Didi Ramlan: Stage Managers Have Feelings Too


As a kid, experiencing a festival like Woodstock seemed near impossible especially when you live on the opposite side of the world and when RM4000 for a plane ticket equated to a bazillion ringgit. Still, I secretly fancied myself to be amongst the 500,000 odd nameless faces at that festival.

Flashforward to 2010, I find myself staring at a sea of tents and masses of people making their way to various stages at UK’s legendary Glastonbury. The air smelled the way I imagined it would – a peculiar mix of freshly cut grass, sweat with the occasional breeze of questionable smells permeating from the portaloos. This was my Woodstock.

My instinct as a festivalgoer is to beeline for the stage where most of the acts I want to see are playing, jockey my way to the front barrier and hopefully park myself there for the rest of the day. I’m paying all this money, I’d like to bathe in the lead singer’s sweat thank you very much. So there I am, at the front waiting for Phoenix to come on when my mind strays to what’s happening backstage. It’s something I do often. At any given show, there’s a handful of people that think “Ohhhh… the stage manager must be pissed!” when a band doesn’t start on time and I’m one of them. Most of my event organizer counterparts would agree that they now have a greater appreciation for festivals after they’ve suffered the slings and arrows of putting one together themselves.

So many factors make a festival successful and it starts with a vision. Michael Eavis went from a dairy farmer to the founder of Glastonbury, one of the world’s biggest festivals. Why? Because he was inspired by watching a Led Zeppelin show and later hosted a free concert on his farm. These sort of visionaries exist right here in KL – whether its Razman Razali for creating Sunburst Festival or Adrian Yap who birthed Urbanscapes or the Livescape team for Rockaway and bringing in Future Music Festival Asia. Like Michael Eavis, myself and I’m guessing you reading, these people are first and foremost lovers of music and its culture. And of all people they know it’s not just about the music but the entire festival experience and they go all out to deliver this.

Their teams put in months of hard work and sleepless nights, all for a fleeting 12-hour day festival. And in an age where feedback is key, it kills me to see certain gripes being aired. Let me address a few on their behalf.

“Why are tickets so expensive?”

Well my friend, you gotta fly bands over, put them up, cart them around AND pay them on top of all that. Also let’s not forget you’ve got to rent the festival grounds, setup stages, pay for permits, hire security and the list goes on. The point is, yes sponsors might cover half of that cost if you’re lucky but for the most part these festivals depend on ticket sales to be able to sustain itself.

“Why isn’t [insert band name here] on the line-up?”

Every festival has a wishlist of acts. But the reality of it is, booking them is a proccess and sometimes it doesn’t work out. Bands might not be in the region at the time. If they are, your date has to fit into their tour and at the right price. If they’re not, agents ask for more money than you can afford. Also the ol’ double booking has played havoc with many a festival line-up.

“Why is it so muddy?”

I went to Lollapalooza in 2011 where no one was prepared for the torrential rain that hit. Foo Fighters had to stop mid-way, I lost my shoes and everyone looked like a hot mess but not once did anyone complain about the mud. At Glasto people actually expect there to be mud. This is Malaysia – rain is inevitable unless your bomoh is…God. Get over it, grab some boots, a poncho and enjoy #festivallife!

This isn’t by any means a sob story for our local festival organizers. To be honest it’s really not your problem, is it? You pay money, you expect a great time, simple! But the fact is our festivals are still teething, they take time to learn, grow and perfect. Despite its early imperfections, at least now, a music fan doesn’t have to look far to experience a festival for the first time. So, the next time you login to Twitter to publish your grievances, you’ll give it a second thought or at the very least feel guilty after you press ‘Tweet’.