Buying tickets for the Folk Festival

Every year Cambridge hosts a rather fine Folk Festival, sponsored in recent years by BBC Radio 2. And in recent years it has become rather popular, so as a result it is hard to get tickets. In response to this the City Council, which promotes the event, has decided to make it not just hard but positively unpleasant to buy tickets: they have no online booking, a phone line with one person on it [it seems], postal booking with no guarantee – and a box office that you can attend in person. Perhaps they believe that this will ensure that only dedicated folk fans and Cambridge residents will attend, thus preserving the purity of the event. Or perhaps they are just incompetent, stupid and contemptuous of those – like me – who pay their wages or vote them in.
Today I spent the day queuing, and like any working geek I had my laptop with me. I also had my camera.

1400, Sunday 30 April

It is two in the afternoon on the Sunday of a bank holiday weekend and I am standing on the pavement outside the Guidhall in Cambridge. I have been here for two hours, and for nearly three hours before that I was standing beside Great St Mary’s Church on Market Square.
Every now and then I move forward a metre or two, joining the several hundred people in before and behind me in the slow shuffle towards the box office where, if rumours are to be believed, three people sit at screens selling tickets for this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival.
Occasionally I call the box office number, in case it will be answered and I can buy tickets that way to free me from my place in the queue. But mostly I wait, talk to my fellow queuers, read the Sunday papers and contemplate the ways in which I can have my revenge on everyone involved in this comprehensive, unnecessary, annoying and entirely avoidable waste of thousands of hours of time and effort.
For we are here simply because Cambridge City Council, which organises the Festival, and BBC Radio 2, which sponsors it, holds us in contempt and thinks we are worthless scum who can be abused, mistreated and messed around with impunity because more people want to come to the event than could ever be fitted into the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall, and they can therefore do what they want to us.
Instead of building a working online booking system they take only telephone, postal and in person applications for tickets. Instead of setting up a special service with dozens of ticket sellers they open the normal box office, more used to the desultory selling of tickets for the latest touring ‘West End’ production of some inadequate musical. And instead of trying to minimise the irritatation, hassle and sheer tedium of queueing the expect us to comply meekly and express gratitude for being permitted to buy tickets.

This is not acceptable. I live in Cambridge, so it’s doubly unacceptable since these people are there to serve me, and they are paid with my Council Tax. Cambridge City Council has a chartermark for good service, but having witnessed what it does for one of the major cultural events with which it is involved, it is clear that it does not deserve this.
We got to the end of the queue at 1615, and I bought the tickets.

Three hard-working people were selling tickets, and that was it. I was nice to them, because it’s not their fault that their employers hold their customers – and their constituents, in many cases – in contempt. But it won’t be forgotten, and it won’t be forgiven.
Emaiil me if you were in the queue, and let’s see if we can make life hell for the councillors, officers and bureaucrats who think that getting a couple of thousand people to waste their Sunday is a sensible way to act. Because I had better things to do with my day, and I resent being forced to give them up.

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6 Responses to Buying tickets for the Folk Festival

  1. Paul says:

    Hi Bill

    It was good to have you as a companion in the queue yesterday but, despite the good humoured badinage and the best efforts of Peter Buckly-Hill, I agree that there is no excuse for the way we were treated yesterday.

    I pity the poor sods who are no doubt queueing today as I type. Some with little chance of getting the tickets they want maybe. Unless of course Cambridge City Council have made some changes overnight…certainly there’s nothing benn put on the official or Fatea websites about the queues to prepare people.

    I hope this blog spurs some engagement and some action. I’ll look forward to adding my thoughts to yours in the Council’s and the Festival’s e-mail boxes and the comments book at the festival.

    See you for a beer at the event too, I hope.


  2. At least you knew the tickets were on sale! The past couple of years I’ve had a few emails in the run-up to tickets going on sale because I’m on their mailing list. This year I haven’t heard a thing.

    As a result, while you were queueing for a ticket, I was sat in the Arts Picturehouse bar commenting to some friends that “tickets mustn’t be on sale yet as I haven’t had an email about it…”

    I guess at least I live close enough that I’ll hear some of the festival just by opening the windows 🙂

  3. Rachel says:

    I thought the system was great. Started queuing at 8:30am got through on t-mobile at 2:45pm so freed up place. BUT I GOT THE TICKETS. If you turned up and waited there were tickets. It’s the only festival / sporting event I’ve been able to get tix for a couple of years. Most places it’s online and sold out in 20min with hundreds on ebay within minutes. OK there are a few being touted on ebay but tiny percentage and the queue stopped the touts. If you really want to go and turned up you got the tickets you wanted. Couldn’t fault the system. If you want to be processed in an hour, pay loads to ticket master, get no tickets or them go to some bloke with 50 computers, pay £500 on ebay then your welcome. A nice democratic 8 hour queue was worth it and wouldn’t change it. Online I know I don’t have the connection or enough phones to compete with the touts and half-hearted. I bet you got the tickets you wanted after the queue. I simply can’t get tickets for anything else with other systems anymore.

  4. heather says:

    We have been every year for the past 12 years and each year it has been difficult to get tickets. This year we stayed on the phone re-dialling for the Sunday from 10am and the Monday and eventually got thru at 5.55pm. Result frustration as CH tickets were sold out and that is where we stay with friends. I am not sure what the answer is but now we are forced to peruse E-bay to try to secure tickets and camping.

  5. Tshirtwoman says:

    Hi there fellow queuer!

    You might be interested in this:

    See you in July…

  6. Peter says:

    I work at the festival each year (for the last 7 years) cooking for about 11 people who are working there full time.
    Each year its getting harder to get tickets.
    I feel that they need to revamp both the way they sell tickets and also how tickets are divided. Yes those from Cambridge should get first go, but hey could there not be some consideration for the support staff – I do this basically for free – well in good years I get a half price ticket – in bad I go to eBay and pay a premium

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