It was a long awaited moment, but here it is, Big Chill founder Katrina Larkin with co-producer Victoria Burns new festival for 2012, called Nova. Big Chill combined a perfect blend of elements, planned with a meticulous attention to detail that made the festival such a pleasure. Everything worked – the intelligent mix of music, blissed-out therapy area, imaginative art trail – all set to a backdrop of Eastnor Castle, nestled in the trees. Nova Festival at Bignor Park is taking its first steps in scaled-down fashion, offering 5,000 of us the promise of a gorgeous mix of ‘art and music’ – in that order – with creative salons, theatre, hot tubs and more.
We arrive on Thursday on a hot, sunny afternoon and we can almost imagine we’ve wandered on to the set of a BBC Jane Austen drama, as we survey the peach-coloured Georgian house set in a landscape of gently sloping grounds with lush trees and woodland. Starter point for the festival activities is the Nova Arms pub. which you enter through a cobbled courtyard where a DJ pumps out old soul classics. The pub is in the old stables and it has a real buzz which instantly puts you into party mode. We follow the winding path to the Zen Gardens, a voyage of discovery as we come upon therapy tents, installations, sculptures, stages and random events which just pop up from time to time throughout the festival. The path meanders past the outdoor hot tubs and down into the arena, an impressive open space with a dramatic and beautiful backdrop of the south downs. Fluffy Logic get things started on the main stage on the quiet first night, and their enthusiasm manages to rouse the small crowd into dancing.
Each day at noon, Sofar Sounds open the main stage with half a dozen or so different artists. We get a second chance to see the same line-up later on in a tiny tent in the Zen Gardens, and this intimate session seems to work far better; we are so close to the musicians we can exchange a bit of banter, and they can try out new material on us too. We loved the Ali Warren band, and Brooke Sharkey. The Joker & The Thief get a great reception and their gutsy, bluesy sound are a great start to Saturday’s main stage. During a break from the rain, there’s a rousing evening disco set from Crazy P, which seems to draw most of the festival crowd together.
On Saturday we stumble upon a life drawing class in the gardens, the five models with painted bodies are reminiscent of photographer Spencer Tunick’s naked photoshoot at Big Chill in 2010. Of the literary events, Michael Smith, author of The Giro Playboy, is wry and engaging, and we enjoy an episode from his 2009 TV series Drivetime on an outdoor screen.
Nova achieved a good balance of arts and music, though I think the music side is very important as it draws everyone together for the ‘feel good’ crowd factor. I’d love to hear the opinions of anyone else who attended, what did you think? The festival suffered, like all outdoor events that particular weekend, with dire weather, which was especially difficult for its debut. However the atmosphere was relaxed and upbeat and it was good to see such a wide range of ages attending. Much appreciated were the free hot showers, looked after by a team with a food stall, so you could start the day with a hot shower AND real coffee, what luxury. Finally, a big thanks to the tractor driver who towed us out of the mud at the end. Looking forward to next year.