of people feeling the strain. As festival organisers, have you seen people’s buying habits change compared to previous years?
“The ongoing cost of living crisis has had a huge impact on people’s spending patterns. We have observed a significant surge in sales, particularly during pay cycles, surpassing the trends of previous years. Despite facing substantial rises in site and infrastructure expenses, we have made every effort to keep ticket prices as affordable as possible this year. We understand the challenges individuals are currently facing when it comes to budgeting, and we aim to be as affordable as possible.”
It might be that at one time, an event-goer could have afforded to attend Reggae Land and another festival in the same season but this year, it might be a choice between Reggae Land and another event. What do you have to change or do differently to ensure your festival is the one they choose?
“With the cost of living crisis impacting various aspects of life, including rising prices; attending multiple festivals in a single summer has become more challenging than ever before. At Reggae Land, we are committed to keeping ticket costs as affordable as possible while still providing an exceptional experience. This year, we are proud to host over 80 renowned reggae artists from around the globe, offering a truly unique opportunity to witness reggae legends over one exciting weekend. We are constantly striving for improvement and will persist in our efforts to ensure that Reggae Land becomes the preferred summer festival destination for people seeking an unforgettable experience.”
Artists like Carol Thompson and Janet Kay and sound systems like Channel One will be exciting for dub and lovers rock enthusiasts. Do you find that the festival attracts hardcore reggae fans? If so, how important is it for a festival to have a core fanbase, especially in a cost-of-living crisis?
“Without a doubt, Reggae Land boasts an incredibly devoted and loyal fanbase. Our festival’s distinctive appeal, featuring a diverse line up of renowned reggae musicians and legends throughout the entire weekend, strongly resonates with the reggae community here in the UK. Our most recent ticket data reveals record-breaking numbers of returning customers for the upcoming 2023 edition, which fills us with great optimism for further strengthening these connections in the future.”
Is there a specific act, food vendor or attraction you’d like to bring to Reggae Land in the future?
“There are a whole host of artists whom we would love to perform at Reggae Land. One in particular who we’ve spoken about in the office to get all the Marley brothers together on one bill and perform a special tribute set, hopefully one day the stars align and we can make that happen.”
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