Ashton Court Festival

Ashton Court Festival

infobox music festival
music_festival_name = Ashton Court Festival

location = Ashton Court, Bristol, England
years_active= 1974 - 2007
dates = 14th & 15th July 2007
genre = Many
website =
The Ashton Court Festival was an outdoor music festival held annually in the grounds of Ashton Court, just outside Bristol, England, in mid-July. The festival, which ran from 1974 to 2007, was a weekend event which featured a variety of local bands and national headliners. As it was mainly aimed at local residents, the festival was not widely promoted, nor were there overnight camping facilities.

The festival took place in a large sloped clearing surrounded on three sides by woods. The main stage was placed at the bottom of the slope and the second stage in a natural amphitheatre near the entrance to the clearing. There was also a huge tent (the "Bigger Top") for "soul, funk hip-hop and jazzy sounds", marquees for world music, acoustic acts and performing arts, and the "Blackout" tent for experimental music and video, as well as a children's area and funfair rides.


The first festival was held in 1974, and the event grew steadily through the 1970s. After a large number of arrests on site in 1980, the festival was not held again until 1983, when it was a one-day event; in 1984 a "de facto" two-day event was created by staging it back-to-back with a one-day WOMAD event. Since then it became increasingly popular, and for several years it was claimed to be Europe's biggest free festival; however, the "suggested minimum donation" for entry become a gradually increasing compulsory entry fee. From 2007, children (aged 10 - 16) also had to pay an entry fee, while under 10s remained free (previously all children got in free), and a new discounted weekend ticket became available. The festival was typically attended by over 50,000 people on each day.

Although locals have long referred to the festival as the "Ashton Court Festival", before 2004 it was officially called the Bristol Community Festival. During the late 1980s, the Ashton Court event was only one element of a two-week-long, city-wide festival.

In 2001 the Bristol Community Festival temporarily relocated to Hengrove Park in the south of the city. Ashton Court Estate, which includes a deer park, was closed as a quarantine measure due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease that affected the United Kingdom that year. The move caused a massive drop in attendance and a heavy financial loss, leading to debts which still hang over the organisation. This, along with changes to licensing laws and tightening health and safety requirements, led to a more commercial style of organisation, with a compulsory entrance fee and a strict security presence around the perimeter fence. This attracted criticism from some locals who felt that the "community" nature of the festival had been lost. Even so, the festival continued to be run by volunteers on a not-for-profit basis.

The festival's music policy always focused on local acts, but since the late 1990s there was a move towards attracting national acts to headline the festival. Headliners at Ashton Court in recent years include:
* Portishead in 1998.
* Feeder and Rae & Christian in 1999.
* Mad Professor, Kosheen and Stereo MC's in 2001.
* Reef and Kosheen in 2002.
* Robert Plant, McKay and The Electric Soft Parade in 2003.
* The Stranglers, Goldie Lookin' Chain and Glenn Tilbrook in 2004.
* Super Furry Animals, Lemon Jelly, Roni Size and Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel in 2005.
* Simple Minds, The Go! Team, Plan B in 2006.
* The Good, the Bad and the Queen, The Fall, Gravenhurst in 2007.

In 2003 the weight and vibrations of crowds returning from the Ashton Court Festival and the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta put such a great strain on the Clifton Suspension Bridge that the Bridge Trustees decided to close the bridge to all traffic, including pedestrians, for the entirety of the festival and most of the Balloon Fiesta in 2004 and 2005.

In December 2006 it was announced that the festival was in financial crisis and there was uncertainty over whether the 2007 festival would take place. [] . The festival planning went ahead with support and donations from a number of Bristol businesses. In June 2007 it was announced that alcohol would not be allowed to be taken on site, but would be available to purchase from official bars within the arena. Also, that everyone attending the festival would be searched on the way in.

The 2007 festival was cancelled on the second day due to torrential rain, which made the site inaccessible to emergency vehicles. "The health and safety of our audience is what is important," said organiser Steve Hunt. Over 80 bands were due to perform that day including Damon Albarn's The Good, the Bad and the Queen. This cancellation increased the pressure on the already strained finances of the festival.

On Friday 20th July 2007 Bristol Community Festival Ltd, the not-for-profit company which organised the event, announced that it had started the process of winding up the company due to unsustainable financial losses. []

A successor to Ashton Court Festival?

Following the end of Bristol Community Festival, other groups have emerged hoping to continue with some sort of summer festival in Bristol.
Bristol Music Festival became [ Bristol Festival] and is currently fundraising and engaging in consultation.

ee also

*List of music festivals in the United Kingdom

External links

* [ eFestivals listing] for Ashton Court
* [ UK free festivals history] : early history-1978-80

* [] Ashton Court Festival Line ups 1994 - 2006

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