The Downsfest Story

Ping!  A message from Jo Ganpatsingh. 

“I want to bring the music back to Hassocks. Will you help me?”.  I love a challenge and I felt I could do this for my friend and my community.  “Of course I will,”

I replied.  And there started my DownsFest 2019 journey, which was going to be an emotional and logistical rollercoaster from start to finish.

Needless to say, the quest moved from helping to organising!  In September 2018, I sat with Jo and Stephanie and Chris Goldfinch at a table at The Hassocks to discuss how we could put on a music festival in Hassocks. 

The concept was to bring the music back to Hassocks (ten years since Proms in the Park!), provide an opportunity for local artists to perform on a stage to a crowd and raise money for our hospice, St Peter & St James Hospice, where so many of us have known someone who has needed their care.

All our lives were busy and by Christmas not much had been arranged.  My 2019 New Year’s resolution was to definitely get the festival up and running.  I contacted our group but heard nothing back.  Much later I was to hear that Chris had been diagnosed with cancer and sadly passed away at St Peter & St James Hospice in July.  Chris knew that the music festival was going ahead.  My passion was now to bring his dream alive and make it the success he would be proud of.

I had a headline, Queen II, but I really wanted the musical community to benefit from experiencing the staging and audience, and to let everyone hear what a fantastically talented musical community Hassocks has.  I was astounded to get over 18 local acts respond to join in at DownsFest and many more acts contacted me that I couldn’t accommodate!  And Emily Hilson and Marion Smith set up the lovely DownsFest Youth Choir specifically to sing on stage at DownsFest.

It’s with thanks to Nicki Burston that our community music festival is named “DownsFest”.

Unfortunately, I did come across a couple of obstacles.  The initial venue fell through in May and then the event insurance assistance was withdrawn in July.  I have learnt a lot about port-a-loos, stage equipment, security and the music lingo such as ‘Front line’, ‘Back line’ and ‘tech rider’ to quote a few (especially as I’m definitely not musical!).  I was so happy when Sarah Green came onboard as Stage Manager, literally two weeks before the festival!

I now know an event like this is not cheap!  To say this has been a stressful experience would be an understatement.  My health did suffer.   However, in rides my knight in shining armour, Kelly Foley, who I’m forever grateful to for coming to my aid.  Kelly was my rock, my social media champion and became my righthand man!  And how can I miss out Jo, the maddest friend I’ll ever have; all I have to say to you is “cheese and banjo”!  Love you both to the moon and back.

One thing that I love about my community is all the help and assistance from so many that have enabled me to put this festival together: Graphic Design (Su Watts), Web Design (Alex Simmons) and Burgess Hill Community Radio (Steve Bird), all the volunteers and many more.  And I thank my family for their support throughout this huge adventure.

Three months later, DownsFest 2019 was live!

I have three stories I’d like to tell you that made DownsFest so special to me.

During the sound check on Friday, Archie (12 years old), the lead singer in Black Hurricane, joined me and his dad.  Archie said to me “Will I get a microphone?”.  I replied, “You know how you watch the bands on stage at Glastonbury; that’ll be you tomorrow”.  How his face lit up and he stated “I’m so excited I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep tonight!”.

At the end of DownsFest, I had a text from Stephanie Goldfinch with her grand-daughter’s comment: “Look at that great big star up there (and it was just one), see Grandad’s watching it all”.

A message on Hassocks and Hurst Reality Facebook page from Pete Bogg:

“My working life has me living in a very small social bubble these days.  Last night I caught up with many friends that I hadn’t talked to in years.  I honestly hope to see more events like this one. Otherwise I’ll have to go back to being Billy No Mates.”

I love my community.  I appreciate that the music is not for everyone and I have taken onboard your comments and hope you understand that it is only for one day.  Please can I thank you all for your support and enthusiasm to help me put this music festival on. 

– Michelle Binks

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