Having taken the reins of The BIG Picnic, launching on November 5, rock star, flyboy… and event organiser Nick Flavell is making big plans for the future. Elizabeth Kerr reports.
Nick Flavell is wholly unperturbed. The freshly minted director – and organiser, and programmer, and marketing guru, and headliner – is days away from kicking off the revamped Picnic in the Park (PiP), now The BIG Picnic (TBP), on November 5. While it’s been a lot of work (he says he doesn’t know if he’s going to have a wife much longer), he is decidedly unaffected by pre-launch jitters.
“They left me a sinking ship and I have to make it float again,” jokes Nick, before tipping his hat to Jim Alba-Duignan’s original crew for making PiP what it was.
Nick, who moonlights as both a pilot and the frontman for DB band Helium3, was one of the minds behind the original PiP back in 2005, but had never really been involved in the nuts and bolts of organising it. “It was literally a stage set up in the park. I think it started with four or five bands, and it got bigger each year,” he recalls. “Then they got the community involved – the local dance groups would come and do a show, the schools wanted to come in – and it snowballed into the two- stage event.”
So long Siena Park
The ship wasn’t sinking but it had sprung a serious leak – last year, PiP lost both its main sponsor and primary venue. But any cloud can have a silver lining. Newly dubbed The BIG Picnic (TBP), the popular and wholly voluntary, resident-run event is throwing down the gauntlet and proving there’s more to live music than (the younger) Clockenflap. Unintended it may be, but TBP is setting itself up as the more local, less aggressively alternative cousin to that high-profile festival weekend.
“The venue change – and hence the name change – was because it used to be in Siena Park. It was a park,” explains Nick with a smile. “It was near Discovery College and they had some playing fields, and we used the grass there as the second stage. It was really well set up. Then Discovery College went and turfed their pitches.”
Nick understands full well Discovery College did nothing wrong – it’s a school, not a concert hall. But seeing as very little is less welcoming and fun to hang out on than Astroturf, the hunt was on for a new venue. Even if a solution had been found, the festival would have been on the hook for any damage to the field. “We would have to pay over a million dollars to fix it,” Nick says. That was simply too much stress for a free event, trying to keep costs down, stick to one day – and maintain its charitable nature.
TBP landed in really the only location that makes sense – in DB Plaza and on the adjacent beach, Tai Pak Wan. After Jim officially passed the baton early in 2016, Nick and his right hand, Steve Garrett, installed a new team, which included an impartial programming committee, and got to work creating Hong Kong’s answer to Austin City Limits.
“We’re changing the atmosphere a bit. Before it was like a dog chasing its tail. Once the music was on at 10.30am it never stopped until 9.30pm,” begins Nick. “Based on the feedback we’ve got, people don’t want that all the time. They want to watch an act, like it, chill out, grab a beer and wander around.”
So what’s in store? The first, smaller stage in DB Plaza will be the busiest, with community events and local schools showcasing their bands and troupes, and the music will have a country-folktechno vibe. The beach stage, facing the water, will feature more established bands and will be complemented by an unofficial third stage for laidback acoustic sets between main stage acts, perched not far from the beer tents. Lining the plaza, behind the stage, will be a Handmade Hong Kong-organised marketplace for local artisans and food vendors. It’s an ambitious plan.
“Absolutely,” states Nick. “And I wouldn’t use the term ‘community event’ anymore. We are looking for support from Hong Kong and it’s starting to come anyway. The location change will really help.” True. Admission is just the cost of a ferry ticket that drops you right at the venue door. “If Discovery Bay and Hong Kong want this event to keep going it was the only option,” argues Nick, knowing full well there are likely to be complaints (RIP Victoria Park’s Rockit Hong Kong), but he’s confident that after all is said and done, residents will be thrilled – and sponsors will return.
“I think last year PiP was voted Discovery Bay’s favourite event with Hong Kongers,” Nick says. “It’s a proper festival now. Or it will be after November.”
And therein lies the biggest challenge. Nick is thankful that sponsors Hong Kong Resort, Headland Homes, AM Capital, RMD Kwikform and Hemingway’s By The Bay have come to the rescue this year. And he hopes a new wristband policy will help cover costs and leave enough left over for TBP’s supported charities (KELY Support Group, Plastic Free Seas and Hong Kong Student Aid Society).
For a HK$100 wristband in advance or at the door, attendees will be entitled to perks like discounts on beer, food, some market goods and merchandise. If half the expected 10,000 buy a wristband, TBP should come out in the black.
The only question left is who’s on the bill. Nick and Co. are still tweaking the line-up but it will include Nick’s Helium3 and The Red Stripes. Nick is looking for gigging bands with flair, poise and, frankly, stage presence. Liam Gallagher types need not apply. “This is not what we want,” he says. “We want bands to engage the audience.”
Be prepared for some surprises; gone are the days when friends of friends picked up spots. “It did seem a bit incestuous in the past. We’re trying to remove that,” says the man who runs the show and whose band is playing the de facto main stage. “I’ve been trying to get us the headliner slot for four years!” Nick cracks, adding, “If it’s not us, that’s fine by me. We can try again next year.”
Pick up your copy of November’s Around DB magazine for your handy pull-out guide to everything you need to know about The BIG Picnic, including the full line-up and venue map or find it online.