The UK festival circuit has been in consistent growth for the best part of a decade (though there are also record numbers folding year-on-year too) with 2014 set to bring a record high of nearly a thousand festival to the UK's shores. Whilst household name festivals such as Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds and Isle of Wight may continue to dominate mass media, it's often boutique festivals started by passionate music aficionados that bring about innovation and represent the forefront of the UK's music scenes.

We sat down with Matt Freemantle, founder of Devon-based grass roots festival Lemonfest, to talk about his experiences starting a festival which is now approaching its fifth birthday.


What was the initial inspiration for wanting to start up your own festival, and were there other festivals that shaped your vision for Lemonfest?

It was literally as simple as me and a group of friends sat in a pub, wanting to put on a festival. Kind of saying that there was nothing really going on of note in our hometown, and how we should try and change that. I guess initially Glastonbury was the festival that we had all been to together, and we thought if we could create an event that was even a tiny fraction of how incredible that experience was then we'd be on to a winner.

How much knowledge did you have going into the whole experience?

Very little as it happens. The first thing we did after securing the venue was to try and find a headliner. Having never worked with agents before, it was quite a challenging experience to say the least. Going in totally blind and pitching your never before held event to a load of people that have no idea who you are is a pretty tough gig. Especially when you're only 24 years old and don't have two pence to rub together. We literally didn't have a clue back then, which when we all look back at now how innocent we were it's actually pretty terrifying!

Talk us through the first year. How did you even go about knowing where to start? Were there lots of last minute surprises and things you hadn't planned through?

We took advice from various different places, working at Absolute Radio at the time definitely helped in terms of having people in the know to sound ideas off of. We had issue after issue after issue. We didn't even have a main stage production company until about 2 or 3 weeks before the festival. I remember the last few days in the run up to the first ever Lemonfest being absolute hell. We didn't even have our toilets or skip booked the day before the festival! In following years, where we were really struggling for money, we barely even managed to cobble a backstage area for the bands on the main stage. I remember in 2011 we had a big open marquee as our backstage area, and we had to prop a rug up in the corner of it for the band to get changed. That was our most cowboy moment to date. One band that shall not be named barely left their tour van as the dressing rooms were so shabby. Rest assured, it's much much better now.

I can imagine it's been a really steep learning curve. Were there moments when you were tempted to call it quits?

Absolutely, we lost a hell of a lot of money in year one, which basically meant we were chasing our tails massively in year two and year three. There is nothing worse than the feeling you get knowing you've nearly bankrupted yourself, and having to pick up used beer glasses and litter on Sunday morning whilst dodging piles of sick - with a hangover. Trust me, it seriously sucks. The only thing that kept us going was our passion to make it work, as we were 100% determined to try and keep Lemonfest going. That and the fact that we had some serious money to try and re-coup.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of the whole event? Is it difficult getting acts to the event due to financial and geographical barriers?

Money is always a massive issue, or lack of it. As a totally independent one-day festival, we just aren't in a position to book huge acts. But over the years, that's ironically become something that we actually quite like about our line-up. The biggest challenges are usually the ones you don't expect being an issue. Last year, we booked couple of geo-domes to use for our dance tents. When they turned up, they were about half the size we expected - so we had to make our house tent basically an outdoor stage. Thank god it didn't rain...

What are the most important factors to you when putting together a line up for a festival?

There are so many factors that come into it, but I think the main ones for me are just making sure that we think the acts are either up-and-coming and mega talented, or just a shit load of fun. The line-up for Lemonfest 2014 is the most exciting and eclectic we've put together to date. We don't necessarily have any massive names playing, but we have a line-up full of incredible live acts. Variety is key.

What do you think are the other crucial ingredients to making it a success?

Having a really hard working team of people around us is massive. So many people have helped us along the way and been so uber committed to the festival, that has been core to getting where we are today. I think persistence and tenacity has been key too. We could have easily just called it a day after losing such an enormous amount of money in the first year, but we were so determined to make it a success (and, pay off our debts!) that we just had to carry on.

What's been your proudest moment running Lemonfest?

There are loads to be honest, just seeing the whole site come together gives me goosebumps, and I'm not sure that will ever change. Seeing people queuing for an event that wouldn't exist without you is pretty amazing. Breaking even for the very first time last year wasn't too bad either.

How are things shaping up for this year's event?

Incredibly well, actually. We've never sold this many pre-sale tickets before, by a long long way. I think in-fact we're nearly triple at this stage already. I am personally just really excited about our line-up this year too. Gentleman's Dub Club closing our main stage on Saturday night will be raucous. Not to mention everyone else that's playing. I'm sure Ed Rush is going to absolutely own our Drum & Bass tent this year too, although I'll probably be a little too busy to go and see it in reality! As I sit here on the Monday evening, we've never been more relaxed this close to the actual festival opening. It feels like we're actually becoming quite well organised at this festival business now.

What would be your holy grail act to get on the bill (if money/logistics weren't a factor)?

Rage Against The Machine. Enough said.

If you were going to give a piece of advice to an aspiring festival organiser what would it be?

Stock up on cigarettes, you'll need them.

Lemonfest will be celebrating its fifth year at Newton Abbot Race in Devon on May 31st - camping tickets are available for £20 here.