Pete Brown: Festival time - normal rules don't apply…

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Related tags: Great british beer festival, Festival, Beer

If you'll forgive the blatant plug, I've learned an interesting lesson this summer while touring the UK promoting my new book, Hops and Glory. I've...

If you'll forgive the blatant plug, I've learned an interesting lesson this summer while touring the UK promoting my new book, Hops and Glory.

I've done a variety of different events: some of them simply appearing in a bookshop or pub, talking and signing books.

We stuck up posters (most of the time), charged no admission fee (who'd pay to come and see a bloke talking about beer?) and usually got between 10 and 20 people, to whom I'd collectively sell three or four books.

Other events were festivals: food and drink festivals, beer festivals, literary festivals - even music festivals.

At most of these events people had either paid an overall admission fee, or were charged admission specifically to my event - usually between £5 and £9. And under these circumstances, it seems people are prepared to pay to hear a bloke talk about beer. I had crowds of at least 30 - and one of more than 200 - and I sold a lot more books.

So why are people more likely to come to one type of event where they have to pay, than they are to another type of event where they don't, when the content is the same?

Because of the nature of festivals.

Social anthropologists get very excited about festivals. They tell us that real life is governed by many rules and codes, which we need in order to allow us to live together.

But these rules are oppressive and dull our spirit. Every now and then we need a suspension or even an inversion of the rules that allows us to indulge our desires and break our routines. Everything from Christmas to the Mexican Day of the Dead to Oktoberfest serves this fundamental need.

Even a middle class, middle-English food festival. People will pay money to see me at a festival when they wouldn't even turn up to hear me for free in their local bookshop because at any festival, the normal rules are off.

Having decided to go to a festival, you have decided by definition to see, do, listen to and taste something different. To be a little more adventurous.

And as our lives become even more proscribed by rules and regulations, so the need to let off steam and do something different increases.

That's why there's been huge growth in all kinds of festivals over recent years, with at least one music festival every weekend over the summer, and new food and drink and literary festivals every year.

This year, in the midst of recession, CAMRA reported a 10 per cent increase in attendance at the Great British Beer Festival.

Five years ago, it was ridiculous to think of a regional real ale festival selling out in advance, and now, many do. Many people come to festivals and try real ale - even beer - for the first time. Everyone comes to try something new.

The pub is, in many ways, the antithesis of the festival. It's part of our routine - 'the local'. As 'regulars', we go there and have 'a pint of the usual'.

Which is why more pubs should host their own festivals. A beer festival, cheese festival, wine festival, sausage festival - whatever you see fit. It's not just another piece of cheap

promotion; it changes the whole dynamic of how people behave and spend money in your pub.

Done well, regulars will spend more and try new things, and people you've never seen before will come to see what all the fuss is about.

Extra effort? Sure. But for a weekend people will remember for the rest of the year, it's definitely worth it.

Related topics: Beer

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