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Big fun: Behind the scenes in the run up to The BIG Picnic 2018!

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Anticipation is mounting for The BIG Picnic on November 3. Samantha Wong finds out which bands will be rocking the four stages, and how crowdfunding helped save the day.

The organisers of The BIG Picnic (TBP) – Nick Flavell, Mona Gadalla- Carter, Carla Acepcion, Heidi Frances, Luke Smith, Duncan Nott, Steve Turner and Kevin and Rebecca Higgins – are expecting another 10,000-strong crowd to show up in Discovery Bay on November 3, for what is rightly billed Hong Kong’s Biggest Community Music & Dance Festival. Punters are invited to experience live and original performances from Hong Kong’s best and rising talent, plus multiple special community events.

The action is again focused on four stages – the Main Beach Stage and Acoustic/ DJ Beach Stage at Tai Pak Wan, and at DB Plaza, the Main Plaza Stage and Dance Stage.

Festival culture

TBP evolved from Picnic in the Park (held in Siena Park), and the new beach-plaza format has been a massive success since the get-go, attracting festival-goers from across Hong Kong in addition to the diehard DB contingent.

“We started to see interest from the wider Hong Kong community back in 2016, and this has grown quickly, in part because of the location change,” says Nick. “Now we have more space for both event-goers and performers, and we’re really accessible whether by ferry or MTR. Last year, we drew a huge crowd from all over Hong Kong. It’s a proper festival now.”

In opening TBP up to a wider audience, the plan has been to provide a total festival experience – something like a Cochenella or Glastonbury, albeit on a smaller scale. You step straight off the bus or ferry into a Monterrey Jazz-y plaza, which hums with the hustle-and-bustle of 80+ Handmade Hong Kong market stalls, two stages and a special activity zone dedicated to kids from toddlers to tweens.

Since many festival-goers make a whole day of it, and need more than a homemade picnic to keep them going, providing plenty of food options has been another priority for the organisers. “In addition to all the D-Deck restaurants, there are multiple pop-up dining facilities,” says Nick. “This year, Pizza Express and Golden Pig are among the food tents setting up on the beach. Yardley Brothers is also making us a special craft beer for the festival.”

the big picnic

Bayside boogie

Just as 2017 saw an increase in attendees from wider Hong Kong, the bands performing were no longer exclusively homegrown. Widening the net allows the organisers to put on an even wilder show. “We had five non-Lantau bands playing last year, and we expect at least as many this year,” Nick says. “People familiar with the Hong Kong music scene are going to enjoy seeing The Privateers, Huckleberry Friend, Jack Rabbit Slim and The Taken playing at TBP this year.”

That’s not to say TBP 2018 is short on DB-based bands. Community favourites already on the lineup include Grounded, 852Blue, Benzine, The Jay Walkers, Rebellion and Helium3. “We also have a couple of new DB bands, like Shum Kin Mansion, performing for the first time,” says Nick.

Thanks to the calibre of its performers, TBP is well on the way to establishing itself as the more accessible, less alternative cousin of Clockenflap (Hong Kong’s highest profile festival weekend, which kicks off on November 9 this year), and this is largely due to Carla and Luke’s stringent auditioning process. If you want to perform at TBP you need stage presence as well as talent, and you need to be an established working band.

“We’ve been looking for the best live music Hong Kong has to offer, with applications limited to actively gigging bands,” Luke says. “This year, we had over 60 applicants for 30 slots, so we focused not just on vocals and instrumentation but also on the wow-factor – bands need to be interesting to watch.”

The Main Beach Stage features the more established, stadium-style bands and is complemented by the Acoustic/ DJ Beach Stage, where you can catch laidback sets between main stage acts. The Main Plaza Stage, meanwhile, is where you’ll find the party bands, playing alternative and/ or original music. It’s also home to the Discovery College and Discovery Bay International School bands, and this year’s YRock contingent of talented teen musicians.

The Dance Stage in DB Plaza hosts the hugely popular community acts put on by local studios and clubs. “This year, we have talented troupes from AERO Kids, A.T. DanceSport Academy, Bollywood Divas,

DMR School of Ballet, Dance for Joy, Embody, Future Stars Dance Academy, Island Dance, McDermot School of Irish Dance, The Beat Dance & Fitness Studio and the like,” says Carla. “Some of the studios will also be giving demonstrations.”

the big picnic

Backstage business

So that’s what’s we can look forward to on November 3, thanks to both the TBP sponsors and the successful crowdfunding campaign introduced this year for the first time.

“TBP has got some great sponsors,” says Mona. “Thanks go to Hong Kong Resort International, RMD Kwikform, Mainstay Asia, Bay Media, Stamford American International School Hong Kong, The Beat Dance & Fitness Studio, Glow Spa & Salon, Yardley Brothers, BeatingHeart, Future Stars Dance Academy, DMR School of Ballet, Hemingway’s, Island Dance, Pyjama HK, The Wanch, Island Health and Uncle Russ.

“But this year, now that TBP has expanded, we’ve also had to raise HK$100,000 by crowdfunding. If people contribute over HK$150, they’re entitled to a wristband on the day, which will give them access to both the beach and plaza stages. To order a wristband in advance, go to Ticketflap; to donate direct before October 3, go to our Facebook, Instagram or webpage.

There’s no getting round the fact that putting on TBP costs a huge amount of money – try over half a million dollars – and this year, getting sponsors has been tough. “It’s like there’s a wall between Hong Kong and DB and we can’t break it down,” says Nick. “But we’ve been doing our very best to push the reality that the wide festival-goer demographic puts TBP right in the sweet spot of corporate sponsorship.”

The TBP team also acknowledges the willingness of the community to help fund the event. “People don’t expect to pay nothing for an all-day event like this,” Mona says. “In 2016, we introduced an optional wristband policy to help us cover costs; this year, we really need everybody to buy one – we don’t want to restrict access to the event but if we don’t get enough support it may very well be the last picnic.”

Like its predecessor, TBP operates on a not-for-profit basis. “We are all volunteers with day jobs,” explains Nick. “In the same altruistic spirt, all the acts perform for free. No one makes any money out of the event, except our charities.”

This year, 50% of profits raised through wristband sales will be split between homegrown eco-charity Plastic Free Seas and Bethune House, a Hong Kong-based charity which gives emergency shelter to distressed domestic workers. “Bethune provides a safe haven for the women as they process their legal cases against former employers, often with claims of illegal and abusive practices,” says Mona. “During this time, they are forbidden by Hong Kong law to have employment.”

Purchasing a wristband is an easy way to contribute, plus it entitles festival-goers to perks like discounts on beer, food, some market goods and merchandise. Here’s looking forward to a really big day (and night) out. Roll on November 3!

the big picnic


Photos by Baljit Gidwani – www.evoqueportraits.com, and courtesy of Hong Kong Rocks

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