INTERVIEW: Megan Evans of Deer Shed Festival

It’s been a while since I attended a festival… Obviously, there were so many cancellations throughout the last couple of years due the pandemic, and I missed out on 2019 as I was busy hosting my own (well, my wedding which I aimed to be as festival-like as possible). So, this year I was desperate to find one that was as lovely as possible and suited my needs of being perhaps a little older than the average festival-goer without missing out on any of the best new music. Sadly, the last festival I went to in 2018, and my favourite ever festival experience – Indie Tracks – did not survive Covid, and so I was looking for a replacement; something equally as inclusive, chilled-out, family friendly, and of course hosting plenty of amazing female and non-binary bands and artists. And then I came across Deer Shed… And I cannot wait to attend for the first time next month!

A festival with a real family-friendly focus, whilst hosting an incredible range of exciting new artists – as well as an array of comedy, spoken word, literary and theatrical shows – it seems like the perfect fit.

We caught up with festival organiser Megan Evans to talk more about Deer Shed’s roots, its ethos and inclusive line-up, some of the most special Deer Shed moments of years gone by, and more… Have a read below, and have a listen to our special Deer Shed 2022 playlist , featuring some of our personal faves who’ll be playing at the festival, at the bottom of this feature!

Hi Megan! 2022 will be Deer Shed’s 12th year – congrats! Can you tell us a bit about what Deer Shed is all about, and how it all started out?
Thanks! Deer Shed was started by our founders Kate & Oliver after they struggled to find a festival environment that was right for their kids but that didn’t compromise on cool and interesting music and culture programming for them. So, thats very much the goal of the festival – to create a festival environment that is accessible and exciting for all ages and groups, whether that’s families with kids of any ages or groups of adults with no kids in tow. Our family friendly festival content doesn’t look down on or condescend  and our music line up (we like to think!) is about as current and exciting as it can be. We’ve found it really works though it can lead to some funny situations, especially challenging our comedians to deliver PG sets to families who are unafraid of some audience interaction…

What strikes me about Deer Shed and makes it stand out against other festivals at the moment is the good gender balance of the line up – was there an intentional and specific decision to do this, or does it just naturally pan out that way?
We’ve strived for a 50/50 gender line up for years now which, while we’re mindful about achieving that, we also feel has happened very naturally and organically. Our focus is becoming more about looking at our line ups from a point of view of how inclusive, diverse & neurodivergent our performers are, both across the music line up and the arts and comedy. Gender parity of booking is something we have to be aware of, but it naturally also happens as our wish list each year always has more female and non-binary artists than male. Like everyone, we can always do better though and we still have work to do to making sure the line up across the board is as inclusive as possible. It’s something the whole festival industry has to be aware of and do better at. It’s no good saying that there aren’t enough female headliners or that its hard to find female headliners, that’s just lazy booking in my opinion. As festivals we have the ability to put our faith in artists and make them headliners – we’re not powerless in this situation.

Over the last 11 years, you’ve hosted some amazing bands and artists including Anna Calvi, Adult Mom, Sunflower Bean, Big Joanie, Ezra Furman, The Go Team! and Honeyblood, but has there been a particular set that stands out for you as a personal highlight over the years? 
There are so many! So if I’m allowed a few…
Kae Tempest headlining Saturday night as the rain started to come down was incredible, it was so atmospheric and beautiful… like it was meant to happen. School of Seven Bells is another highlight. We always say Deer Shed is a great place to discover new bands and I was just in my infancy of working for Deer Shed back then, this band just nailed it and I remained a loyal fan ever since. Their final and last album Ghostory was stunning. Anna Clavi headlining in 2019 with that album was amazing – the lighting and sound is one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to and god the guitar playing is mesmerising. Ibibio Sound Machine, when we did a massive flash mob with the audience to ‘Give Me Reason’, was one of my highlights of the last ten years; audiences young and old had learnt this dance routine for this specific time in front of the main stage. Joan As Policewoman – I love her! When she came to Deer Shed and headlined the Lodge Stage I was completely star struck. Honourable mentions also for Lone Lady and She Drew the Gun.

And this year you’ve got some GIHE faves playing – Self Esteem, Nadine Shah, Denise Chaila, Billy Nomates, The Lovely Eggs and CMAT… Curating such awesome line ups must be a lot of work – how do you normally go about it? Is it all based on bands/artists that have got in touch with you over the year? 
We always have a wish list each year and we try to see as much as we can live. We’ll often head down to Leeds to the Brudenell or head to over other festivals or city based new music events like Great Escape to check out some of the artists we’re keen to bring to the festival. We keep a very close eye on new music being released and like to think we’ve developed good relationships and reputations with booking agencies whose rosters we rate. Really though, it always comes to what an act is like live, that’s where you can find some of the real gems. 

And for any upcoming bands/artists looking to apply for festivals next year, do you have any tips? 
More generally I would say spend your time reaching out to the right people in the right way rather than blanket emailing everyone in the world – find the festivals where artists you love are playing, work on a pitch and keep going! Festivals get a huge amount of unsolicited submissions, don’t take it personally if you don’t hear back!
Specifically for Deer Shed I would say email us (after July!!!) –  we can’t always reply to emails, but we are planning to launch an emerging artist comp for our 2023 event, so keep you eyes peeled. 

There seems to be a definite focus on making the festival as family-friendly as possible – what inspired the idea to do this, and stand out from other festivals in this way? 
We have always said that the festival should have the cross-generational appeal of a Pixar film, so we would say we are more of a festival for everyone, but especially if you’re a music fan and have children. The festival is for music fans but there’s so much other programming to get involved in and watch which is specially curated for families, everyone should have a great weekend! 

Do you feel much has changed over the last few years in the music industry’s treatment of new artists, particularly female and non-binary artists? 
Yes and no. It’s good that this has been identified, and organisations such as Key Change are in place to make noise and create positive changes in the way people of marginalised genders have been treated. Though the industry itself has a long way to go, agents along with promoters and festivals have to work together to make sure there is a connection and progression of acts across these areas. We all have a responsibility for this – there’s no excuses to not address these issues and create a more equitable and representative space for our artists. 

Finally, as we’re a new music focused site, are there any particular new bands or artists you’d recommend we check out?
For artists playing at Deer Shed this year, I would say: Kobi Onyame, Brooke Combe, Mickey Callisto, Balimaya Project, CMAT, The Bug Club, Cortney Dixon, Beija Flo, Bess Atwell, CVC…  Outside of that, more generally, I’m really loving Lynks, Kills Birds, Taahliah, Bicurious, GUSTAF, English teacher & Dreya MAC at the moment! 

Massive thanks to Megan for answering our questions – we can’t wait to have the most wonderful time at Deer Shed festival next month! Deer Shed this year runs from 29th – 31st July in Baldersby Park North Yorkshire. Find out more information and get tickets at their website.

Listen to our special Deer Shed playlist here: