Fiona Stewart is keeping the festival industry on its toes. The festival organiser has gone from Big Chill to Green Man, putting her own stamp on the music scene and is soon to be celebrate Green Man’s 15th anniversary with over 30 years in the industry herself. 80s and 90s Camden saw Fiona first step foot onto the club scene, lending a hand to friends with an eye for fitting the square peg in the square hole, where others were trying out circles. It wasn’t long before people were asking for her particularly, enabling her to strike out on her own.
Today, she’s no stranger to a drop of rain in the rolling hills of Brecon Beacons, accompanied by her dog, Walter. And with Green Man festival in full swing, she seems as chilled as anything, Walter in hand: “He’s a bit cold because he jumped in the pond,” she laughs, “smelly and pondy."
So how does she do it?
“I don’t mix with the festival scene,” she begins, “never have. Partly because I’m the only woman that runs a festival, it’s all blokes and I think they do but I’ve never been a part of that. And because of that, I don’t sort of morph ideas from other festivals into Green Man. All the things that happen at Green Man are Green Man ideas, they are born here and they go on to do what they do."
There’s a very natural and organic feel at the festival, harbouring inspiration from Fiona’s family and friends, keeping it a close family affair. And this isn’t only evident with Fiona’s son taking reign of the music bookings, but in the whole atmosphere of the festival. To the Babbling Brook to the Hippo House, families are welcomed with open arms into the natural haven, tucked away from everything.
It’s not just the surrounding nature that makes Green Man so special, it's Fiona’s attitudes to festival-ing generally. On being different, she says, “I’m very anti-beige that’s kind of creeping into the world, you know that idea that you look on breakfast television or something and they’re reporting from different parts of Britain but the high streets could be anywhere. And I think there’s a level of that creeping into festivals where you go to one festival and you see the same decor and the same artists, same offering.”
The “anti-beige” ethos spreads throughout her own festival theme, with a village fete ideal encompassed with art installations, theatre performances and science exhibitions. Einstein’s Garden is the perfect example of this, combining a walled garden, bunting, a butterfly enclosure and science themed stalls. And this is just one of many individual parts of the festival, “there’s so many areas here,” Fiona laughs.
And that’s before we even get onto the music: “We're bringing in [artists] that people already know about, but also bringing in exciting new artists that are really going to go places,” she says of the Green Man line up. “They’re talented and new. I want this to be a massive platform for new talent.”
The Green Man Rising Stage does just that with their Green Man Rising Award winner, Tony Njoku, being a highlight of the weekend. Plus, with headline acts this year such as James Blake and Belle & Sebastian, Green Man truly brings in a mix of new and well-established acts.
Striking the right balance with the acts and the atmosphere brings in just the chilled out audience Fiona’s after: “This is the level of drama we have; we had a little girl who had a wasp sting once,” she jokes. “We don’t have dramas here.” A drama-free festival lends itself to a pretty unique offering compared to the other large UK festivals. Fiona knows this too; “you don’t get people like this at other festivals, it’s amazing."
When it comes down to it, Fiona Stewart is all about the artistic experience she creates, and just having some fun with it; “It’s a very inspiring thing seeing people enjoying what you and the rest of your friends and family have thought of and pondered over and put a lot of energy into and seeing people really getting something out of it”. All the while, she’s creating a truly unique event as one of the last of the large independent festivals, reigning complete artistic control with no public funding, artist label or sponsor to answer to. Fiona summarises: “You might see what’s at Green Man later, but the first time you’ve seen it is here."