An unconventional convention



I’m glad I’m out of the festival business. Today’s Observer Music magazine reads like one big corporate advertorial.

The Guardian proudly supports 'Camp Bestival'
‘On Blackheath’ in partnership with John Lewis
‘Latitude’ - sponsored by Smirnoff, Tuborg and BBC Music
Barclaycard presents ‘British Summer Time’
Cuffe and Taylor present Simply Red at The Races

I am going back into events, but not festivals. Instead, the concept is community based and revolves around Conventions, Conversations and Circles.

This year we’re having a small gathering for 500 which will be exploring the concept. We are going back to The Black Mountains, where The Big Chill tenuously started its journey 21 years ago. The Big Chill was its best as a community before morphing into something that the original Big Chillers found barely recognisable. That community spirit will be at the heart of Campfire’s ethos, articulated via the social network which is about to open its doors.

Campfire Convention 001.UK aims to do something new and different. Festivals, in their traditional format have lost their edge and I get the sense that many people are looking for something more. Subsequent Campfire Convention events will have potential to evolve into a truly democratic gathering where we organise into Guilds and each Guild curates its own area.

The Conventions won't be conventional in many senses. We’re looking to do something that makes a difference. The accent is not so much on hedonism, more about connecting in a meaningful sense. Clearly, we are in an era when many people have recently re-engaged with politics and are concerned about a wide range of issues, not least dealing with inequality and how they can be actively involved in social change and democracy. We will be examining ways we can all play a part and help facilitate these changes by being part of a new community that aims to enrich its members. A study of campfire ‘firelight talk’ by Professor Polly Weissner from The University of Utah noted that the hunter gatherers, the Kalahari bushman engaged in very different daytime conversations to those after dark. By day, issues related more to practical issues - economics and social politics. Nighttime around the fire was a mellower experience about bonding, stories, entertaining and sharing emotions.

I’m not interested in huge events with big stages where one after another ‘headliner’ entertains the receptive masses and where the whole event is geared towards maximising bar profits. I’d like to explore a much more interactive environment more centred on connection and empathy - the sort of event where the members put as much in as they get out, either as entertainers, as workshop participants, as panelists in debates or as volunteers who play a vital part in making the event run smoothly. We will create our own stars, we wont need to book them via an agent.

As Weissner notes “it promotes social interaction, entertainment and art and plays a major role in the development and spread of human culture…Campfire nightlife may have helped develop the human mental ability to transmit cultural practices, understand others and extend co-operation for beyond the local community"

The Campfire Conversation has already being trialled in Manchester when we were invited up to talk there in November. It’s a movable feast and we’re planning more for early summer, in places such as Todmorden and the Isle of Wight. The Campfire Circle involves members coming up with ideas and making decisions on the future direction of the community. We’ve just staged our first one in Braunston last weekend and it was incredibly productive.

The Campfire itself is the great leveller.. a place to connect, to share ideas, to dream about what we want from the future and how we can shape it. Who knows where we can take this. I’m just getting the ball rolling. The community’s collective imagination will be the only limit.

Campfire reading :




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  • published this page in Blog 2016-03-13 15:03:25 +0000