Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fun in the Sun at Camp Bestival 2009

Summer wouldn't be the same for me without festival season. The magical combination of random dressing up, musical discovery, people-watching, dancing on the grass and sleeping under canvas - you can't beat it. The first festival in my annual calendar is always Great Escape in May, which doesn't really count because it's not in a field and you get to sleep in your own bed at night - but it breaks you in gently at least.

Last weekend I went to the first full-on festival of the year, Camp Bestival down in Dorset. I'd heard good things about its mellow family vibe, and though I don't have littleuns of my own, I always find that their presence at such event makes for a more respectful, salubrious and less manic environment. We took advantage of the small 'non-family' section of the campsite so as not to be woken too early by excitable youngsters, but other than that, I welcomed their input to the weekend's proceedings.

Though it didn't have the edginess of more musically esoteric festivals like Green Man and End of the Road, Camp Bestival scored on many other counts and was a fun and relaxing (and mostly sunny) few days. The facilities were good - especially the compost toilets, which actually became something of a talking point amongst the kids (and some of the adults), who seemed to enjoy throwing sawdust on their poo. Everything felt very well organised, apart from the shortfall in programmes which made it difficult for those without one to find out what was on when.

One of my main gripes with other festivals, especially now that I'm getting on a bit, is the lack of somewhere to sit other than the grass. I love sitting on the grass, but it's nice to kick back somewhere more comfortable when the cramp sets in and the joints start seizing up. Camp Bestival had this covered, with four-poster beds, double deck chairs, sofas, daybeds and other snug reclining options dotted about the place. They also had a real ale tent, which despite its slightly odd location in the kids field, was a cool place to hang out, with acoustic gigs from little folk bands turning out to be some of the best music of the weekend.

On the main stage, Hayseed Dixie got everyone into the festival spirit with a foot-stamping sing-a-long set on Friday afternoon. All the cool kids ploughed down to the front for Florence and the Machine, who provided much entertainment with her flailing dance moves and slightly unhinged banter. Other main-stage highlights included Mercury Rev, Alela Diane, Nancy Elizabeth and 70s soul legend Candi Staton, who still glitters with showbiz brio 40 years after her first hit record. I was surprised to see some of the more popular acts including PJ Harvey, Bon Iver and Laura Marling appearing over in the Big Top, which meant that many disappointed punters ended up watching them on the screen from outside.

After-hours we avoided the big dance tents - from which non-stop 'boom-boom' house music was blaring - and instead got our boogie fix at a groovy little 'secret' bar we discovered that played lots of ska, jazz and funk, with the occasional live band. We also sampled the bawdy delights of the Time for Tease cabaret tent, where burlesque scene stalwart Des O'Connor (not that Des O'Connor) was doing his thing, introducing a variety of camp, coarse and sometimes just gleefully crap, acts.

On Saturday night we ventured into the Big Top for the Silent Disco, a first for both me and Harry. I remember peering into one of these years ago at Roskilde Festival in Denmark and being most perplexed at the sight of people bopping around in silence. They've since become more widespread but I'd yet to sample one for myself. You're handed a set of headphones on the way in, on which you have the choice of two channels from two different DJs, each fighting for your allegiance. It's hilarious to hear 500 people belting out their chosen track, obliviously out of tune and dancing out of synch with each other. Apart from the obvious benefit of being able to keep the party going for longer, Silent Disco is also great for us oldies who like to stop and have a conversation in between dancing. If it hadn't been for Harriet's dodgy ankle, we'd have stayed all night.

Beyond the musical entertainments, there were plenty of other activities to keep adults and kids entertained. We enjoyed a couple of giggly walks round "Dingly Dell", where a troup of very po-faced performance artists were acting out a literal struggle with red tape in some sort of political allegory. We also drew each other in the 'Trace a Face' tent, a simple but most amusing diversion.

The official fancy dress parade was on the Sunday, but this didn't stop folks from donning wigs, masks, face paint and all manner of wacky adornments throughout the festival. Unfortunately I hadn't had the time to create anything very special myself, and my half-arsed bat costume looked embarrassingly lame next to Steve's hand-felted doggy ears and tail, Linda's intricately painted leather bird-mask and fancy wings and Harry's glowing abdomen. But despite my fancy dress inferiority complex, I was well in the spirit with flowers on my face, good friends by my side, ale in my hand and a spring in my step. And that's what festivals are all about.

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading your account of CB. Yours was much more of a grown up affair and not so child orientated. I would have loved to have gone to the silent disco and danced all night ;-)

    Can't wait for next year!


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