Dust down the sleeping bags and camping stove, the start of festival season is only a couple of months away. These days, music festivals are working harder to attract a following, offering debating sessions and workshops, banquets and ballooning, hoping to carve out a unique and identifiable image from a sea of formulaic events.
Here are a pick of the festivals for 2014, most of which I’ve attended over the years. I like these ones because they seem to attract a good balance of ages and social groupings (families, couples, friends), they are small enough so it’s not too much of a slog to the arena from your tent, and most are in fairly scenic locations.
Bearded Theory May 22 – 25
It’s not surprising that Bearded Theory won Best Small Festival in the UK Festival Award 2013. This is a really friendly event which gets the season off to a good start, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
There are three stages and a fantastic trancy dance tent, so there’s always something to see without getting bamboozled by choice. The Stranglers, UB40, Dreadzone, Wilko Johnson, Ege Bamyasi, The Orb Soundsystem, and 3 Daft Monkeys are just some highlights.
Sunday sees family day and the infamous beard competition. The location has changed this year: Catton Hall, near the pretty village of Barton-under-Needwood, is its new home.
Website: Bearded Theory
Hop Farm July 4 – 6
Yes, Hop Farm festival is making a comeback. Now under new management, this Kent festival has put together an interestingly mixed lineup – Ray Davies, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Grace Jones, Echo and the Bunnymen, Midlake, Maximo Park, Bellowhead. There’s a comedy tent featuring Jo Brand, and, as before, there’s a small stage in camping. Although Hop Farm was always ‘all about the music’, attracting artist such as Prince, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, it was beset by ticketing and other issues which hopefully are now things of the past.
Beacons August 7 – 10
A relative newcomer which is making quite a splash, Beacons has injected some fresh energy into the festival calendar. Set in north Yorkshire, this is a true music and arts event, with a strong line up and plenty of comedy and art – there are films, talks and lectures including roaming performances and art installations. Camping Under the Stars offer luxury tipis and tents. The lineup includes Daughter, Darkside, The Fall, Eagulls, Sweet Baboo and Money.
Tickets: now onto Tier 3, tickets are £109.45.
Green Man August 14 – 17
This one-time folk-based event now offers more of a mix of musical genres. Green Man festival takes place in a truly magical setting, with the main stage in a natural auditorium against the majestic backdrop of the Black Mountains. Follow the twists and turns of paths to discover other stages, food, bars and shops. There’s a late-night dance stage in a beautiful walled garden. Children are particularly well catered for with Einstein’s Garden – science, nature, sport, art and more.
The burning of the Green Man at midnight on Sunday is a dramatic climax. The lineup promises Michael Chapman, Daughter, Beirut, Caribou, Angel Olsen, Lanterns on the Lake, Tunng… and many more.
Adult ticket: £166.50. Camping available 3 days before festival starts.
Towersey Festival August 21 – 25
Well here it is, Towersey’s Golden Jubilee! The grandfather of festivals in Oxfordshire stretches over five days, a folk extravaganza enhanced with a host of ceilidh workshops, incorporating festival and village locations. This is a family and community event that’s grown over the years, without selling out.
Scheduled to appear are: Richard Thompson, Seth Lakeman, Lau, Georgia Ruth, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, The Urban Folk Quartet, Debs Newbold plus lots more. All the performers play in one of the tents, not outside, and there is plenty of seating. And this is the festival for you if you like a civilised, silent campsite for a good night’s sleep.
End of the Road August 29 – 31
Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit does a popup show prior to his main stage slot
In an idyllic setting with woods and peacocks, End of the Road in Dorset has built up a devoted fanbase for an event that puts music strongly at the forefront. The curators have an inspired eye for picking a fascinating mix of artists: a mix of mainly folk, indie and Americana… and they introduce notable new acts. Last year Angel Olsen. Artists play long sets, and if you keep an eye out, you’ll stumble upon impromptu performances in the pirate ship in the woods (Jarvis Cocker made a surprise appearance last year).
There are plenty of fun, arty events going on, and the high-quality food is a bit different from the usual festival offerings. The lineup includes Flaming Lips, Wild Beasts, The Horrors, Tinariwen, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Gruff Rhys, British Sea Power and John Cooper Clarke.
Says festival founder Simon Taffe: “I am very excited to have finally got the Flaming Lips, one of the best live bands in the world today, playing End of the Road on Saturday night. It’s also a great honour to have the Wild Beasts back to play a headline spot, plus some of the most interesting live bands around at the moment – White Denim, John Grant, Yo La Tengo and many more.”
Festival No 6 September 5 – 7
The star of Festival No 6 is the location, the breathtakingly extraordinary Italianate village of Portmeirion, set on the north coast of Wales (see top photo). The village was the location for TV series The Prisoner. The headliners this year are Beck and London Grammar (a young band for such an honour) and Bonobo. Then there’s Steve Mason, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Los Campesinos!
Festival No 6 is a cultural festival with art trails through the woods, story tellings and master classes plus much more. A dizzying array of accommodation choice confronts you: from four-star Hotel Portmeirion’s rooms overlooking the estuary, to Bell Tents boutique camping, yurts, Castle Deudraeth – or perhaps the less salubrious reality of your own pop-up tent.
Some extras to look out for:
How the Light Gets In is a music and philosophy festival at Hay, stretching over 10 days from May 22. Events take place all over the town, and can be booked separately or on a pass. The captivating singer-songwriter Phildel is appearing on The International Stage during the first week. Also performing are: King Charles, Nick Mulvey, Sweet Baboo, Mr Scruff and Nerina Pallot.
Lakefest near Tewkesbury is a small, family friendly event, from 8–10 August. A few Tier 4 tickets at £90 remain.
Cornbury Festival looks to be shaping up with a host of top acts – Suzanne Vega and Peatbog Faeries headline. This event is set in the verdant Great Tew Park, Oxfordshire.
Nibley day festival is on Saturday 5th July with the wonderful Turin Breaks. Tickets go on sale 22 March.
For anyone holidaying in Cornwall this summer, check out kneedeepfestival which one of my blog readers went to and enjoyed
Lounge on the Farm in Kent is reduced to a one-day event on Saturday August 2, but will be back to a weekender for 2015 at a new venue. Lineup not yet announced, tickets are £55
PLEASE NOTE: ticket prices were correct at time of blog posting 21/3/2014