“We discussed a mutual love of country and Americana music, and we didn’t feel it was well represented in our part of the world” We chat with Gill from Black Deer Festival

Photo by Louise Roberts

After a successful debut year in 2018 Black Deer Festival is returning to a field in Kent for it’s second summer with a line up including some amazing acts like Kris Kristofferson, Neko Case, The Mavericks, Ryan Bingham,Yola, and loads more. As part of our Women in country & Americana season we spoke with Gill Tee one of the co-founders of the festival about all things Black Deer.

Hey Gill! Right, an easy one to start, what have you been up to today?

Well I started the day at 6.30 – cup of tea – then out comes the laptop. I get a lot of work done in the first two hours of the day. That is when I am really focused, and uninterrupted. The office comes alive at around 9.30 when the gang arrive, it’s been pretty full on all day.

So, introduce yourself to our lovely readers, what is your role in Black Deer Festival?

Hiya lovely readers…… so I am Gill.  My role within the festival is Festival Director. I make the world happen on site. After many many months of planning, I take a greenfield site and turn it, with a massive group of hardworking people, into a temporary world full of life, music, laughter and fun. I also, along with Debs and our booker Bev Burton, get deeply involved with our artist line up, and any other entertainment on site. Also, Debs and I are absolutely passionate about the detail of every aspect of the festival, so we painstakingly ensure that every area looks the best it can. We want our festival attendees to know that we have cared about them.

How did you get to be running your own festival?

I had spent the last 21 years running events and festivals, for other people, and had gained a lot of experience along the way in production.  Then through a chance conversation with a retired guy Colin Lloyd, at a family party a couple of years ago, our chat turned to festivals, as he knew of my background. He asked the question of whether I would ever run a festival again – I said I would only be interested in working on a festival again if I could choose the venue, the genre, had the right investment and had ownership. We discussed a mutual love of country and Americana music, and that we didn’t feel this market was well represented in our part of the world. That discussion led to me talking to Debs, the next day, and we decided to see if it was viable for us to give it a go. Colin, offered the seed money to do the research both in the UK and in Nashville, which we did, and that’s how Black Deer came to life.

And what can you tell us about the festival itself?

It is truly a festival for all ages. We wanted to ensure that no matter what age, you would feel safe and welcomed. We wanted people to enjoy this incredible music and discover amazing talent that is within this genre.  We have a story to tell at every part of the festival. Great music on all our seven stages. Great food, cooked by incredible chefs in our ‘live fire’ area.  Interesting things to see, whether it’s custom bikes in the roadhouse, or artisan wares in the mercantile area, there is something for everyone. Stage 3 – the Superjam Stage is run by a group of young people who attend a music college, for kids who have fallen through the education system, for one reason or another. The college is truly inspirational, and we are privileged, after mentoring at the college for the past four years, to offer them their own piece of Black Deer. They work with our team to pick the artists, manage the stage, present the artists on stage, perform, and generally get involved with all aspects of this particular part of our festival.  Black Deer has become part of their curriculum, and it truly depicts what we are as a festival – a place to belong.

I came to the debut year last year and really enjoyed it, was what your favourite bit of year one?

To be honest, it took so much energy and will power to get the festival off the ground and running, it seemed to slip by in no time. I loved being at our festival, watching everyone having the best time and so many smiling faces, but equally, I loved the build of the festival. This is my thing, and having a group of like minded people all pulling together to get those gates open, is a truly humbling experience. We are a team, and chats around the campfire, when we are all dog tired working long long days, and just being part of an amazing talented group is very special. The actual festival was the icing on the cake for me with so many magical moments. One of the those moments was actually after the festival had finished, everyone had gone. It was a couple of days later when we were all still on site derigging, that a litter picker came up to me, who had been at the festival site for the duration, and said ‘ a bit of magic happened this weekend’  It certainly brought a tear to my eye.

And what are you looking forward to most this year?

Getting on site and building the world – meeting up with all the teams, the suppliers, and everyone working on the festival. It is in my blood. I absolutely love it. Also looking forward to seeing everyone enjoying all the lovely things we have going on at the festival. 

You got a mix of interesting (Kiefer Sutherland, who was great) and awesome (the inimitable Jason Isbell) artists last year, who should we be keeping an out for this year?

