Innovating tradition: The story of Tuscan paradise FLASH Festival
“Everyone missed music festivals. The anticipation is an exciting thing to focus on.”
Festival season is officially going ahead this year. Not only to the relief of swathes of music lovers across the world, but for those who work hard behind the scenes to make these events happen.
After all, the vast majority of organisers have spent the last two years waiting patiently to share the fruits of their labour.
Benedetta Venturini is the founder of FLASH, a Tuscany-based boutique festival run alongside her partner Karl Schussig. This May will mark the third edition of the event which is about much more than just good music.
“It’s a music festival with food and wine and other elements,” she explains. “It’s a multi-programme with various senses, tastes, escapism and dancing, obviously, as well as being able to explore the local beauty of Tuscan land.”
Set across three days in the beautiful walled city of Castiglion Fiorentino, FLASH promises a fully immersive experience, which has been built on a growing community of open-minded festival-goers and locals alike. But like many other large scale events, the wheels have been in motion for FLASH for several years.
There were many industries that took a beating during the Covid pandemic, but none more so than the world of live events. At the beginning of 2020 large gatherings across the world came to a standstill, a decision that would cause significant damage to the arts and creative industries, affecting everything from festivals and nightclubs to theatres and concert halls. At least for the time being, events lay dormant.
When the virus first struck Europe back in early 2020, Italy was one of the first countries to lockdown. Benedetta and Karl quickly made the decision to postpone that year, little did they know it would not go ahead for two years, however Bene continued to remain positive.
“I knew that at some point they [events] were going to come back and people would have needed it more than ever, so I stayed strong.” With this she found ways to manage her own expectations, as well as ways that FLASH could adapt and differentiate their work.
“I’ve learned how to stem that during decisions like ‘are we postponing?’, ‘are we not postponing?’, ‘what’s going on?’. People kept asking me ‘are you going to change your career?’ and I’m like no, I actually learned how much I love my industry. I love the people that work in music, I feel like they’ve been really supportive – I thought this is going to be a promising decision and I’m not going to change it.”
“People kept asking me ‘are you going to change your career?’ and I’m like no, I actually learned how much I love my industry.”
On May 19th the third iteration will finally go ahead. Running from day to night over three days, the festival will offer a taste of Tuscany soundtracked by a very small but lovingly curated line up featuring Bradley Zero, Yu Su, DJ BORING, JAGUAR, salute, Eclair Fifi, India Jordan and Laurence Guy.
Beyond the music, and the other activities FLASH has to offer, Bene is ready to celebrate ‘the simple element of finally bringing people together’.
Simplicity has always been a cornerstone of the festival – more specifically using simplicity with quality. It feeds into the three main facets of the festival: music, food and wine. “It’s a classic thing I say,” Bene chimes, “it’s like Tuscan cuisine: it’s the three quality ingredients put together that make the most simple but delicious dishes.”
Hailing from Tuscany herself, Bene’s mission to find a way to share the beauty of the region began around five years ago. Having spent years working in the music festival and concert scene, mainly in Australia and Europe, though never in Italy, she already had a wealth of knowledge under her belt around the logistics of putting on large scale events.
“I always thought one day I want to create a way to showcase how I see Tuscany to my friends, and then potentially to everyone. I’d had so many conversations about Tuscan dishes, life and the Tuscan way of doing things – it’s always represented me.”
Music had always been her passion and her vocation, so inevitably the lightbulb moment came when she realised: “I can actually combine my passion for music with the food and wine in Tuscany where I’m from.”
The first edition in 2017 was very improvised. Initially it was a way to gather her friends from around the world for her 30th birthday, so she found a temporary location at the last minute and organised a small event, with the help of Karl and many other friends who worked across different industries. It was a great success amongst their extended circle of friends but Bene realised the potential it had to be something even bigger.
She needed to find a proper home for it but the logistics of the first event had been tough enough, particularly as a young female promoter.
“I thought this was powerful and I’m not going to stop because someone is telling me it’s not possible when they don’t even know what it is.”
“I’ve had so many doors closed and so many people not willing to understand what I was doing or who didn’t want to listen, or be told what to do by a woman boss of 30 years old. It was really tough.”
That wasn’t going to put a stop to Bene’s plans though. She saw a major gap in the market, there were no boutique festivals in Tuscany with this multi-pronged approach. “I’m a bit of a fighter in that regard,” she continues, “I definitely don’t want to get told no. I thought this was powerful and I’m not going to stop because someone is telling me it’s not possible when they don’t even know what it is.”
She took some time off for a year and moved to London where she built her strength and learned ways she could tackle the barriers she was coming up against. Once refuelled, she set about finding the perfect place for FLASH’s sophomore year.
“I needed to find a home, the right venue and the right council – which was very important – that would understand the crazy (it’s not crazy, it’s a normal idea) of a festival with music, food and wine in their territory, and find their support.”
There was huge potential for the festival to grow and to bring in international tourism from all over the world. Of course, Tuscany is spoiled for tourism but not in terms of boutique events. Choosing to strategically schedule the festival during low season and to approach towns that were beautiful and untouched but eager to grow, Bene and Karl soon found the place they’d been looking for – and only a 20 minute drive from Bene’s hometown.
Since finding FLASH’s home in Castiglion Fiorentino, the pair have fostered a wonderful relationship with the local community. From the venue owner and the food suppliers to the sommeliers and the mayor (who comes down to the festival to enjoy a few glasses of wine), Bene’s found a way to make sure she’s supporting the neighbouring people and their businesses, whilst also facilitating a beautiful exchange between local and international.
On the opening night she invited the local people from the town to come down and experience FLASH for themselves. “I like to see the local community mix with the international community. I like to see some old people dancing to Italo Disco, mixed with the international ones. I think it’s nice for them to see what we’re doing and the way we’re doing it: how we’re respecting the environment and the land, how we’re respecting the traditions.”
“I’ve seen their faces when they’re with the international festival-goers, and they don’t understand a word of each other, but they’re so happy to see people happy. Your eyes communicate, even if the words can not reach.”
The Tuscan traditions feed heavily into the activities at FLASH. There’s pasta making with nonna, wine tasting masterclasses with sommeliers, where you’ll quaff natural, organic and classic Tuscan wines made by local and independent wine makers, and even some fun Italian workshops around language and hand gestures for some ‘cultural lols’, as Bene puts it.
“We like to educate people who come from overseas about the Tuscan experience, and the way of living. It’s almost like showcasing the Tuscan traditions through the innovative way of a festival.”
The international crowd that come – which started out as friends, and then expanded to friends of friends – are the kind of people who are open to learning about new cultures and traditions.
“We like to educate people who come from overseas about the Tuscan experience, and the way of living.”
“They’re all open-minded people who want to experience something new and let go. They’ve got their barriers down, they’re not coming to stay in their own groups,” Bene explains.
The intimacy is a huge factor in what makes FLASH unique. It’s a conscious decision to keep it small, it means Bene and Karl can have a personal touch on everything, from the music curation to the local food programme. On top of that, the intimacy means you see the same faces each day, and lasting friendships are forged.
“By the end of the festival people know each other, they’re actually friends – this is very beautiful for us, it’s special. It creates a really big beautiful bond,” Bene says.
“It’s like a big extended family, and for that reason it’s not intimidating at all. The people from the first year will always come, and they offer to do things like volunteer or just to get on board. I like to call them my FLASH Famiglia.”
“I think it’s that sense of genuinity in the relationship that you build, even with your audience, that always gives back in many different ways. It strengthens the reason why we do it. It is the reason why we do it.”
FLASH Festival takes place between 19th-21st May.