Sunday, 1 June 2014

Music at beer festivals

This is a thorny question within CAMRA, and seeing how beer and music are the twin themes of this blog, I surprise myself by taking more than five years to broach it. Why now? A letter in the latest edition of What's Brewing, the CAMRA newspaper, in which a writer says he likes music of most popular genres, but finds it an affront to "endure the musical choices of others", comparing it to an "assault on the person". Affront? Assault? Strong talk, or perhaps too easily affronted.

The thought occurs to me that I don't know how you develop a liking for music of most popular genres if you don't listen to the musical choices of others at some point, whether they are the choices of friends or radio DJs. But more seriously, people who prefer beer festivals without music seem to feel they are being imposed upon. Is this true?

I'd say not. Live music can be very popular at festivals, and a well-known local band can draw in people who might otherwise not come, and in the process introduce them to real ale, which is what we all want, isn't it? It's a form of campaigning in action. I've been to festivals where the band is going down a storm with a small minority muttering about the noise. The answer's simple: go when there's no music on. I don't like football and avoid pubs that have a match showing, but I don't demand the end of football in pubs. But that's not good enough for some: I've known people complain when an advertised band has performed at a festival. That's as stupid as me moaning about a football match being on in a pub, especially when the pub has said it's going to be shown.

Opinion within CAMRA is split on this issue, but I don't understand why. It seems to me that the quiet brigade want to be able to turn up whenever they like and not have to listen to music, but festivals can't keep sessions clear just in case they decide to attend; that would amount to a total ban. Just accept that not everyone agrees with you and choose which sessions you go to: that is not unreasonable, but an attitude of "he shall have no music wherever he goes" definitely is. After all, those who are happy with the music don't demand it for every session.

I'd agree that not all music is wonderful, and in a real ale environment I don't like being unable to hear someone who is shouting in my ear, but while I've known that happen, in my experience it's not the norm at beer festivals. A bit more give and take and this storm in a pint pot would disappear.

Beer writer Pete Brown has written on the subject of beer and music here.


  1. He is also likely to frown at lager drinkers.

  2. Stockport is ideal as the music is in a separate room from the main bar. Worth making the point, though, that some of the biggest objectors to music are the bar staff who have no choice as to whether to listen to it.

  3. True, but surely that applies to staff who work at any venue, not just CAMRA festivals, where there's music. My own problem is that my hearing is slightly dulled, so I have difficulties hearing what drinks customers order. My solution is to be put on other duties for those shifts when there's music.

  4. I think the Liverpool Fest in the Crypt is an example of how hard it is to get music right.
    I've gone on a Friday night for years only to be bludgeoned into submission by the universally awful Pub Rock Covers Band that would turn up. An acoustic drum kit in that room and it's just a mush of Boom boom boom boom. Guitar, bass and vox cranked hard to try and cut through..

    If the person sat next to you has to shout directly in your ear then the music policy for the event is wrong.

    But then, someone had some light bulb moment and the last few years the bands have been much, much mellower - including the brilliant Loose Moose String Band.. More people dancing than ever and they're quieter!?

    It's tricky though. But I will die a happy man if I never hear Mustang Bloody Sally again.


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