“Black Deer is all about building a community”

This month the Black Deer Music Festival takes place at Eridge Park over the weekend of June 16-18 with a bill that features some fantastic Americana singers including Steve Earle and Bonnie Raitt, as well as legendary acts like the Pretenders, Richard Hawley and actor-turned-musician Damian Lewis. Eileen Leahy speaks to the festival’s co-founders Gill Dee and Deborah Shilling (below) about why they’re so excited for this year’s event…


Congratulations on hosting another Black Deer festival. What are you looking forward to most about this year’s event?

Gill: For me, I literally cannot wait to start to build the festival.  We work so hard all year to ensure that we give everyone the best time possible, but the excitement when we are all on site together to make the festival a reality is huge.  I also cannot explain the feeling when our gates open, and to see all the smiling faces coming through and people enjoying all the work that our brilliant teams have put into it.

Deb: Black Deer is all about building a community, so I’m most looking forward to welcoming everybody back to the deer park for three days and nights of great music, authentic BBQs and making memories with friends and family.


This year’s line-up is incredible. Who are you excited to see performing and why?

Deb: Americana aficionados are so excited about this line-up and the reaction has been great across the board. Allison Russell is a big favourite of mine and she’s headlining The Ridge on Saturday, as well as leading The Songwriter Sessions the same day with some fabulous artists like Amythyst Kiah, Kyshona and Simeon Hammond Dallas. The Teskey Brothers, who play Saturday, will be another soulful highlight. Welcoming the Grammy-winning Bonnie Raitt to the deer park is going to be another special Black Deer moment. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats also have to be seen live to be believed, they’re so good and will get the party started on Friday…


Apart from the music element of Black Deer what else can visitors to the festival enjoy?

Gill: There is so much! We have changed things up around the festival this year and have moved things around and have some great additions. If you have been to Black Deer before you’ll still find great music on the two main stages and see all the places you have come to love like Haley’s Bar. There’s also the Live Fire area, bringing you the most amazing food, great celebrity chefs on stage doing demonstrations on how to achieve greatness with BBQ cooking. And don’t forget to check out the now infamous chilli eating competition – as well the massively popular Gospel Brunch.


Tell us about the festival’s famous Roadhouse?

Gill: This is where Harley Davidson gives you the chance to have a ride on its bike simulator and it’s great fun! Harley are also celebrating their 120th Birthday at the festival, and you will be blown away by the amazing bikes on display. Hang out around the Custom Bike Workshop where you can chat all things bikes, look at great custom cars, grab a beer, and just listen to some great music.


What’s on offer at Black Deer for younger visitors?

Gill: Young Folk will bring everything you would want to entertain your little ones at the festival.  Black Deer is where the kids have as much fun as the adults.  This year we are introducing Caffe Nero, who are creating a really great entertainment area, bringing you all the quality found in all their coffee shops – but in true Black Deer style.   This year, for the first time, we have a vintage Ferris wheel, and a Helter Skelter, and of course the bucking bronco!


Have there been any challenges in terms of putting on Black Deer 2023?

Gill: Running a festival is not for the fainthearted, and I would be lying if I said it was all a breeze to bring a small town to the beautiful Eridge Estate.  We have had lots of ups and downs, and you get used to the very frequent challenges that you face. As well as navigating our way through escalating costs, a cost-of-living crisis, and the recent terribly disappointing weather conditions that have given us a few sleepless nights, we are now just a couple of weeks away from opening our gates! The sun is shining, there is positivity in the air, and we will give our customers the respect they deserve, by producing a festival that will give them memories for years to come…


How have ticket sales gone?

Deb: We’re in one of the toughest economic climates many of us have ever known. Working people across the country are struggling to pay their bills and the cost-of-living crisis is having a real impact on all of us. Black Deer isn’t immune to any of that. But from the moment Super Early Bird tickets sold-out last summer, our loyal community have committed themselves to us in their thousands. We’re just weeks away from the festival now and there’s a real buzz about the place. We’re hoping even more of the local community – who have always treated Black Deer as one of their own – come down and sample everything that’s on offer in Eridge Park, even if it’s with a day ticket for a beautiful trip down the road with friends and family.


Why do you love hosting the festival in Eridge Park?

Gill: From the moment I stepped foot on the Eridge Estate 12 years ago, I knew I was somewhere very special. I never dreamt at that point, when I came to look at the estate for a client who wanted to stage an event there, that I would one day be building a festival that, along with Debs, I had created! It is magical to me, and I know that Black Deer and Eridge were meant to be together. Lord and Lady Abergavenny, because of their mutual love of music, wanted a festival at the estate that had longevity, that people around the area would love and take into their hearts. I hope we have achieved that for them.

Deb: It’s such a beautiful setting for our Americana playground and a wonderful place to let the Black Deer community roam free in a land of stunning surroundings.

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