Sarah Moss is an Isle of Wighter born and bred and the co-creator and curator of the Jack Up series of festivals on the Island. With so much about live events being in the news recently, we spoke to her about how lockdown has affected her, her family and her festivals and why Jack Up started in the first place.
Entertainment and hospitality has always been in my blood. Until I was 20, my dad worked as a General Manager for Warner Holidays going on to manage the then Puckpool/St Clare site near Ryde before moving to Norton Grange in Yarmouth in 1990. In 2005 I began working for the Isle of Wight Council managing all of their websites and I was keen to showcase the Island via engaging content that would attract both residents and visitors alike. I was given the freedom to craft a role that enabled me to attend, photograph and review Island events throughout the year, something which led me to practice live music photography and eventually, when meeting my business partner (a promoter), book acts and programme stages for the likes of Butlins and the Bournemouth Air Festival before moving on to curate our own events.
The very first Jack Up The 80s (as it was then) took place in 2013. The event was held to raise money for Wight Crystal water who provide a range of activities to support people with physical and learning disabilities, autism and long term conditions. The charity was conceived in the eighties – so we wanted to throw a party to celebrate their 25th anniversary, and as a child of the eighties myself, I had been a big fan of the eighties nights at Colonel Bogeys nightclub in Sandown during the late nineties and early noughties so wanted to do something to bring back the ‘feel-good’ vibe.
The aim was then as it is now, to provide a family weekend of musical entertainment, food, attractions and stalls whilst raising valuable funds and awareness for local good causes. Having started out as one-off event, the festival is now in its eighth year and has seen a 462% growth in attendance since year one. Capturing a nostalgic happy holiday feel, the brand has grown in both popularity and significance to the Island’s tourism economy. In 2019 we changed the name to Jack Up The Summer to allow for a richer mix of music, but still very much sticking with the retro theme.
Over the years we’ve welcomed a galaxy of stars to celebrate the music of yesteryear and transport attendees back to their youth. From Jason Donovan to Right Said Fred, Nick Kershaw, ABC, Go West, Alexander O’Neal, Chesney Hawkes, Toyah, Paul Young, Sonia, Bucks Fizz, Martin Kemp, Pat Sharp and many, many more. Even Timmy Mallett has put in an appearance!
What’s the ethos behind the Jack Up brand?
Our guiding star is to deliver affordable high-quality, locally-accessible cultural entertainment. Our ticket price is 35% cheaper than other UK festivals featuring household name acts like Heaven 17 and Heather Small, which works out at just £3 per act with free entry for children under 12, and half price entry for teens. We’re passionate about delivering long-lasting happy memories and creating a sense of togetherness via shared experiences. 100% of our non-artist spend is invested in local people, services and skills – our company ethos is to employ Island businesses to help deliver our portfolio of decade-themed events.
You, as a festival organiser have been severely impacted by the pandemic – could you talk me through that?
It’s fair to say the live music and events industry has been completely paralysed by the Covid-19 crisis. Festivals require a significant amount of work and are year-long endeavours. Unlike any other business, most organisers are reliant on a single weekend of the year from which to earn an entire annual income. We were already 9 months into our planning and contractually committed to 90% of artists and suppliers when Covid struck. Like all events, we incurred wide range of non-recoupable costs on postponement of our festival in May 2020.
I’ve heard it said; “when you postpone an event you find out how good it is” and we were blown away by the loyalty and support shown by Jack Up The Summer attendees, with the vast majority of them choosing to keep hold of their tickets and rolling them over to the following year. When you set out to organise any event, it is always with the intention to please and delight, never to cause disappointment. You feel such an enormous sense of responsibility to everyone, not just attendees, but artists, traders, charities and all of the small Island businesses and freelancers who rely on the staging of our events from which to earn a living or to raise essential funds for to support their valuable work. It was a heart-breaking decision to postpone Jack Up The Summer in 2020 but was absolutely the right one. The safety of everyone involved in our events and that of our Island community is central to all that we do.
What have you been doing to keep the festivals alive?
Having entered a year-long period of enforced closure, my focus immediately turned to doing everything I could not only to sustain our own business but also to ensure that locally-run festivals and events, which play such a fundamental role in the Island’s economic agenda, remained firmly on the agenda. I formed a consortium of event organisers representing the Island’s leading independent festivals and Summer shows. The group has developed to become a vital support network during these uncertain times and has enabled us to lead conversations on a local and regional level. I’ve held regular meetings with key decision-makers including the Island’s MP who subsequently invited myself and other organisers to present to the Minister of State for Culture. As Britain’s festival Island, the Isle of Wight was the only constituency in England she agreed to meet because of the critical role we play in contributing to coastal tourism.
