The Music Flag at The Southern Fried Festival of American Music

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Southern Fried is a tasty little roots festival that takes place each year in the Fair City of Perth in Scotland and attracts firmly established roots, country and Americana stars as well as emerging talent. Earlier this summer, we decided to go walkabout over the weekend in an attempt to capture the flavour of the tastiest, friendliest festival west of the Sidlaw Hills.

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The aim of the exercise was to have a go at (semi) live blogging and reportage from a colourful event taking place right on our doorstep. The results were published in our related online music webzine INSTRUMENTAL  and took the form of in-the-moment reporting to the site and sharing informal photographs and observations on social media. These posts gave us the raw material for more substantial reviews published on the day following each performance we covered.

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What we hoped to show was that concerts, festivals and events benefit from a small but dedicated team engaging with performers, organizers and audiences can offer a sense of wider participation by framing the event in real time. More than that, it provides post-event media opportunties that follow the performers on their journey beyond the festival. This can take the shape of interviews and CD reviews that offer the chance to re-visit the experience and help maintain interest in forthcoming events.

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The purpose, in this case, of linking INSTRUMENTAL with The Music Flag is to show live examples of how this sort of reportage translates into useful media exposure and to offer a better sense of who we are and what we do. A writer and a photographer armed only with an iPad mini and a DSLR camera can, if they get cracking, can cover a lot of ground and get a real feel for what’s  happening on the ground. In this example, we gave a quick sketch, married to FB shares and tweets on Twitter of where we were, who were with and where we were going next.
http://instrumentali.com/2013/07/20/southern-fried-saturday/

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It was a really useful thing for us to do and we learned a lot. Gavin McLaughlin got great pictures, especially of The McCrary Sisters, and I wrote on the fly for the first time. On reflection, it would have been more effective to publish primarily on a blog embedded in the Southern Fried site but that wasn’t feasible due largely to constraints of time. We didn’t push for extraordinary access to performers, but I think in time venues and artists may come to recognize that a team working to a pre-arranged timetable and a clear brief could gather a lot of really valuable and unique material. The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh already does this to some extent but it is still more of a record of the event than live narrative.

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What could we do better next time? Well, I think we would almost certainly make more of an effort to grab members of the audience for a few words and a picture. Looking back I would have liked more of that material for added colour and a sense of excitement and anticipation.

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I would also adopt a more disciplined format for writing on the fly and stick to it, rather than trying to be terribly wordy and entertaining. You can effectively report in-situ using the WordPress.com platform (as opposed to super expensive live blogging services) but I found the app to be awkward and unforgiving when it came to updating posts. The result was that I couldn’t rely on it to consistently and reliably save changes to errors and typos. In future I think I would write short posts in Pages and proof them there before posting onto the desktop site.
It will already have occurred to you that this sort of activity is already a feature of larger festivals and much of it is video-led. The question I would always ask is this. Are they telling the story of the event? I don’t think they are because there is no narrative structure to this sort of coverage. It’s like trying work out the plot using only character descriptions as a guide.

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Finally, the support and co-operation of the festival organizers and venue management made the job a pure pleasure. The use of the rather plush press room was invaluable. It offered an oasis of calm to collect one’s thoughts and plan the next steps. Go to www.instrumentali.com to look at our results which starts with “Saturday Fried Fever”.
Michael Stephen Clark