We have really tried to ensure that our mix of artists, there is something for everyone. I think we have someone special on each of our stages. Look out in the Roadhouse, curated by Desertscene for the heavier side of our genre – it fits with the whole custom bike area, and is a lot more down and dirty – Haley’s Bar is more intimate with some brilliant artists creating a real fun time. Main stage favourite Band of Horses is definitely one to watch out for.  Kris Kristofferson is definitely a legend not to miss on the Ridge. Young talent can be found in the Young Folk Papermoon stage this year, and the campsite is going to have its own stage in the Yard.  This is going to be full of lots of local talent brought to us by the cream of the Tunbridge Wells music scene.

I loved the Live Fire stage last year, what was the inspiration behind that?

We wanted to bring great food to our festival. We wanted to add fun to our food,  so the cooking competitions were there to make the whole experience more interesting.  Bringing Jon Finch and Ben Merrington on board, who started the food festival Grillstock, was an offer we could not refuse. They bring their fantastic expertise to the festival, along with the great chefs, that help to make this area a vibrant and bustling experience.

What are your ambitions for the festival?

To continue to grow the festival and to open up this genre to more and more people. Also, hopefully, to take the brand further afield to other territories. This year we are concentrating on making the festival even better in 2019

Were you a bit annoyed that The Long Road Festival started up last year as well?

Genuinely not at all. We are taking a different route to them, but still opening up the genre to more people. We are in a different part of the country. We are at the beginning and they are at the end of the season. This gives people the choice, to either pick one, or to go to both. We know the people involved in the Long Road, and see them many times throughout the year, so for us, it’s truly a community. Once you are in, you don’t want to leave. I have been around the music industry for many years, and I can honestly say, I have never come across such a warm and embracing bunch of people.

Obviously there’s a lot of talk about equality in general at the moment, what’s your experience of being treated differently as women in your industry?

Ha ha, this is a question that comes up all the time. Especially as we are woman promoters, and co-founders. My answer is always the same. We all have our qualities, and without each other I could not produce this festival. I like being a woman, and I enjoy my femininity. I have been given opportunities because of my abilities, and I have worked hard. There have been times when maybe I have been in meetings where someone might prefer to talk to the man in my team, but they soon realise that I am worth listening to. I have been around a long time in an industry that at the beginning was very male orientated, but that never phased me. I actually enjoyed it!.

Have you felt a change at all over the last couple of years?

There are definitely more woman working in live events and festival who are running the show. I think this will continue. When I first started out in my own business, women were mostly working in artist liaison or production assistants. Now they are Technical production managers, Festival Directors, and Production Managers. It’s all good, and definitely how it should be. 

And how do you work from the inside to change things?

I have always believed that you have to show your abilities in order to succeed. The Black Deer team has a lot of women in it. This is because they are good at what they do. We also have an equal amount of men who, make up the whole of the festival team. You have to give women the opportunity to shine. They sometimes do not have the confidence of men. When I was Festival Director at the Hop Farm, I was given the chance to take that role, that meant a lot to other women who were working alongside me. One woman in particular, who was just really starting out in the festival world, and worked closely with me, decided she had a desire to learn more about technical production. It fascinated her, and so I gave her the opportunity to work alongside the guys who were running the stage. After five years working with me, the Hop Farm era ended, and she went on to pursue her career in that field. Emma Reynolds is now the Technical Production Manager for the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.  How proud am I of her. She worked hard, and deserved it.

You’ve still got some acts to announce but there are a lot more men (51 men, or predominantly men groups) on the line-up for Black Deer than women (12 women, or predominantly women groups), do you think it’s a challenge in country and Americana to book more evenly?

I can see you have been counting!. So have I. I can honestly say, hand on my heart, that we have tried to get so many women on board, but for varying reasons we have not cracked it this year. Talent is talent and availability is availability. It was not through the lack of trying, but first and foremost we need to put together a festival that we can afford, and we have to work within our budgets to ensure our audience is listening to the best available artists. That’s what we have achieved this year. Next year the ratio may be totally different. We shall see.

Who inspires you?

People that care for others.  Kindness is very underrated.

If you could recommend one artist to hear this week, who would it be?

Steak – it’s my son’s band, and they are playing the Roadhouse.  Great musicians with amazing energy and stage presence.  Not everyone’s cup of tea maybe, but definitely mine!

What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?

What do you think the weather is going to be like – what happens if it rains………. The answer – no problem you are going to have fun whatever the weather!

Finally, how do you take your coffee?

White, strong with no sugar.

Tickets for Black Deer Festival are on sale now. You can check out the full line-up and all the other great things going on on the festival website. You can also follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Max Mazonowicz

Updated: May 02, 2019

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“We discussed a mutual love of country and Americana music, and we didn’t feel it was well represented in our part of the world” We chat with Gill from Black Deer Festival | The Digital Fix