The key message has always been to highlight the huge ecosystems that exist around festivals. We employ a vast temporary workforce to deliver our events, collaborating with a diverse talent pool of skilled professionals to provide everything from production, sound/lighting, marquee and toilet hire, security, first aid, traffic management, stage crew, kids entertainers, refuse collectors, the list goes on and on. The pandemic has caused the events industry to band together in ways never seen before – it’s been inspiring and incredibly heartening to see how we’ve all supported one another through these uniquely challenging times; the sector will emerge stronger as a result.
Do you feel that the government has done enough and kept you well informed?
As Event Organisers we’ve not been mandated to close our businesses but owing to the nature of what we do, have been unable to trade since Summer 2019. We were the first sector to close and will inevitably be the last to re-open. With no requirement for fixed premises, many event businesses and supply chain workers have fallen through the cracks of Government support measures. It concerns me that the Arts have a tendency to be seen as ‘non-essential.’ However what we do shouldn’t be seen merely as a ‘bonus to life’ in many ways festivals like Jack Up The Summer give purpose to life, providing positive experiences for people to look forward to.
It’s been a long and bumpy road in trying to convey to Government the vital role our industry plays economically, socially and culturally. Our sector is responsible for supporting 85,000 jobs nationally and, pre-Covid, generated £6 billion for the UK economy annually. On the Island festivals contribute £45m, with £30m of that from the smaller events, plus of course the multiplier effect on local spend to tourism and non-tourism businesses alike; taxi drivers, shops, bars, cafés, restaurants etc. Owing to our long lead times, conversations need to be had much earlier and Government need to ensure information is presented well in advance in order to aid our forward planning. Unfortunately it’s not just a case of switching the lights back on!
How do you see festivals being able to go ahead in the future?
Further to the unveiling of the Government’s roadmap and whilst the vaccination programme is still underway, the reality is no one really knows when the events industry will get back to how it was. It’s still early days so for now, we’re following the guidance, seeking support from the relevant authorities and are actively monitoring the evolving landscape. In the absence of any other information, we’re being told to plan for ‘worst case scenario’ which allows for social distancing. The hope is these measures will be eased from 21st June, but to what extent is dependent on the outcome of the Government’s Event Research Programme on 14th June. The ‘new normal’ will most certainly mean meticulous planning, increased public hygiene measures and facilities, more stewards, dressing rooms etc, with strategies to reduce queuing and congestion at a minimum. Regardless of whether there’s a legal requirement, as organisers, morally we recognise the need to continue doing certain things because we want people to feel safe attending our events and will naturally do everything we possibly can to minimise any health risks. The Event Research Programme will determine whether there is likely to be a requirement for rapid testing regimes. I suspect we will take an initial steer on this from industries like hospitality and aviation. Of course, things may develop and scenarios may change, but most organisers are taking the pragmatic view that it’s better to be ready for events to happen this Summer than miss the chance to deliver when the experts deem it acceptable.
Do you think that festivals can be viable again?
Absolutely! There is massive pent-up demand for experience-led events and a new wave of interest, optimism and enthusiasm for communal experiences taking place in safe, well controlled environments. It’s all about quality of life – the pandemic has taught each and every one of us how important this is. Festivals take place outdoors which is already proven to be safer and they offer plenty of green space, enabling people to spread out. Once the scientists have done their work and public confidence is restored, the role of festivals in bringing people together again will never have been more important.
As an industry, we’ve all come together and are working as a team – sharing ideas, costs, resources and driving economies of scale. It’s not until something’s taken away from you that you appreciate its value, and people have missed an entire year of social experiences! The UK is globally renowned as the leader in music festivals; over £5m people attended a festival in 2019 (in comparison to 2.7m in 2012) so you can see just how much festivals were growing in popularity before Covid hit. I’m confident the sector will bounce back.
Given that people have already bought tickets for a festival which now might be in 2022 – how will this impact you?
