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The BIG Picnic wants you!

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Join your community for a full day of music and dance on November 4! With two stages on Tai Pak Wan and two in DB Plaza, the little festival that was has finally hit the big time. Elizabeth Kerr reports.

It’s a muggy afternoon in Discovery Bay when Mona Gadalla-Carter, Nick Flavell and Belinda Howard drop into Pacific Coffee by the ferry pier. They’re sporting The BIG Picnic (TBP) t-shirts, and are totally hyped about promoting this year’s event.

The DB-based trio makes up three-quarters of TBP’s organising committee, and with roughly 60 days to go, Ricky Cumes – the man chasing sponsors – is absent. Because he’s chasing sponsors. More on that later.

Bayside blowout

Ricky’s sponsors will ultimately go toward paying for a whole host of new features that could earn TBP a spot on Hong Kong’s must-do event calendar. Set for November 4, the community event that was Picnic in the Park (PiP) at Siena Park is reaching toward even loftier heights. The crew had a chance to kick the tires last year, and discovered that the move to DB Plaza and Tai Pak Wan was the opportunity they hadn’t realised they needed to make TBP even more festival-y.

A consummate diplomat, Mona doesn’t have a preference for one location over the other. “For me they’re two very different things. It had a different vibe when it was in the park. The beach is something else. I wouldn’t say I have a preference,” she says. Belinda, however, is adamant that TBP’s new home is her first choice, if the universal gesture for ‘here’ that she’s demonstrating is any indication.

“We’ve got a fantastic Beach Stage and a great place for acoustics if that’s what you do, and the two stages in the plaza. We couldn’t have that in the park. There’s an atmosphere and a ready-made crowd, and the location is so much easier to get to. It’s more immediate, the outlets love it, the bands love it, and there are more  toilets. It’s something you can actually grow, too,” Belinda argues.

On another note, Nick recalls one PiP that turned into Glastonbury when bad weather brought out the mud. “Now,” he says, “if it rains on the beach, it goes away. If it rains in the plaza, it drains away. That contingency plan is so much better, and there’s shelter for everybody. [Siena Park] was brilliant for years but we outgrew it. [PiP] had to have enough momentum to move it here.”

And it’s certainly got that now. Inbound ferries and buses were busy last year, and even more telling, response to the call for talent this year was staggering. Belinda and Nick were still combing through entries in mid- September. “If we’ve got that much talent to showcase, maybe it’s a precursor to adding another half day,” muses Belinda, who runs YRock, an organisation that cultivates musical talent in youth.

Backstage business

Which brings us back to Ricky, who’s still looking for sponsors a few weeks before show time for the simple reason that the quartet wants to keep the event a free one. Twelve years after starting life as PiP and a year after shifting locations, the popular event that regularly draws upwards of 12,000 people still has trouble covering costs. But the tide could be turning.

“Last year, after changing venues, raising sponsors was like starting all over again. Everyone wondered if it would work,” says Ricky later, by telephone. “But now that I have more tools to work with – photos, video, hard numbers – it’s a bit better. I’ve been able to bring in HKR International, RMD Kwikform, ForEverGreen, AMC Wanhai Securities and Around DB, among others.”

The first beach-and-plaza-based event was a success in part due to its wristband policy, which was Ricky’s idea. “We don’t want to go asking for money every year, and the only way for the event to survive was to monetise it somehow,” he says.

TBP is still free simply because, first, it’s a community event, and second, entry fees are, says Belinda, “too difficult to police”. Last year, the HK$100 wristband was good for food, beverage and market discounts (two beers paid for it), and entry into a lucky draw (flights to Bangkok last year). “Everybody loved it,” Belinda continues. “Half the money goes to the event and half goes to charity – this year, KELY Support Group, Plastic Free Seas and Sunnyside Club.”

Purchasing a wristband on entry is not compulsory but it’s an easy way to contribute. The ugly reality is that events like TBP cost a lot of money to mount. Ideally, the wristband will help organisers get ahead  of the game and build up a nest egg heading into the next event. “Besides, who goes to an all-day music festival and pays nothing?” Belinda asks.

DB’s Coachella

But enough business. This year’s TBP – call it HK$100 at the door for 25 bands – is certainly the biggest yet, spread across four stages. Cali-Mex, Pizza Express, Golden Pig, Mavericks, Hello Molly Gelato and Chef’s Choice (get the Cubano) are all setting up on the beach, and there will be a special space dedicated to kids from toddler to tween.

“Last year we didn’t do as much as we could have for kids. As a mum of two myself, I thought it would be nice to have more for kids. And if I felt this way, I was sure a lot of other moms did too,” says Mona of this year’s new Kids’ Zone, which will have its own all-access HK$100 wristband (no digging into pockets for another HK$10 or HK$20 for rides).

TBP is all about family and community but music is, of course, the main draw. In the Monterrey Jazz-y plaza, Handmade Hong Kong’s 50-odd market stalls (selected from another staggering number of applicants) will go with music by Hippogroove, Loud Shaft, Hard Luck Kings, budding Discovery College and Discovery Bay International School bands, and the YRock composing competition finale. There’ll also be a Dance Stage showcasing local studios and community acts (not a dance floor with EDM DJs on the stage).

Down the road on the beach, it’s Coachella meets Lollapalooza, with the chilled beach bar, Beach Stage and Acoustic Stage. Sets by Grounded, Sonic Space, Jack Rabbit Slim, Helium3, Mue, and the Jaywalkers will go until 10pm. Newcomers this year include the vaguely Celtic The Privateers (here’s hoping for a The Night Pat Murphy Died cover), Sisters First (think Haim- lite), Huckleberry Friend (folky and Ben Folds-y), and the John Mayer-ish Supper Moment. Rock out!

Grab the November issue of Around DB for your free event guide to this year’s The BIG Picnic

Images: Baljit Gidwani – www.evoqueportraits.com

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