I‘m not into online events, I said. When the lockdown started and we were forced to postpone our Knockengorroch music festival I professed both to myself and anyone who would listen, that virtual events did not interest me. I racked my brains as to ways I could bring people together in real time whilst observing physical distancing. Films projected onto tenement walls, street performances, drive ins, all and more whizzed through my mind.
Yet, as the scheduled dates for Knockengorroch festival drew closer I felt strongly it was important for us all to mark the event somehow. And so, without too much thought into the whys and wherefores, I thought of a name, recruited some equally inexperienced crew to help and approached artists to take part in an online event. All were very willing, though unclear as to how it work. As was I.
Most live streams I had seen were done ‘presentationally’, with artists playing to an audience they can neither see nor hear. From the beginning, I knew that wasn’t how a virtual Knockengorroch could exist. Knockengorroch festival is massively about participation. The people that come are every bit as important to its success as the artists. I knew that any festival we created had to be about the people as much as the music.
Knockengorroch’s looming dates minimised time to research the full scale of possibilities, but after quick research, I realised that the platform to deliver the event exactly how I wanted did not yet exist, or was prohibitively expensive. I had taken part in zoom parties featuring DJs as well as Mairi Campbell’s international ceilidh with acoustic performances and so, with little time to go, I settled on zoom as the closest platform capable of hosting the vision. Ditching the original idea of multi venues and ‘break-out’ free moving areas on any one night, I programmed three separate days of live music and DJs, mirroring the actual festival, featuring artists from the original line-up. A live audience could enter the zoom ‘gig’ with hundreds more able to watch through a simultaneous live stream facebook, youtube and twitch. Audiences were encouraged to donate to a Justgiving fundraiser to raise funds to reimburse the artists that took part.’
Often described as a ‘hidden gem’, Knockengorroch has nurtured a loyal audience. We strive to maintain our original ‘authentic’, down to earth, inherently participatory nature. Virtually Knockengorroch sustained this – festival guests were invited to dress up along this year’s theme of ‘celestial beings’, workshops needed active attendees, guests could create their own campsite breakout rooms if they wanted to chat between and after music sets, dancing was 100% encouraged. As in any live music event, the more the audience engaged and participated, the better the atmosphere, vibe and collective fun. Knockengorroch’s fantastic audience enthusiastically responded with tents pitched in gardens, campfires, dramatic costumes, elaborate living room decorations and even the odd appearance of a midge net and wellies. People attended from all over the world and those who haven’t been to Knockengorroch for years were able to check in. We also attracted new audiences who may not be convinced enough to come to the festival but were happy to check in from the safety of their kitchens.
Crew spoke of going to bed with that weary, blissed out feeling the real festival engenders. Everyone felt that they had connected and that somehow there was something ‘real’ about the experience. Participants were surprised at how something virtual could mimic the feelings of a festival so well.
Enthusiastic audience comments included the below.
“Thank you for all your efforts to connect people last weekend! It was way more magical than I thought Zoom could ever be!”
‘Well done Knock! Brilliant. Would have thought it impossible to capture Knock’s magic virtually, but you did it! Well done to everyone’
Despite the event only hitting two (sight and sound) of the multi-sensory experience that the real festival does, our human need for connection allowed us to fill in the blanks as we stared into our screens, and offered us all some connection and comfort.
The participating artists also rose to the challenge brilliantly, some performing for the first time online. Legendary Scottish ‘acid croft’ band Shooglenifty debuted a brand new video created in lockdown for Virtually Knockengorroch for their track Black Dog. James Mackintosh said:
“We were delighted to be able to join the Virtually Knockengorroch Festival as representatives of Shooglenifty. Katch gave me a welcome crash course on getting the best sound out of Zoom and watching a few performances on the Friday inspired me to take a little bit of time to get the best framing of the shot, and the best audio to share too.
The whole event was great fun with some great performances. We’ll look forward to seeing everyone under the stars at some point in the hopefully not too distant future, to celebration of life , love and live music in person! Congratulations to Katch and the Knockengorroch team on lifting the spirits of so many in lockdown.“
Afro Celt Sound System wrote a tune specially for Knockengorroch and have since created a video, containing footage of and in homage to the event. Simon Emmerson said:
‘It was an amazing experience. We had band founder N’Faly Kouyate locked down in his village in Siguiri, Guinea Conakry playing his grandfather’s ancestral balafon and singing live and direct illuminated by his car headlights as his village has no street lights. His tribute to his recently departed mentor Mory Kante was incredibly moving.
Of course, there were technical glitches, at times it was glorious chaos, at others there were moments of real intimacy as musicians performed from their own very private and personal spaces to an enthralled audience. It was great interacting with the crowd in their little zoom boxes from their rooms made over with personalised festival lights and hangings. People could post messages direct to the musicians during their performances and whooped and cheered at the end of every number. The whole thing had the intimacy and interactive quality totally lacking in bigger corporate festivals.
If this is part of the future of live entertainment in a post Covid 19 world count us in. It was inspiring, magical and generated a very moving sense of togetherness and solidarity so needed in these dark and fractured times.
Total respect to Virtually Knockengorroch 2020 for making this happen!’
By all accounts it was a transformative experience for artists involved – one poignant comment was that it was wonderful to hear a live round of applause. Some artists approached were initially sceptical but came away invigorated by the appreciation they experienced – an integral part of any artist’s performance. Others spoke about the creative impetus it provided, bringing bands together to come up with a way to bring their music to the event. It has nudged us all forward into discovering new ways to present music and, I think, pushed the industry to learn skills which will be so essential this season.
The event was, by all accounts, a great success. Many attendees, including other festival organisers, have now seen the potential in an online, participatory festival like this – many are now self confessed converts to ‘zoom’. This is the beginning of a journey. By the end of the summer things will have been tried; new and better platforms may well be available, virtual events will undoubtedly be smoother.
I am happy it went well, that we provided artists work, that people connected. I will go to another event like this. I may even organise another one… but I can’t help wondering where this online journey is going. After this weekend’s success I fully believe that this medium may well become ‘normal’, sought out even, by some. However for me, this way of festivalling will always only ever be a bonus – the icing on the cake to the full experience. The full poetry of human contact will always be my priority, bringing people together ‘in situ’- breathing a shared place that binds us together through the land’s geography, history and memories.
Katch Holmes is a co-producer of Knockengorroch festival. She lives in Edinburgh but grew up at Knockengorroch farm.
Virtually Knockengorroch took place from 21 to 24 May 2020 in place of the ‘real’ postponed Knockengorroch festival.
The Afro Celt Sound System video ‘The Lockdown Gorroch Reel’ can be found here.
The full Virtually Knockengorroch line-up: Afro Celt Sound System, Mungos Hi Fi Sound System and Vixen Sound, Shooglenifty, Greg and Pete (Moishe’s Bagel), John Fairhurst, Macmaster/Hay, DJ Dolphin Boy, Twelfth Day, Zoe Bestel, Ceitidh Mac, Awry, Samson Sounds, Tom Spirals, Samedia Shebeen, Cera Impala, Cenote Sounds, Easy Skankin’ Crew, Theo Bard, Ceitidh Mac, Sam Gillespie and Siannie Moodie, Toby Mottershead, Luisa Brown and John Anderson, Morag Brown and Lewis Powell, Daniel Allison, Freya Rae, Martin Fell, Chandra Mather, Cammy Sinclair
All sessions are available to watch on the Knockengorroch website www.knockengorroch.org.uk
The link to donate will be open until the end of May 2020 https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/virtuallyknockengorroch