Music festival takes a ‘massive’ financial hit but will bounce back

FOUNDERS: Deborah Shilling [left] and Gill Tee started Black Deer in 2018

This weekend should have seen the Americana festival take place in Eridge Park after it was postponed from last year due to the pandemic.

But on Monday June 14 the Government announced they were delaying their roadmap out of lockdown, prohibiting any outdoor event with more than 4,000 people in attendance, which saw it cancelled again.

In an exclusive interview with the Times, Black Deer co-founders Gill Tee and Deborah Shilling said they had no idea they would end up calling the event off until they heard the Government announcement while they were setting up on that Monday.

“The stage wasn’t up yet but we were putting up the fences when the announcement came on, so we had to watch it all come down again. It was heartbreaking,” said Gill.

“We were not expecting the announcement at all. We thought it would be fine. As far as we were concerned it was all going ahead, and then when we heard we felt just disbelief really. 

“We just couldn’t believe it. This is one of the safest events in the country. We have space for 40,000 people at Eridge Park, it is outdoors, and yet other events such as football are being allowed to go ahead.”

Festival partner Deborah Shilling explained they had no opportunity of rescheduling this year.

She added: “We had already moved the date once to a week later when the Government introduced its roadmap, and we realised then that a lot of the US acts would not be able to come over.

“Our 2020 line-up was US-based, but when we had to postpone the event we lost our American acts so it became more a British and Irish Americana event with the likes of Van Morrison and Robert Plant.”

Deborah added that the news has meant the pair have taken a ‘massive financial loss’, but they are vowing that Black Deer will return in 2022.

“We have lost a large amount of money, but we have such wonderful investors on board who are not going to let the festival go,” she said.

“And we have had absolutely no support from the Government,” added Gill.

“We just hope they will retrospectively look at this and realise that all those people in our industry who have received nothing over the last year bring so much into the economy.

“The Government is piloting other events far less safe than Black Deer. Where is the balance, who makes the decisions? We did everything possible to put on a safe event.”

Despite the financial loss and cancellation of the event for the second year in a row, the pair are looking ahead to Black Deer happening in 2022. 

“Whatever it takes we will be back,” said Gill. “There has been such an outpouring of love locally from the people of Tunbridge Wells, and we are so grateful to them as they have taken Black Deer into their hearts.”

Deborah added: “2022 is definitely going to go ahead. We are already in talks with some great acts and have some fantastic artists on board. 

“Whatever it takes we are not going to let it go and we will fulfill all our obligations to our wonderful ticket holders.”

Photos: © Ania Shrimpton


How Black Deer grew from the Hop Farm to an award-winning event

Black Deer co-founders Gill Tee and Deborah Shilling began the Americana-inspired festival in 2018, after a chance conversation with a friend.

Gill said: “I used to work at the Hop Farm putting on events and festivals, and when Deborah and I got chatting to Colin Lloyd about his love of Country & Western, it just started it all rolling.

“We thought a festival like that could work, but it would have to embrace all of Americana – and we both had a deep love for Americana.

“Colin said he would put up the initial money we needed, and after that everything just fell into place. We had worked with Eridge Park before and it was just the perfect venue.”

Festival Partner Deborah Shilling said that in order to be successful they knew they had to attract the best acts around.

“We decided if we were going to do it, we needed to get the best artists we could get, so we visited Nashville and sat down with all the managers and agents over there,” she recalled. “And they were willing to take a chance on us.”

The first Black Deer Festival in 2018 saw around 5,000 people visit Eridge Park to see acts that included the likes of American songwriting legend Iron & Wine alongside TV and film star Kiefer Sutherland’s band.

A year later the crowd had doubled, and the number of acts had increased to nearly 100, including big names such as the Band of Horses, Kris Kristofferson, the Mavericks and Billy Bragg.

It went on to win the prestigious Independent Festival Awards 2018 ‘Best New Festival on the Block’ award.

Black Deer 2020 was set to be the biggest event yet, with 20,000 expected to attend Eridge Park to see Robert Plant, Imelda May and the Waterboys and more, but it was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Now its 2021 replacement has also had to be postponed, but the organisers have not given up.

“None of it would be possible without our fantastic investors,” said Gill Tee. “They have all been amazing in standing by us, and one in particular, Ian Chapman, has really put his head above the parapet for us and ensured we can keep going.” She added: “We will be back in 2022, everybody is really committed to it, so watch this space.”

Share this article

Recommended articles


Please enter a search term below.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter