2008 Big Tent Festival

Last weekend I attended the Big Tent Festival Scotland’s Festival of Stewardship (seemed like an apt place to research my dissertation topic). I basically wandered around the festival sticking a microphone in people’s faces and asking about their concept of stewardship. There were some surprising answers (one of the exhibitors had no idea what a steward is; she thought it was just the person directing traffic at a football game). Most people though had some personalised concept of stewardship (either they thought of themselves as stewards or could verbalise what the responsibilities of a steward would be).
In a discussion with one of my professors (sitting by hay bales at the organic food stall), I had a bit of an epiphany concerning my research; at the outset, I had hoped to come up with a definitive definition of stewardship—something that would be applicable in any context. However, it is such a personalised concept that this might not be either possible or desirable. It’s rather like discussions on faith; if you are dogmatic and say it is just this one thing and nothing else, the discussion becomes closed and static. If one allows an “amorphous” definition of stewardship that can evolve and become personalised, everyone can come to the table and share in the idea.

The festival itself was—refreshing; it didn’t have the dizzying noise-filled atmosphere of many festivals, there were not stalls of cheap plastic toys made in China, the food was generally local and organic (if you are going to pay festival prices for food, it might as well be good food), people seemed generally at ease and enjoying themselves. There was a whole area set aside for lectures and debates on the environment, a poetry tent, yoga, massage, a tent for food demonstrations, several demonstrations on how to improve the efficiency of one’s home or install home solar or wind energy. Plus, and this is why many people came to start with, the music was fantastic! There was a “main” stage where the big um…amplified…bands played (though, thankfully, it wasn’t amplified to some ear-bleeding level. Most of the attendees were not the ear-bleeding type). There was also a small folksy tent music venue for groups that were just getting together to jam or singer-songwriter types. Plus, of course, people were just sitting about in the grass or in the campground playing instruments together. (An aside on the campground: my tent was about ten metres from the compost toilet—compost toilets are great! By the end of the weekend, though hundreds of people were using them, they had no smell whatsoever. In contrast, the porta-loos reeked! Plus, the compost toilets were these pleasant wooden structures, a place where one might enjoy spending a bit of time for…doing the thing one does there.)

I spoke with a range of folk in interviews: from academics who have devoted their careers to thinking of these things to a housewife who is trying to bring her children up as stewards in a disposable culture to a small-scale organic farmer (who started his work many years ago “traditionally” but became ill from the pesticides and decided to go organic). Each of these people have their own idea of what it means to steward. There was much discussion of community involvement and returning local “ownership” of communities; I think this is probably the beginning of a new sort of stewardship as communities begin to (or return to) local production of food, energy, etc. (considering the rise in energy costs and environmental concerns, one of the first issues discussed at the festival was local production of renewable energy).

I’m not sure how to define it, but I sensed a genuine feeling of connexion between people at the festival. There were people walking around who were obviously “upper class” as well as funky folk with dreadlocks and handmade clothes—and everyone seemed to be enjoying each other’s company. There is something happening around this idea of stewarding—a growing awareness of our care or neglect of the place around us—that doesn’t depend or divide down the lines of class or income. I find that very encouraging and exciting.