Pulling up to the festival an hour hour before one of the main bands we want to see, The Hives, are due on stage, we think there will be little chance of catching them. However, the festival is so compact, it’s easy to throw up a tent and be in the front row of the audience in a few minutes. The band bring the atmosphere of a sweaty garage punk club to a huge field, and there isn’t a grumpy face in the house as singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist pulls out the Iggy moves to match his newly-grown-out hair and leaps, waggles and, yeah, howls his way through some of the catchiest pop songs known to man, woman or child. Headliners Suede pull out the hits for a muscular, festival-pleasing set, with lead singer Brett Anderson on unexpectedly rocktastic form.
The festival’s relatively small size makes it perfect for families – we don’t feel overwhelmed at any point, we get to recognise some familiar faces in the crowd, and it’s easy to get to the front to see pretty much any of the bands. The kids’ areas are colourful and with stacks going on – we drop in on a circus class and a storytelling session, and there are copses filled with magical nooks designed for children to stumble across. Unique to the festival is a heated, outdoor swimming pool. This year the sun is beating down, so it’s hugely popular, and beats ring out across the manicured lawns surrounding the water as kids splash about and cool off.
The festival is cash-free – all drinks, food and jester hats paid for with a swipe of a wristband. This means, in theory, smaller queues at the bars and less potential for losing pursefuls of money. The event is sea-themed, so there are shoals of mermaids, crews of sailors and gaggles of pirates wandering around. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen an octopus freaking out to Kid Creole’s Stool Pigeon.
More bands on Saturday; Yak, a power trio signed to Jack White’s Third Man label. Effortlessly cool, they’ve got a frontman who looks like a baby Mick Jagger and they’ve listened to all the right records; The Velvet Underground, Black Sabbath and, of course, The White Stripes. They’re thrilling. Adam Green, ex Moldy Peach, is goofy, adorable and is somewhere between Jonathan Richman and Beck. We end the night dancing on stage with half of The Sex Pistols before deciding, surprisingly sensibly in the circumstances, to turn in.
Sunday is easier and breezier. The main stage is turned over to the punters, as the Rockaoke crew back amateur singers belting out hits. The audience is warm and enthusiastic, joining in and cheering even the most out-of-tune performances. Anna Calvi lends some icy cool to the proceedings, while over on the smaller stages, The Duke Spirit bring their years of experience to bear on a slick set, while rising-star, 16-year-old Emma McGrath shows a confidence and ability way beyond her years. The festival ends for us with Thurston Moore’s band bringing the noise and the twang, and we decamp with the sound of headliner Kelis ringing across the valley. We’ll be back next year (and next time, we’ll pack our swimmers).
Picture credit: Jeff Pitcher