The same impact as it’s likely to have in 2021 – the nature of ensuring a Covid-secure experience means that the cost of staging an event can only head in one direction until we have the opportunity to start afresh and realign our expenditure with long-term confirmed requirements. An event the size of Jack Up The Summer costs in the region of a quarter of a million pounds to put on, the average cost to stage a UK festival with over 5,000 attendees is over £6 million. It’s a VERY costly business! We work incredibly hard to keep our ticket prices as low as possible as well as giving back to local community groups, charities and good causes, which is something we desperately want to be able to continue doing. Depending on the level of restrictions imposed moving forward, we will need to strike a careful balance between remaining true our ethos whilst ensuring the long-term sustainability of the event.
Apart from the financial aspects – why are festivals good for people?
Human nature has always been to gather, to come together, to make stories. Never underestimate the power of live music, the sense of anticipation when the lights go down just before your favourite artist appears on stage and the exhilarating roar of the crowd.
Music is good for the mind, body and soul and to share this experience with friends both old and new strengthens relationships and fosters new connections. The reason we do what we do is because it brings joy and happiness, it enriches people’s lives.
Jack Up The Summer reminds older people of their youth and introduces younger people to the artists who sang the songs they grew up with. It enables people to step out of the current day and reconnect with or reminisce about the good times, when things were perhaps a little less complicated. Our secret ingredient is that we don’t strive to be credible; Jack Up is all about those “guilty pleasures.” Attendees love to dress up in their 80’s neon and embrace the spirit of the event which offers a judgment free zone!
A recent study by a professor in epidemiology at University College London, found that going to festivals significantly reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. the experience of being separated from everyday life prompts people to reflect and spend time on themselves…which is important for their wellbeing.
If you could give your younger self some advice what would it be?
To live a life that’s true to yourself and not what others are expecting of you. Not every day will be great but there’s great in every day – learn to enjoy the climb; focus on the journey not just the destination. With discomfort comes growth. Only worry about the things you can control and critically, no matter how hard you try, it’s not always possible to please all the people all of the time!
Favourite musical era and bands? Need you ask? The 80’s! I’ve always been into pop, power ballads and soft rock – anything uplifting or that takes the mind on a journey of discovery. Meat Loaf and the likes of Billy Ocean and Eurythmics are long-term favourites. Booking Jason Donovan for Jack Up was a real personal highlight!
What I’m reading at the moment: Embarrassingly I have a collection of personal development books, purchased with great enthusiasm, but have yet to set time aside to properly enjoy them. For the past year my reading habits have centred around a rather compulsive desire to understand all of the latest developments impacting the events industry, subscribing to multiple industry newsletters and absorbing myself in trade body guidance to ensure I’m constantly on the front foot (as best is possible in a constantly evolving scenario!)
The book I should have read but didn’t: The Chimp Paradox – Professor Steve Peters explains the struggle that often takes place between the two parts of the mind: the rational and the emotional. And how the emotional part sometimes interferes with the decision-making ability of the rational part, which leads to problems whenever the two clash or the wrong one ends up in charge. Peters advises; “The person that you want to be is the person you really are.”
The last film I watched: The Founder. The story of Ray Kroc, a salesman who turned two brothers’ innovative fast food eatery, McDonald’s, into the biggest restaurant business in the world, with a combination of ambition, persistence and steadfast determination to succeed
Guilty pleasures: My taste in music and love of all things retro!
Music that makes me feel happy: Anything from the 80s and 90s which reminds me of growing up living on a holiday centre where every day felt full of fresh adventure and opportunity.
Fantasy dinner party guests: I would chose a mix of intellectuals like Stephen Fry, music legends like Kylie Minogue, inspirational female entrepreneurs like Karren Brady, national treasures like Dame Judi Dench, and friends and family sadly since passed, to know they’re OK wherever they are now.
Four things to take to a desert island: They say everything in nature either grows or dies – nothing stands still. I’m one of those people who has to keep moving forward, I find it incredibly hard to press pause. Therefore (I’m afraid to say) some form of connectivity, phone or laptop would be key. Practically, something to sleep on/in, some tasty snacks and one of those personal development books that has been gathering dust to finally get stuck into!
Three wishes for 2021: Good health for all, prosperity and the essential clarity to enable everyone within our industry to get back to doing what they love, working to provide happy, enjoyable experiences, enabling people of all ages to come together with their loved ones to make memories that last a lifetime.
You can find us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JackUpEvents
Our web site is: https://jackupthesummer.co.uk/