There’s nothing a like a good festival to bring out the inner child in all of us ‘grown ups’ Sarah Third looks back at the festival season 2015 and previews what is coming up this year to give us something to look forward to……
This ‘adult’ business can get a bit tiresome at times, bills, chores and responsibilities not to mention the continuous setting an example can all get a bit much, even for the most discerning of parent. Imagine a place where you can leave the adult in you behind and embrace frivolity, fun and silliness, where you can wear a tutu if you want, get a glittery tattoo, a hair feather and no one bats an eyelid. This place, dear friends, is the festival.
Whether you are a seasoned festival goer or a newbie, there is a festival for you and your family, trust me! You may baulk at the idea of mud, camping, tired toddlers and the expense but there is no need.
The weather – yes granted you can’t control that but there are things available to make it a little easier to contend with; light weight ponchos, wellies for sale on site if you forgot them and hot tubs to warm up in as well as hot showers do make it a little better. Although I must confess, in my experience just embrace the mud, everyone’s in the same boat after all and weather related dramas to evoke a very British sense of camaraderie!
Camping – Festivals have really upped their game in this department in the last few years. Gone are the days of seas of tents and jostling for a flat pitch, yes at larger festivals this still occurs but there are many options available to you if your budget allows. Live-in vehicle areas are great if you have a camper van or caravan, space is designated and is generally flat with less queues to get in and out, ideal for families too as they tend to be further away from the main stages so are quieter. Companies such as Blackmore Vale Leisure in Dorset will tow a caravan for you to and from the event and set it up for you, totally hassle free! Yurts, shepherds hut, tipis, gypsy caravans and luxury bell tents are big business at many of the festivals these days so your tent is definitely not required!
Tired Toddlers – With so much happening for children at festivals from birds of prey displays, circus workshops, acts such as Mr Tumble for them to watch and lots of walking tiredness is inevitable. The trolley is your best friend if your little ones are too big for a buggy. Pad it out with cushions and bedding, pimp it up with battery operated fairy lights and conceal books, snacks, sun cream and drinks and hey presto! You have a portable sofa, ready for them when it’s nap time or time to settle down for the night, leaving you to still enjoy the festival – no need to head back to the campsite quite so early. These trollies are often available to hire if you don’t have your own.
Expense – Ok, this can seem a bit daunting at first but I like to think of it like this; if you were to buy tickets to see bands and acts like The Levellers, Grand Master Flash, Ed Sheeran, Clean Bandit, The Kaiser Chiefs, Fatboy Slim and Jamie Cullum you’d be looking at fairly hefty price tags. At a festival you can see this standard of performer over and over as there will be many headline acts over the days you are there. Coupled with the fact that there will be a lot of free activities and live shows such as Horrible Histories, The Gruffalo, Dick and Dom and Aliens Love Underpants, it is actually good value per person when you consider what you can see.
Some of the larger festivals offer day tickets so you can cherry pick when you go based on who is on and keep the cost down. There are often different tiers of tickets too and installment payment plans to break it down into more affordable chunks. Young children are often free and this year for the first time ever kids under 10 yrs are free at Larmer Tree on the Wiltshire / Dorset border.
Spending money can be kept to a minimum too if you take your own food and drinks. Think about cooking at the campsite at least two or three times, this will really keep the costs down. Pasta and pesto, chilli and curry are great one pot meals to fill you up and minimize washing up! You can cook ahead for the first night and just re heat to save time. A big bottle of cordial and re fillable water bottles will serve you well on the drinks front and will keep you all hydrated in the sun.
So with all those niggling objections dealt with – it’s just a question of which festival you opt for……
Blissfields, Vicarage Farm Nr Winchester
Best for those with young children and teens.
This is a firm favourite in our festival calendar, it’s small and intimate but packs a big punch. It’s small enough for teens to wander around on their own as the main area holds most of the food, drink, workshops, trade stalls and main stage in one place so it’s hard to get lost. With the camping close by it’s not as tiring for little legs when the time comes to walk back to base. There are boutique camping options, posh wash shower passes and hot tubs so you can have a slice of luxury if you wish.
