Chillogan Festival

Sandra Beynon, aka Scarlett Habanero, tells Chilli Magazine about her own successful event.

What is your festival called?

Chillogan Chilli Festival

When did the festival start?

December 2018

How did the festival come about/ it’s conception?

As the organiser of Briz Chilli Fest, I wanted to do something in the Logan area as I perceived there was a dearth of good events happening.  I also believed that the region deserved an event which was family-oriented, unique, inclusive and well-organised and offered a range of fun and quality entertainment.

Where does this festival run in Australia?

The festival runs in Logan City and sometimes changes venue according to festival growth and needs. This year’s festival was hosted by Meadowbrook Golf Club.

How many times does it run/dates

Usually in November or December, again, according to venue availability and suitability.

Around how many stall holders do you have etc… Any sponsors to mention?

As the festival is in its infancy, we have in 2019 grown to 16 artisan chilli vendors. As the festival gains a reputation for being well-run and well-patronised, no doubt we will be receiving more applications from vendors to participate in this great event.  The 2018 event was sponsored by the Logan City Council and the Beenleigh Yatala Chamber of Commerce.  2019 failed to secure sponsors due to tumult within both the Council and the local chamber of commerce.

Do you have any spicy competitions/Awards?

We have up to 6 spicy challenges. This year we had Napalm Noodles, Chilli Churros, Fiery Pods, Candy from Hell, Tequila Sip n Shout and Great Balls of Fire.  We also offer a prize for the Best-Dressed Adult and Couple. It’s great to see people going to a lot of trouble to look amazing on the day.   In addition to the human challenges, we have a Chilli Dog Parade, where anyone who has brought a dog dressed in a chilli-theme can parade him/her and be in the running for a cash prize.

Is it family friendly etc?

We love to program things that the whole family can enjoy – so we even had a kids’ watermelon-eating challenge which was very popular and fun to watch and for the kids to be on centre stage.  We include kids’ activities such as jumping castles, face-painting, animal nursery and pony rides – together with a Cutest Chilli Kid Competition. 

We also have some fun guys dressed as wrestlers to engage with the kids and enable some memorable family photos.

And if you can tell us a bit about yourself would be great!

I’m 55 years of age, having worked many years within the legal industry and in sales/marketing/events in the tourism industry (The Kookaburra River Queens in Brisbane 2007 – 2011) Once the 2011 floods washed away my office on the Brisbane River, I moved into consultancy for hospitality marketing.  In 2014, I decided I’d had enough of dealing with crazy chefs, so I set about looking for work outside hospitality.

As a mature person, it soon became apparent that work opportunities were limited and highly competitive and that we were living in an ageist employment environment where anyone over 40 was thrown on the scrapheap.

In 2017, I hosted my first festival, Bulimba Uke Fest (BUF), at Bulimba Golf Club, thanks to a great working relationship with the visionary general manager.  It was a whole lot of fun and hard work and a good learning curve.  I have been hosting events  on a small scale since 1991, so BUF was my first foray into public festival organisation.

After being involved in the Herb and Chill Festival as both a performer and MC for three years running, I decided in 2018 to go it alone and came up with my first chilli brand – Briz Chilli Fest again at Bulimba Golf Club.  It was great to have the support of people like Rob Dunn of Australian Extreme Chilli Condiments and Rob Webb of the Chilli Market Place, to give me moral support with the competition side of things, and to help spread the word in an industry I knew nothing about.   These two gentleman and pillars of the Australian chilli scene have been instrumental in helping put Briz Chilli Fest and Chillogan on the chilli festival map and their  warm support and kindness to me is much appreciated.  

Working as a “lone wolf” in the events space can be daunting, isolating and intimidating from time to time.  As time goes on, I am meeting more and more wonderful people in the chilli world – people who are so supportive of everything good in the industry; of people who are trying to make a difference, and who are trying to grow the whole chilli industry. As someone pointed out to me, it’s events like mine that keep a lot of small businesses going.

