Rhythms of the World to fold?
Hitchin’s world music orientated Rhythms of the World festival looks set to fold this month. The Charity that runs the festival have announced that their trustees will be stepping down at their AGM on the 20th March, as they no longer believe the charity is viable. Unless new trustees are elected, the charity will have to fold.
The festival started in 1992 as an evening event run by Oxfam. In 1996 it moved outside into Hitchin’s Market Place and in 1999 the event was taken over by local volunteers. After growing, year on year. It was becoming too expensive to host in the town centre and with council requiring it to move to a controlled site, it briefly looked like the end of the festival. However, with the support of Hitchin Priory, in 2008 it moved to into their grounds.
Sadly, this was the turning point for the festival. With the new location came a change in the tone, both in the type of music but also atmosphere. With music now taking place on big stages or in marques, the opportunity for quieter music was reduced and the amount of world music seemed to drop off. This was in large part due to the festival giving a stage over to BBC Introducing, who just played whatever was popular amongst local kids (who seemed to be heavily into emo and skater rock). There was also what I unaffectionately called at the time, the ‘mates stage’ that seemed to feature the same acts year on year. Sadly, the breadth of music reduced and for a music orientated website, that is what we are looking for.
The change didn’t deter crowds. The crowds seemed to grow and grow and it reached a point were it became difficult to move around as the hordes would pick a stage and stay there for the whole day. By 2010 the crowds had hit 31000. An amazing achievement but with it came problems.
The inevitable happened in 2012 and heavy rains led to the grounds of the Priory being destroyed. With the venue being used for conferences and weddings. This no doubt left many unhappy couples who had booked the Priory expecting beautiful grounds, but instead were looking at a muddy field.
The festival never really recovered from this. The Priory understandably pulled out and the council wouldn’t budge on the requirement for the festival to use a controlled site.
While the festival did briefly return to the Priory, it became more difficult to put the festival on and eventually COVID seems to have killed it.
I have to admit, by the end, I had lost my love for the festival. In many ways, it had become a victim of its own success leading to the council and the local police’s intransigence over venues.
For me, the change in music styles meant the music became more mainstream and was judged by what I could see in London. On some days, the amount of music I enjoyed was slim and moving around the site to sample music had become problematic. So I ended up staying and watching an artist even I didn’t like them. I decided I would rather spend my Saturday seeing more challenging music at Daylight Music and a second gig in the evening.
As you can see from my 2015 review of the Sunday, I didn’t believe the festival was still value for money. While it was only £15 per day, at £30 for the weekend, it was no longer cheap. At the time I was buying a three day Great Escape pass for £45 and was regularly seeing free or cheap all-dayers for less than £20 in London. Given that we weren’t allowed to leave the festival site or you had to pay for re-entry. The cost was even more excessive, as we were forced into paying festival prices for food and drink, when there were cheap pubs and supermarkets just outside the festival grounds.
Even though by the end I had fallen out of love with the festival. I am still sad to see it die. So thanks for all the good years and hard work. Everyone involved should be proud of what you achieved.