Christmas came early last week for thousands of Drake White fans across the UK (and Europe) when it was announced that, together with The Big Fire band, he would be headlining next year’s Millport Country Music Festival on August 19/20.
The news comes straight off the back of Drake’s The Optimystic Tour, which saw him and the band perform 30+ gigs across the US. It’s a remarkable return to form for the man who in 2019 suffered a brain haemorrhage which left him partly paralysed and unable to walk.
Today, thanks to his determination, the care of medical teams and physiotherapy, plus the love, prayers and power of his wife Alex, family and friends, he is once again firing on all cylinders.
It was hearing about him take to the stage again that piqued the interest of Gavin Chittick, the man behind the Millport festival, which takes place on the Isle of Cumbrae, west of Glasgow.
Already a big Drake White fan, Gavin was looking for a strong Saturday night headliner as Millport returns for the first time since 2019.
“We’ve seen Drake play five times, so we know how good he is, and we knew that when he played Country2Country in Glasgow in 2019, he went down really well. There was a lot of positivity about him and, because of his illness and all the rest, it had all been very quiet.
“But, me being me, I keep an eye on everything, so I had picked up that he had started touring again. He is going to be touring with Whiskey Myers this coming February/March, so that made us think well…by the time he gets round to our festival, it’ll be about three and a half years since he’s played in the UK. Maybe it’ll be of interest.”
Off the back of his hunch, Gavin reached out to his contacts in Nashville who, he says, could “unquestionably open doors that a festival on a wee Scottish island would have no right to be knocking on doors of UTA (United Talent Agency) and say ‘how about Drake White and The Big Fire’.”
The answer was a big “Yes!” and, ever since the announcement, social media has been rife with speculation about if and when Drake will be planning other gigs – especially given the fact that The Long Road festival is just a week later.
While Gavin swears he knows nothing about any other plans he teases that he would love to claim Drake was coming all this way just to appear at Millport but….
What he will say is that he knows Millport has exclusivity for Scotland – so watch this space for more news as soon as we have it.
If Drake does take in other locations and is on the bill at TLR, he’ll be following in the musical footsteps of both Cam and Lockeland, who played Millport in 2019 before heading south.
Previously both Millport and TLR have been slightly later in the calendar, but this year has seen them both move dates forward, while at the same time keeping their week’s separation.
For Millport, another change has been to morph into a two-day event focusing on the Friday and Saturday, cutting Sunday from the schedule.
Gavin explains: “We’re not a huge festival – we try and keep our prices as low as we can without committing complete economic suicide, while striking a balance for the overall festival offering.
“For the last three years, Sundays have cost us a fortune. The number of tickets sold for the Sunday is a fraction of the Saturday, the weekenders come on a Friday, they go for it Friday night, they wake up Saturday morning and go ‘what the hell was that’. They come to again by midday, they do Saturday night and by Sunday they’re gone.
“It means we throw everything at the Saturday, it’s going to be a belter. You had better bring shoes with very thick soles.”
Together with wife Christine and supported by daughter Fiona, Gavin has run the Millport Festival since 2017. With past headliners including Cam and The Shires, he says their ambition is to try to take it to another level each year.
“Let’s face it 80% of our audience comes from the west of Scotland and we need to find a headliner who will appeal to them,” he adds.
Drake aside, Gavin says there are plans to bring over another seven or eight international artists, together with a real cross section of UK and Irish artists. Not surprisingly, he will be flying the flag for Scottish artists many of whom, he says, are very good yet often don’t get heard much outside Glasgow.
Since the call-out for artists submissions went out in September, some 200 applications have been received, including from the US and even Scandinavia.
“I had the crazy idea one night, why don’t we do a post on the Nashville Musicians Network, because we know quite a few people that play on Broadway and in Nashville. I thought why don’t we reach out and see if any of them would be interested in applying. Within four days we had over 30 applications,” he says.
Gavin is keen to point out just how accessible the island actually is – just an eight-minute ferry ride from nearby Largs and less than an hour from Glasgow, or 40 minutes from Glasgow airport. Plus, with the Garrison House grounds right in the centre of town, opposite the beach and the bay, he says it’s a fabulous outlook.
Being an island does however, bring its own unique challenges, both in terms of festival accommodation and the fact that ferry capacity is capped at 900 people an hour. As the ferry crossing is the only method of transport for visitors to the island, it’s a factor that Gavin and his team have made key to their planning for the weekend.
While festival arrival times tend to be more spread out, it is the grand post-gig departure that makes life more challenging. For this reason Drake’s appearance as the Saturday night headliner will finish at 7.30pm, giving everyone who’s heading home plenty of time to avoid literally missing the boat.
That’s not to say there won’t be plenty of other things going on throughout the weekend, including an acoustic venue, a party venue (the Town Marquee) and line dancing.
Gavin concludes: “We’ll be running five stages with a minimum of 37, and probably more, artists appearing between the Friday night and the Saturday. There’s the Nashfield Main Stage in its usual position framed under the trees, but at the back of it we also have the Spotlight stage, so there will be continuous live music going on.
“One of the reasons for putting the Spotlight stage there is to enable people to say ‘I’ll stop here and have 10 acts play to me in the afternoon’. If we have a couple of thousand people just doing that, it means even the folk who are playing earlier get a good audience, and the people playing the spotlight stage get a much bigger audience too. We’re trying to be about balance and making the Saturday as strong as we can.
“There’s stuff going on for kids, we’re trying to put on a lot of activities as well as the music, although fundamentally it’s a music festival and what we try and do is cover all elements of the genre.
“We’ve succeeded in establishing Millport as a credible Country and Americana music festival over the last few years and we’re trying to build on that. When you say you’re on a Scottish island, people immediately think you’re on Harris or Lewis, or in the ‘boonies’ but we’re not and, if you book flights to Glasgow in advance, it is remarkably economic to do the journey.”
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