North West Festival brings circus to town
North West Festival brings circus to town

Ever wondered what goes in to organising a music festival?

When it’s a festival in Port Hedland, try four road trains, 60 toilets, 30 caravans, 2km of fencing, 200 staff, several sea containers full of lighting and sound equipment, a very hurried six months of planning and one long week of setting up.

North West Festival organisers Sunset Events was awarded the tender to put on the show in April this year, and according to director James Legge, putting together a festival in such a short space of time in such a remote location threw up its fair set of challenges.

“Normally we’d need a full 12 months planning to put something like this together, and when we won the tender in April we still needed to secure artists,” he said.

“It was a bit of a fluke that we had four of the best artists in the country available on the same weekend to come to Port Hedland in our first year up here.

“Besides that, a lot of the infrastructure we needed isn’t available locally; it’s specialist festival equipment, so most of it needed to be trucked up from Perth.”

However, Mr Legge said the setting up process wasn’t too different to Sunset’s flagship Southbound festival, held in Busselton at the start of each year.

“The distance meant that we had to be a week ahead of ourselves in terms of planning to allow time for everything to get here,” he said.

“The biggest difference is that down there we have access to Busselton and Bunbury, reasonably big centres which carry a lot of equipment and hardware, so if something goes wrong we can fix it pretty easily.

“Up here we had to think about everything that could possibly go wrong, put it in a truck and bring it up – no one wants to drive for two days because we lost a bag of bolts.”

The two major risk areas identified by the company early on, according to Mr Legge, were staffing the event and finding accommodation for staff and artists.

“When you break it down you need people in the parking area, the camping area, on the gate, backstage, manning the bars, security, it all adds up … we probably have about 200 people working at the event,” he said.

“About a month ago we were getting worried about staff, because it’s been hard to find anyone locally – but a lot of the sports club and council have come forward to help out and we’ve flown a lot of people up, so it’s come together well.

“In terms of accommodation, we’ve got site crew sleeping in caravans on site, security sleeping in tents and the artists and remaining crew spread out across town; it’s been a challenge, but again, it’s come together all right in the end.”

But as the dust settles from the inaugural North West Festival last weekend and the long wait until next year’s event begins, Mr Legge said the festival will only get bigger from here.

“As the town gets bigger and bigger over the next few years, so will the event; it’s part of that broader, long-term vision for Port Hedland,” he said.

“You’ve got to have that culture and activity that comes with growth, and that’s what this festival will keep bringing for the next few years.”

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