Words Amicia de Moubray Photographs Nathalie Banaigs and the Hop Festival Committee
The Hop Festival, of all the many annual Faversham festivals, is particularly resonant with the town, famous as the HQ of Shepherd Neame. This year it is on 31 August – 1 September.
The Festival is always held the weekend after the Brogdale’s Cider Festival – both events celebrating the end of the harvest in Kent. From small beginnings 30 years ago, it is now attended by a staggering 40,000 people, including many visitors from abroad. Such is its international popularity that secretary Rachel Wynn says: ‘I recently had a call from a man from Australia asking for the dates of the 2021 festival planning to coordinate his visit to England with the Festival.’
The Festival is an exciting mix of bands, stalls, street performers, a Hop Blessing, a traditional funfair, Morris dancing, and shops with themed Hop Festival window dressings. A very jolly atmosphere pervades the whole proceedings.
Gordon Newton first came up with the idea of the Festival. He was one of the founders of the popular Sweeps Festival in Rochester. After a few years, Faversham Town Council took over the running of it before Swale Borough Council took it on in a bid to give it additional prestige. These days it is run by a group of local volunteers headed by John Payne. It costs £70,000 to stage and does not make a profit. ‘It is very much hand to mouth,’ says Colin Jones, one of the organising committee. ‘We rely heavily on fundraising and local goodwill.’ There are a handful of sponsors including Shepherd Neame.
It is very much a family event with something for everyone,’ says Graham Martin, another member of the organising committee, adding: ‘It is a misconception to see it as an excuse to drink copious amounts of beer whilst listening to loud rock music.’
The two-day Festival is also a huge boost to the local economy. Enormous care is taken to ensure that the 60 stall holders don’t replicate the town’s indigenous shops. The scope of stalls is wide ranging from the Bees Trust to the Girl Guides to Plastic Free Faversham.
This year an astonishing 650 bands have applied for the 50 slots available, of which 35 per cent are from within the Borough of Swale. The five stages include party bands on the stage opposite Shepherd Neame in Court Street, folk bands in West Street, and the Hoppers Stage in the main car park which is dotted with tables and chairs for families to have picnics while listening to a variety of acts from folk to funk music. Performing at the Festival has been a springboard to greater things for many bands over the years. Rheanna Forester, who first played just aged 17, went on to be two above Taylor Swift in the Amazon charts; Faversham band, Green Diesel, went on to play at the Edinburgh Festival; and Gang played one of their early gigs at the Festival while still at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School before going to be internationally acclaimed. The delicate task of choosing who to play falls to Graham who firmly believes in giving young people a platform, playing alongside some old favourites. He skilfully orchestrates the lineup each year.
The admirable Plastic Free Faversham has taken the imitative to introduce reusable ‘Stack Cups’ cups, price £1, available from their stall in Preston Street as well as several Shepherd Neame outlets and pubs and the Brewery’s main bar. Long-lasting, the cups are also recyclable.
The Hop Festival is looking for volunteers to work on a two-hour shift schedule. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Plastic Free Faversham is also looking for volunteers to monitor recycling and reduce litter.
‘It is a major showcase event for the town,’ says Graham. ‘Many attendees are visiting Faversham for the first time and are beguiled by what they see, vowing to return in the future.’
There is even a campsite available on the playing fields of the Abbey School with music in a marquee on both the Friday and Saturday evenings.
Go on, buy your hop bine to twist round your head, available from the Clinches’ stall near the Post Office, and get on down there. You will have a lot of fun.
Text: Amicia de Moubray. Photographs: Natalie Banaigs and The Hop Festival Committee