It was a nice reminder of why I do what I do.  It certainly isn’t for the financial gain because, unless you have significant sponsorship, it’s hard to make more than a meagre wage for the time it takes to organiser festivals.  A good festival takes between $15K and $20k to host, especially if you’re using Council land – there’s a whole lot more headaches and red tape with that!

Another motivating factor in continuing with a festival is the relationships you develop over time. As well as donating 10% of my net profits to charity (Cystic Fibrosis Queensland for Briz Chilli Fest: a Logan-based charity for Chillogan), I have gained a brotherhood of support from the Viking Breed Social Motorcycle Club who always come along on the day and support me by hosting the pillion ride auctions, and helping sell raffle tickets, and taking gold coin donations for photos with them and their rides.  Just having them there at the festival means a lot to me and it gives them some much-needed mainstream acceptance in a state (Queensland) which largely sees all motorcycle riders as a social threat.  The social club does not involve itself in crime or drug-trafficking and works hard to raise its profile as a bunch of guys who just love to ride, raise money for charity and who love the Viking way!  They’re my brothers who are “mean-looking” leather-clad tough guys with hearts as soft as teddy-bears.  It’s symbiotic relationships like these which make my life interesting and I bring meaning to others’ lives as well.

Finding a great venue is half the battle.  Being able to have a licensed bar on the premises makes it a little more financially rewarding. But as I found out at Chillogan 2018, if you get involved with bad suppliers, sometimes you can’t even pour your beer at the bar, and that’s a bit financial loss.

There is a lot of risk involved with putting on festivals but with the right mentors and advice from people and officials, you can slowly get to know the best practices etc.  I regularly seek out people who work in events so I can pick their brain!

It is my own creativity and drive which makes my festivals as popular as they are.  I am a born entertainer and love engaging with people, so PR is what I love to do.  As a writer and creative, the hundreds of Facebook posts which need to be scheduled, are both a challenge and an example of my hard work and commitment to the vendors who trust in me to deliver a good festival with good patronage.   I outsource my Instagram posts to a very capable assistant and that takes a little pressure off me.

I have the support of my hard-working husband, Sean Mullen, who sets up our PA system and does lots of heavy lifting for me before, during and after the festival.  As well as being a lawyer by day, he is a world-class guitarist (The Satriani Tribute Show) and is always happy to get up and play a set on stage to “rock out” with the patrons.

As a professional singer of over 40 years’ experience, I am no stranger to the stage, and I am more than able to MC my own events to ensure they run smoothly and professionally.  It’s great to have guest MC’s to assist, but it’s my job to keep things on track time-wise. That takes a strong personality and a good grip on the reins as “time is always our enemy” in events planning and production.

At Briz Chilli Fest 2020, my own 4 piece rock band, Missy Vader and the Dark Force, will be making an appearance so I’m very much looking forward to that.

Who said you can’t make your own fun?  Just become a festival organiser!

And lastly, my advice to anyone over 50 who feels they have been thrown on the scrapheap is to never under-estimate your own experience, skills and talent.  Think of a way to utilise the many things you have learned in your 30-odd year of working and REFUSE to be discarded to the “past your use by date” realm of workers.  Try to do everything in your power to upskill, re-train, stay engaged and relevant.  It’s the experience of older workers like us that help make things happen and we can still teach those young ones a thing or two. 

It’s the same the world over – older people are being disregarded and disenfranchised purely because of our age.  Our skills and experience have great value and it’s up to us as individuals to find a way forward through this ageist society and stake a claim for ourselves anyway.

And, yes, of course I’m getting much better at eating hot chilli – thanks to the wonderful sauces I’m getting to try.  I am embarrassed to admit, however, that eating a raw jalapeno at Chillogan did not end well…….I got up close and personal with a wheelie-bin behind the stage.  Oh well!