GEMFEST is an annual event, taking place this year on March 27th at the Exeter Phoenix just off Gandy Street in the heart of the city centre.
We heard about the event last year but sadly were not available to attend, we DO intend to pop down this year and soak it all up!
In the meantime, we thought it would be a great idea to have a chat with Gemma who was the inspiration behind the birth of the event, here's how we got on....
Hi Gemma, I’ve heard great things about Gemfest over the past couple of years, please would you explain how and why the festival came about and what the purpose of it is?
Gemfest started as a surprise do for my 30th in 2012 (I’m giving away my age now!!). It was a milestone I had been told I may not reach it due to being diagnosed with Brain cancer in late 2009, so it was was pretty special! My friends planned a festival themed party as I love festivals and live music. They were all in their festival gear with welly boots, ’Gemfest’ t-shirts and flowers in their hair. The venue had been transformed with fake grass, tents, face painting and games! There was live music on the ‘stage’ including my friends Sound of the Sirens who have supported the festival ever since.
After this amazing night, my friend Susan Luscombe and I decided to make it an annual event to raise money for charity. Her friend and local musician Rev Hammer organised a meeting with Patrick Cunningham from Exeter Phoenix and it took off from there! Our first event took place in March 2013 and raised over £5000!
2016 will be the fourth year that Gemfest has been running, have you seen an increase in interest and attendance since it began?
Yeah absolutely. We spend a lot of time talking about it to anyone we can! Spreading the word is not easy with no marketing budget. But everyone that has come along have said what a good day or night they had and word of mouth has definitely helped to raise our profile! We are still yet to sell out the evening, that would be amazing! But there are always plenty of people there throughout both the day and night and it gets better every year!
The event runs from 11am to 1am the next morning, do you have an army of staff to help keep things on track?
We do have a fantastic group of friends who help us out on the run up to the event and the event itself. We are always looking for more pairs of hands though as there is so much to organise and keep in check. Patronus Security have manned the evening event every year and there has never been a problem in that respect, so they usually end up helping us too!!
I read a write up of the 2015 event, it looks like you pretty much take over the Exeter Phoenix venue, putting something on in most of the rooms, how much planning goes into each festival?
A LOT!! We start planning in October and we do literally everything. Organise bands and daytime activities, equipment, decoration, press and publicity, update website and social media, sponsorship requests, gather draw prizes, every little thing. It’s a big job! The fundraising team at Hospiscare are brilliant during the planning process and help a lot, as do their PR team. And Exeter Phoenix are always very supportive.
Have you considered putting the festival over 2 days in order to fit more acts and events in?
We would love to. But we would definitely need a bigger team of people to help with planning! And the Phoenix would obviously need to be on board too! Our dream would be to take over the whole of Gandy Street and make it a multi venue event. Maybe in the future…..
What’s the age range of the attendees, is there something there for everyone?
Literally everyone. The day is family oriented with loads of activities for children of ALL ages and live music, stalls and massage in the bar for older children and adults. The evening has several genres or music including dance, acoustic/folk, reggae, rock etc, a comedy room, face painting, vintage hair stall and our most recent addition, a Silent Disco!
Do you approach local companies for sponsorship or donations? How would a company get involved with this if they chose to?
Yes we do but we haven’t had much luck with it so far! The second year was good, we had 3 main sponsors and then none last year! We have 4 tiers, ranging from a donation of services to £500 sponsorship. Fortunately we have secured a sponsor for this year, Auto Paint Repairs in Exeter have become a Gold Sponsor and we are delighted to have their support. Full details of our sponsorship proposals are on our website or you can e-mail us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
So far, Gemfest has raised £15,000 for charity, have you an overall target in mind or are you just going to carry on raising money forever for the chosen charities?
We will keep raising money until we run out of steam!
I guess you’ve booked all the artists and bands by now for this year’s event, how would a band or an act get in touch if they were interested in playing future festivals?
Yep, we are sorted for the event this year but we would love to hear from anyone who is keen to perform and willing to do so for free. It really is such a lovely event and all the bands comment on how well we look after them!!
Let’s imagine you could have ANY band or artist performing at Gemfest, who would you have and why?
I am a big fan of Frank Turner and would love it if he came to perform at Gemfest! That would be amazing! But it would also be great to have a local band who have made it big like Muse or Coldplay, both of which I also love.
The 2015 event hosted some pretty amazing acts such as Sound of the Sirens who had a HUGE year, will the ladies be back this year?
Yes they have a had a huge year! I am so proud of them - they really deserve it. They are a huge supporter of Gemfest but they haven’t been able to commit this year due to other gigs. However, we are the top of the list if things change so watch this space……
Can you divulge details of any of the acts that are going to be performing this year?
The full line up will be on the website very soon. But yes I can confirm that Jabbrock and Daniel Schamroth & the British Willdflowers will both be back. The Mockingbirds will be there for the first time and Carnaby Street are joining us too. The acoustic Stage will host FOS Brothers, Andy Watts and Thomas Kavanagh. More acts to be confirmed as well as DJ’s and comedians. An absolute bargain for £12, EVERY PENNY of which goes to charity. There will also be some incredibly talented young musicians performing in the bar during the day which is always impressive.
Tell me some of your favourite memories from the previous Gemfest festivals?
Oh there are so many! The whole thing is just awesome from start to finish. I love watching all the kids getting involved in the different activities during the day and the young musicians in the bar. The evening is just buzzing too with so much going on. It really does have that festival vibe - even though it’s indoors and cold and raining outside! I can’t pick anything out in particular - everyone there supporting us are all my favourites!
Are you looking for volunteers to help out this year? If so, how can they get involved?
We are always looking for help and very keen to hear from anyone who is enthusiastic about what we do and willing to help. If people think they can offer us help in any way, we can be contacted at - email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, where can people buy tickets and find out more about Gemfest?
The day is free entry but we do ask for a voluntary donation which can be left in the buckets and tins around the venue. The evening is £12 on the door. If you wear your wellies we will give you £2 off!! If you wish to purchase tickets in advance you can do so through Exeter Phoenix Box Office. Links to their website are below as well as our contact and social media info!
We'd like to thank Gemma for sparing the time to chat to us about the 2016 event, for more information, head over to the official website