South-facing Festival August 2021

Stage by Stage                                        

Pearl Hodgson West, Aug 9th 2021

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend Crystal Palace Park which is the ideal setting to host the South-Facing Festival which is a month-long festival from 6th to the 29th ofAugust, showcasing well known musicians and groups such as The Sleaford Mods, Baxter Dury, Corrine Bailey, The Streets, Fat White Family, Supergrass, Dizzy Rascal and many more.


There are also some free events being held over this month during the coming weeks called The Sundown sessions, supported by a local community-led charity The Crystal Palace Park Trust, which is great for the community and creates access for all. Some of the events include a film-making workshop, along with an outdoor cinema for children, plenty of live music and other workshops.

Upon arrival we entered the park from the top entrance off of the high street and walked down, past The Crystal Palace Museum and across the Italian Terraces where we walked to the left past the large willow tree towards the headless statue and entered the temporary arena that has been erected in the concert bowl, alongside “The Rusty Laptop” stage, as we locals endearingly refer to it.

The stage was designed back in 1996 by Ian Ritchie a Imagerenowned architect from Sussex. At the time, the stage housed a few concerts but nothing like the initial design was proposed to fulfil, as the previous sound stage did in the 1960s onwards.

The English Garden area of the park, designed and landscaped by Sir Joseph Paxton in 1852-1854, held some amazing fêtes and classical music events during the 1800s, as well as hot air balloon ascents, which worked well due to the Concert Bowl’s long sloped incline and ability to hold enormous crowds - and at one point around 15,000 oil lamps and 2,000 Oriental lanterns suspended from the surrounding trees, illuminating the Venetian fête.

There have been some regular live contemporary performances since 1961, such as Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and the Wailers, The Cure, Pink Floyd, Elton John, The Pixies and other world-class performers.

The capacity of this naturally-set amphitheatre once showcased 15,000 performers on the 8th June 1911 during The Festival of Empire. The pageant was showcased by Frank Lascelles who very much specialised in dramatising the history of London, England, within four parts over four days, using 20 composers - to include Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst. Due to its great success the pageant was extended to the 2nd Sept., but that’s sadly where it ended due to ongoing unpredictable weather.

The Bowl can now facilitate approximately 8,500 people at any one time. But this weekend’s affair was slightly more intimate.

Being a local to the area I was anxious about the temporarily constructed stage and wondered how the sound scape would compare to the “The Rusty Laptop”. I realised upon entering the area that the temporary stage structure looked very much like the stage design from the 1950s and would hopefully have the similar acoustic properties, as apparently, according to my father Nick Hodgson, who saw


Bob Marley and the Wailers and Pink Floyd during the 1970s and ’80s, the sound quality was “legendary”.

The original construction was purpose built to serve the keeping of sound within the area of the bowl, whereas the brutalist sculptural trap door design of “The Rusty Laptop” proved a disappointment acoustically for visiting audiences.

In my opinion, seeing the two stages near to each other only aided to remind me of how unused and functionless “The Rusty Laptop” is and how it has been allowed to stand decomposing back into the algae of the lake, laden in decay for many years.

Pledges can be made to #BackTheBowl campaign who are raising money to generate a new stage that will hopefully take on board the acoustic understandings of the original 1950s sound stage.


The South-Facing Festival has brought some much-needed attention and life, creating a funding platform to help secure the historical legacy which is The Crystal Palace Bowl.

My experience at the festival was amazing from start to finish with clear and accurate sound, with no major distortion or reverb. Artists performing looked great, with visually striking orange and purple lighting for some acts.

Even from a distance the temporary stage design, being much like the original, served its purpose well. I and many others danced away into the evening, with few complaints from locals regarding the sound carrying to nearby residents. Which is what typically happens when concerts or impromptu events are held in other areas of the park. I’ve been to many local music events over the years such as the Lambeth Country Show, and festivals also non-local, but I really felt at ease here.

The disabled access was excellent with a raised, ramped viewing platform which gave optimal views of both stages, and a lower grassy area in front for those who were able to stand. The organisers also provided some extra bench seating around the perimeter underneath trees, which provided a little shelter from the weekend’s unpredictable weather.

The event was clean and staffed well by friendly and helpful stewards, who helped me and my friends have a fantastic time and we hope that a new stage appropriate for the park will be created as a result.

Securing our local musical heritage and culture is key, especially for future generations.

Photo credits:,, and Pearl Hodgson West