Every year they adopt a different theme, 2015 was all about ‘Explorers’, 2014 was all about going wild and this year, as the festival turns 16 the theme is the Ultimate House Party. There will be slumber parties, garage raves and retro living room discos and new for this year is a beach and a giant dollshouse! To say Blissfields ‘embraces’ the theme is an understatement!
For younger children the Angel Gardens is where you’ll be based – with so many activities and workshops going on here there is no time for anyone to get bored. There are also baby change, feeding and sleeping areas here as well as discos, sports day and art and craft a plenty.
With outstanding food stalls, cocktails and Hobgoblin beers there is no shortage of parent based delights and with acts such as Dizzee Rascal, Everything Everything, Roni Size and Shy FX performing this year you will be sure to be entertained. The Hidden Hedge is a very cool hangout for older teenagers and adults by night, with great sculpture installations, burlesque and Gypsy Disco as well as funky bars and a more dance music based vibe, it’s a great escape for parents after dark if you take it turns with the baby siting! All in all this is a great little festival and ideal for those not quite brave enough to take young ones to the larger events but that still want to introduce them to the festival scene.
June 30 July 2 bliss fields.co.uk
Larmer Tree Festival, Rushmore Dorset
Best value for 5 days of fun and kids under 10 go free.
This is a festival with a difference as it’s set in the beautiful Victorian gardens at Rushmore, this instantly adds an edge of grandeur and class complete with Peacocks and Bandstands! The sprawling gardens and woods mean that this venue has designated zones and areas and because it is so spacious, even with 4000 revelers a day, it never feels cramped.
With five main stages and 80 acts including comedy and spoken word as well as music this festival does attract a wide audience covering a variety of fan bases. The late night venue, The Hide, which premiered last year, is back for 2016 with its Shepherds Hut bar for those that want the party to last a little longer, tucked away in the woods it is quite the hidden gem for the nocturnal ravers!
One of my favourite things about this festival is the shopping, it really has an outstanding array of shops and stalls with some different traders that you don’t see everywhere. Of course the food purveyors are excellent with a lot of local producers as well as those from further afield, the Mexican and Indian outlets in particular are great and are close by to seating areas.
This is a festival for ages really as it always has such a diverse range of acts but if you do have young children with you they are well catered for. The Family Lawns play host to the Little Larmers, the area is for 0-10s and has everything you need. There are always arts and crafts activities, bubbles and performers galore geared at younger ones as well as workshops. The Nest is run by Odstock Day Nursery and is for those with babies and toddlers – all ages covered!
The 2016 line up boasts another impressive selection following on from Tom Jones, Bill Bailey and The Levellers to name a few from last year. This year Larmer Tree welcomes The Stranglers, Tom Odell and Jamie Cullum as well as Slow Club and Gabrielle Aplin. With smaller stages and venues dotted around it’s one of those festivals that you find yourself watching acts as you stumble upon them mid – explore. It’s eclectic, friendly and diverse and offers day tickets if the full five day experience is a bit much!
July 13-17 larmertreefestival.co.uk
Camp Bestival, Lulworth, Dorset
Best for live shows and variety.
If you are one of those cool parents that used to be in all the right places and know all the right faces then this is the one for you. Run by Rob Da Bank and the team behind Bestival on the Isle of Wight, this is a festival for families comprising of adults that still want to party and that appreciate good music from ‘back in the day’ as well as up and coming bands and children that like embracing new things and being adventurous.
Camp Bestival has literally everything for children but it particularly excels at live stage shows and entertainment which I think makes it good value. Dick and Dom, Mr Tumble and Horrible Histories are always worth a watch as they have that touch of parental humor too. With the castle as a backdrop and extensive grounds it has a lovely atmosphere and as with Larmer Tree, has various areas that mean it doesn’t feel too busy.
It is exceptionally well planned and laid out with unusual touches like the Caravanserai, which is an absolute feast for the eyes, a Balkan themed den of fun and cocktails. The Day of the Dead cocktail bus is also a must as is the silent disco. My personal favourite though has to be the Bollywood area, giant opulent day beds, beautiful bright parasols and purple everywhere makes this place feel that little bit special. By day it’s a nice place to hang out but at night it’s basically full of dancing parents with babies a plenty asleep in prams with their ear defenders on! It has a great nightly DJ line up that make it impossible not to pop into on your way back to camp.
