WinterStorm - The Minors Tale
There are a number - a very large number - of issues both positive and negative and follow ups that we have not fully addressed since the weekend drew to a close. Plenty of excuses but we should certainly have addressed the criticism that we received regarding the restricted access for under eighteens to the WinterStorm XVI event itself.
There are two elements to this issue. The first one is the one that we should have addressed and had control of. When it became clear at the October licencing board meeting that restrictions were to be imposed on alcohol areas and under 18's we should have contacted families and informed them of this. Why we didn't do it is a failure of communications on my behalf and it SHOULD have been done. There was no malice nor trying to get away with it - we agreed after the licencing meeting that should families wish to take a full refund we would offer it. Under the pressure of the overall event we missed it - for those affected it was a major cock up and impacted greatly on their view of the overall event. We screwed up on this and we cannot argue that we let that portion of weekend guest down very badly.
To address the core issue of licencing restrictions, however, we have to outline exactly what South Ayrshire Council, almost uniquely, decide is good for families and minors attending licenced events.
Quite simple really. They basically wish to protect minors by not allowing them into areas where alcohol is being consumed. Not where it is being served but where it is being consumed. It is a simplistic overview of their policy but it covers it. This means that for The Scottish Air Show, they'll refuse access to minors to licenced tents, at Highland Games the same and for music events no kids in licenced areas - unless it appears that the organiser is South Ayrshire Council running Burns' Festival events in music tents when kids are given access to the tented areas.
When I do pick up the Ayrshire Post, I'll always read the rants of old friend Bob Shields and today's feature takes up one of his running threads and that is the identification of which century, never mind decade, that the councillors of South Ayrshire Council are operating in. His article questions a number of areas and certainly touches on the subject of Draconian licencing restrictions. The underlying theme of his article and indeed this blog are similar. The policy decisions on licencing made by South Ayrshire Council are inconsistent and detrimental to the growth of hospitality and by association tourism.
But back to the specific of WinterStorm.
Our vision was, and remains, the aim of creating a weekend of classic rock music that can be enjoyed safely and comfortably by all ages. And by all ages we include the offspring of rock fans who want to share their music with the next generation. That was the message we took to South Ayrshire Council licencing board in October.
(The royal "we" that I refer to is me, the organiser of Winterstorm, and not any other business or individual involved with the applciation. This is a personal view and should not in anyway be inferred as a shared position.)
We asked for the event to be treated as an indoor music festival, where the guests could wander between the three distinct music stage areas without restriction and relax; we cited Belladrum as a family friendly event where the atmosphere remained relaxed and families could sit at benches with a beer or a glass of wine with no fear of breaching licencing regulations.
We asked for children to be allowed access to all areas excepting the bar servery areas which were to be clearly defined. We argued the case in front of the council officials and elected councillors for almost an hour pushing every positive social and economic button we could. We argued that the policy was creating a competitive disadvantage for the area and that imposing restrictions such as these would only deter event promoters from even trying to build new events. We pointed out that had we been holding our event in The Barrowlands, The SSE Hydro or as part of the Edinburgh Fringe or Festival then we wouldn't even be having to argue the case for family friendly events.
It was even stated, formally in chamber, that the suggestion that we were trying to be family friendly was "perverse". If there was single point that my calm exterior was going to expose the reality that was within that comment was the one that almost triggered it. The idea that we were fabricating the concept of family friendliness was pretty outrageous in what was a court of law! WinterStorm will never be arguing that families are their key market but if there is one thing I've learnt in thirty plus years of hospitality is that does not stop you going out of your way to make your events or venues family friendly. They may not be the largest market but we want to encourage more youngsters to watch and listen to more music live more often.
Every one to their own but my kids have been exposed to live music since the earliest age and I would argue til the day I die that they have benefited from that experience. If all those venues had been as family friendly as South Ayrshire Council my kids would never have seen AC/DC at the O2 in London, or Kiss at the SECC or Prince at The Hydro or The Stranglers at Belladrum, or Skerryvore in Dundee or Bernie Marsden in Edinburgh - the list goes on...
To us, as event organisers, the idea that under 18's were not even allowed access to the main concert hall at WinterStorm to watch bands with their parents was just ludicrous. Not pedantic but totally and utterly stupid. No argument in this world could convince us that imposing such restrictions was going to protect those thirty or forty kids from the dangers of alcohol. 2016 and this council determined that this was a necessary protection at WinterStorm - oh yeah but not a necessary protection at The Open Championship at Royal Troon some four months earlier when I witnessed a major punch up in the seated area amongst groups of families watching the golf and having a drink. nor at the aforementioned Burns Music event held by the Council where you can see Facebook images of adults with alcohol standing next to their young kids.
In the end, we were offered a compromise. We were given a ten metre by four metre penned area to the rear of the main downstairs hall that we could allow kids into. We were given an instruction for the Sessions room too. Two designated alcohol free areas.
Our free roaming policy was rejected. The balcony was to be food and drink free. The corridors were to be drink free. The catering, retail and merchandise area was to be alcohol free. Minors were to be allowed into pens at the rear and upstairs and we knew instinctively it would cause complaints (at this point we re-iterate we SHOULD have got that message out and god knows why it didn't go as we discussed it often enough.)
And if course it did generate complaints (beyond that of our communications failures). "Being penned like animals", "humiliated", "Restricted views". All predictable and relevant complaints.
Mental. Crazy. Unjustifiable.
I mentioned Bob Shields at the start of this rant and I'll close with him. Bob I am with you on this adventure of trying to elect a council and licencing board that understands that we need to have a more enlightened approach to our licencing and entertainment policy; one that creates a sensible policy that is managed even handedly and recognises the uneven playing field being created for those of us trying to develop 21st century welcomes for events in South Ayrshire.
It is maybe time that rather than standing in a single line to be rejected individually that event promoters got around a table to highlight the economic impacts of such a visitor unfriendly attitude towards our hospitality sector. There is no need for, nor are we suggesting, a laissez faire, come what may attitude to alcohol consumption nor an open door policy for all events or premises but applying Draconian rules across the board is not the solution to creating the environment for music, entertainment and sporting events. The issue of licencing restrictions is up there with ridiculous costs of lets for Council properties but that is for another day but it IS time that the private sector based events sector in Ayrshire started taking a little more control of the message and shape outcomes.
We are still hopeful that WinterStorm will return for 2017 and certainly are planning towards that eventuality. That plan however has as an integral part of it's future the concept of access for all ages throughout the event and venue and as such we will argue even more forcefully in licencing that with their support WinterStorm can become a truly family friendly annual rock event for Scotland.