The Big Chill first came to Eastnor in 2001 as a small festival with a dedicated following of fewer than 10,000 fans. It was not a festival that aimed to attract huge crowds to mainstream acts, but rather specialised in up-and-coming performers, including a number of DJs. The festival also had a cinema, poetry area and arts trail, and as we soon discovered, delicious food stalls and some very good shops selling clothes, music etc. The audience mostly camped in fields we made available around the main site which was in the Deer Park.
The licensing authority was generally supportive as they were keen to see an event like this come to Herefordshire and bring the delights of the county to the attention of a wider audience, whilst local people, who were understandably nervous of the possible noise and disruption, were willing to give it as chance, perhaps encouraged by the prospect of free tickets if they lived close enough to be affected. All went well at the first Festival, although the event caterers bought all the bread from the local supermarket on the Saturday morning, which was not popular with regular customers. On the other hand, the organisers also spent several hundred thousand pounds with local suppliers and recruited local students to work on the site during the festival, so the economic benefits were well appreciated.
Over the last ten years, the Big Chill grew bigger, but it kept its relaxed attitude and low-profile security. At its height, it attracted 25,000 festival goers, with a further 5000 working on site. It became an important event in the Herefordshire summer calendar and a useful way for us to fill the Park programme over the month of setting up and dismantling. More famous acts included Leonard Cohen, Lillie Allen and Kanye West when the main stage area was heaving with spectators. The weather never let us down, amazingly, and the Park recovered, free of litter, after a few weeks.
After missing 2012 because of a clash of dates with the Olympics, sadly the Big Chill decided it should close. It had not attracted quite enough visitors and competition in the middle of the summer for the few headline acts every festival needs was too intense.
I am very sad it has gone as it was an exciting event and unfailingly attracted my elder children to come home for the weekend! I understand the tradesmen of Ledbury will miss it too, but we are on the look out for a replacement event…
JH-B 10th February 2013