The main stage this year has a stellar line up as ever following on from the Kaiser Chiefs, Clean Bandit, Ella Henderson and Underworld in 2015. This year you can see Tears for Fears, Fatboy Slim, Jess Glynn, Katy B and Bananarama to name a few.
The festival theme this year is Space – there will no doubt be many spectacles tying in with this topic as well as various workshops, science experiments and displays to keep you entertained.
The finale of this festival is the firework display on the Sunday night, set against the backdrop of the castle this is mind blowing. Set to music and timed to perfection, this has been one of the highlights of my children’s entire summer for a good few years. It is like no other I’ve ever seen and is well worth hanging on until the end for. You can view it close up after the last headliner on the main stage or from the camp sites that are on the hill, this gives you a different vantage point and is probably good for smaller children as it’s less busy up there.
Camp Bestival is cool, chic and varied with masses of free entertainment for all ages. July 28-31 campbestival.net
Boomtown Fair Matterley, Winchester
Best for the sheer spectacle and adult fun.
This festival is like nothing else. It is so unusual, it’s almost impossible to create a synopsis… but I’ll do my best!
From the second you get the leather effect program and lanyard you are instantly transported to the city. You are not a festival goer, you are a citizen, of the most spectacular city on earth. This festival has an entire back story that has been evolving since it began in 2009, each year it gets more fabricated and detailed… last year the Mayoress, Burrita Jose, had been kidnapped by the sherrif and turned to his way of thinking. The sherrif heads up the Boominati, a sect of the New World order, trying to revolt and overthrow the Mayor. With allegiance tests, secret spies for both sides in character milling about and citizen announcements to keep you up to date with the plot, the attention to detail is amazing.
The city is divided into nine immersive districts; Trenchtown, Mayfair, Wild West, Old Town, Town Centre, Barrio loco, China Town, Distrkt 5 and Kidstown. Each one is entirely set out like a town in itself, the sets are astounding and contain their own nuances from secret doors in the Wild West Saloons, Acupuncture in Chinatown and swanky characters and posh cocktails in Mayfair. Everything from the music, the bars and the accents of the characters working there match exactly with the theme to the point that you really feel you are part of it.
Boomtown Fair, with over 100 stages set in the nine districts offers an amazing array of music, the Raveyard, trance parties in the woods and Baulkan and Gypsy themed Barrio Loco are perhaps more niche but for the most part there is something for everyone. From Ska to Grime, Hip Hop to Dubstep and Metal to Reggae, it has so much going on. So much, that in fact I have found it hard to actually see the band or act I plan to as I invariably happen upon something amazing like dueling pirates on the giant ship, a huge downhill water slide, a protest from the Boominati, street circus or the Wall of Death and fairground rides. For me that is the beauty of a festival like Boomtown, there is literally something to see all the time and it offers all the fab food you’d expect at an event of this size as well as shopping and kids’ activities. You could walk all day and not see the same thing twice.
This year the highlights that I’ll attempt to watch are Damian Marley, The Levellers, Madness, Fun Lovin Criminals, B Traits, DJ Yoda, Pronghorn and The Correspondents – but that really is the tip of the iceberg as there so many acts and performers.
For families there is a designated Kidstown which is great, it closes in the evening and children are not allowed in some districts after 9pm, this is probably for the best as the characters and themes can take on more of an adult tone and there is a lot of hill walking for little legs!
Truth be told this is my favourite festival to attend sans the Country Children, it’s a great place to escape to and indulge in some selfish ‘me time’. With various camping options and levels you can be tent free with ease and as there are lot of campsites it is possible to get a quiet location and space to yourself.
Aug 11-14 boomtownfair.co.uk
This is just a glimpse of the UK festival scene, once you embrace it is a summer staple you’ll not regret it! Do your research, work out which ones are best for you and your family as they really do all vary but most of all – have fun!