Sticking to formula is something which dogs not just festival culture, but music culture as a whole. Depending on a vast array of external influences, it can make or break you, but there’s something very admirable about taking the risk.
Love Supreme festival employs this, and in many ways it has been extremely lucky. In terms of ethos, location and aesthetic, there’s nothing terribly distinct about it, but by dint of being the only UK based straight jazz festival, it has carved out a very important niche. It’s sitting right in the epicentre of a resurgent genre.
This was evident last year, but even between then and now, things have changed. 2018 gig calendars have been stacked with jazz names and more well known festivals have been booking them in droves. So, did Love Supreme do anything drastically different this year to ensure it stood out? No, and just as well.
See, the challenge Love Supreme faces each year is still the same. It’s all very well for festivals like Field Day, Boomtown and Bestival to carve out a corner for this kind of thing, Love Supreme is built on it, and it has to attract a crowd entirely from that. That involves booking at least a couple of big, legacy names, a huge contingent of which are either too expensive, retired, or dead.
This year, Elvis Costello, Earth, Wind and Fire and George Clinton filled those slots, and in so doing helped to ensure that the older, family oriented crowd who have been coming to the festival since its inception still turned up in droves. As a side note, this year also represented perhaps the best equipped festival for disabled people I’ve ever seen, it was evident that they had taken huge care to ensure that everyone, no matter how limited in their mobility they might be, got the same experience.
That’s only half the story, though. I noticed this year that the younger demographic was, if anything, even better represented than it had been the year before. I mean sure, you can bet on people like Tom Misch, Craig Charles and Mr Jukes to tempt in that kind of audience, but the huge, energised crowd I saw around me during Portico Quartet demonstrates that the appetite reached far further.
Even if you acknowledge that younger crowds will flock to nearly anything with ‘festival’ in the name (unless it’s preceded by ‘harvest’ or ‘Wychwood’), it’s hard to get away from the fact that Love Supreme rations out the party vibe too much for it to be the primary source of appeal. These kids are hungry for jazz, even if they didn’t know it when they arrived.
That’s what I found most gratifying this year, the big acts were fun (EWF especially), but the real draw was in discovering acts you simply wouldn’t see anywhere else. Bahraini trumpeter Yazz Ahmed was perhaps my highlight of the entire festival, closely followed by acts like Ronin, Sam Eagle Spirit and the Sarah Tandy Band, who had the tiny Jazz in the Round tent bursting at the seams even at 2am when everyone else was grooving to Eric Lau. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either.
More established new school acts like Zara McFarlane, Moses Boyd’s Exodous, Ezra Collective and Nubya Garcia were all as excellent as we’ve come to expect, and despite having to compete with Funkadelic and Earth, Wind and Fire, overseas visitors Keyon Harrold and Moonchild drew sizeable, well deserved crowds. It was also nice to see some of the more hip-hop infused, reverse engineered fare appearing on stage, principally Barney Artist and Alfa Mist.
That delicate balance is always going to be hard to maintain, but once again Love Supreme have absolutely fucking nailed it. More than that though, on my way off the site I overhead a group of teens – probably around 17 or 18 – loudly proclaiming how much amazing new music they had heard. That, surely, is the real point of all this.