Broken and jaded, I sit up in the spectator area of Boomtown. It's from here, sat in front of an exquisitely carved wooden dragon that intermittently breathes fire upon you, that you're given the most epic views of the Downtown part of this astonishing site. It's Sunday evening and another festival is nearly done for the summer. The commanding new stage, the Bang Hai palace, sits proud, right in the middle of my view. An incredible space, built especially for us, the residents of Boomtown, as a gift from Mayoress Burrita, it adequately fills the void left by the Arcadia spider of recent years. I remember being in the throng down there just a couple of days earlier as the Mayoress, prominent on video screens, officially opened the stage to rapturous applause.
But now, as the final strains of Goldie ring out and merge with the bass from elsewhere on this site, I can just about make out something else going on on those giant Bang Hai palace screens. As lights bounce around, another instalment of the Boomtown story seems about to begin. I pick out revolutionaries on the screen. Has there been a coup? Has the Mayoress been overthrown? As this chapter of Boomtown ends, it's clear that another is beginning.
It's been said before but this is the delight of Boomtown. Creatively stunning, you can't help but get carried away with the sub-plots and mini-adventures that make turning every corner and walking up every alley so unpredictable and uncertain. Here, there are plays within plays; here, fiction merges with reality. Earlier, I'd seen some officious looking security guards physically hassling some punters (who I suspect had illegal wares) within the Wild West area and couldn't make out if this was just another episode of this ongoing soap.
Friday morning and I'm dozing in my tent; this isn't proper sleep but rather a rest of the eyelids. I hear the thrust of an engine near to my head. New neighbours are arriving. Camped up outside the site because they'd arrived outside of the opening time, they've clearly been up all night. They plug in their sound system, pole up their gazebo and proceed to party forever. This is old school, traveller camping.
Friday afternoon and Photographer Phil has made a discovery. Stumbling through a side entrance next to a Chinatown stage, he's entered into a travelling circus. We're encouraged to take a look at their impossibly small disco stage; to watch as they, glittered up to their eyeballs, decadently and dangerously throw knives at each other and exchange burning poi. Climbing aboard a van at the back of this camp, our crew wristbands are noticed. The best of strong cheddar is offered by the buxom barmaid to complement the fabulous Somerset ciders and real ales that we're offered at reduced prices. We sit and immerse ourselves in this madness, taking a break from the bedlam that's going on outside. We know we'll return.
For, even though it's only Friday afternoon, this has already been a battering experience. Every area that offers an ounce of solitude is sought. Thursday evening was tough enough as we all got used to our bearings and new surrounds but as midday Friday struck, we're there to celebrate the opening of the Lions Den stage. In an impressive new location, at the bottom of a bowl previously unused by the festival, this reggae-saturated stage, impeccably designed, doesn't believe in beginning with a wimper. Bang - Stephen Marley takes to the stage. It's a family celebration. We chuckle at those wearing Bob T-shirts who struggle to sing along with some of the more obscure covers of Stephen's Dad's songs. David Rodigan's up next and we listen for a while before marching back up the hill into more familiar surrounds.
The Old Mines is a stage where I comfortably spend much of my time. This is the stage that specialises in folk and roots. On the opposite end of the uptown site from where it was last year and now filling the void where the Lions Den previously was, the age demographic of the audience here is higher than elsewhere. Moulettes are experts at gently carousing, lulling you into a false sense of folk security before blowing their bassoon and taking you into a different progression. Their Saturday afternoon set is warmly welcomed by a disappointingly sparse crowd. It's never busier up here than on the Sunday night when a younger crowd flocks to hear the socially aware bland rock stupor of The John Butler Trio. It's welcome come-down music for those who have hardly stopped. There's no denying the musical pedigree on offer.
It's a hilly site. Broadly, the eight districts that make up the theatre of Boomtown are split between Uptown and Downtown. We camp uptown and baulk at excessive journeys down the hill. When we do head down we make sure there's still energy in the tank to get us home. In previous years, we've been assisted by the Magic Carpet Ride, an escalator built into the hillside. But, for reasons unknown, there is no help provided this year. The steps keep us fit. Mostly, the Boombox stage is out of bounds for us as the hardcore Techno brings on our problems. But the ten hour takeover from Norman Jay, and Mr Scruff draws us in and keeps us smiling. Also downtown, in the hidden woods, we accidentally stumble upon a socially conscious reggae band who have travelled all the way from Austria. I'm not sure that they should have bothered.
Here we are at the new Psy-Forest area. Impossibly close to our crew camping space, the rush of stomping Psy is hard to ever ignore. The decor stuns; little artistic installations double as seats and shelters from which to avoid the elements. The speakers here are perfectly positioned for maximum effect. Perfect Stranger is an old friend of mine. We shuffle on the bark shavings; the ground is soft but hardly squelchy. You could spend all weekend in this very small area of Boomtown and still have a fine, fulfilling festival. I suspect that many do.
Aha, here's some solace. We're in the peacefulness of Whistlers Green. Blacksmiths and carpenters bend, bang and poke to make their produce. We're chilling in the Flying Lotus tent. Low Leaf takes to the stage. She's a Filipino from Los Angeles and plays a mix of electric harp and keyboard. Her voice soars like an angel. I close my eyes and very nearly sleep. But nobody sleeps at the Boomtown Fair. Do they?
When the Sunrise celebration succumbed to the elements earlier this festival season, the organisers of Boomtown were quick off the mark. Ticket upgrades were offered to those who had tickets for Sunrise and an area of the site was given over to the spirit of the ill-feted festival. It's quiet up in this festival within the festival, a walk-through for those on the lookout for harder paths. There's yoga, shrines and burning incense. It's a fine gesture from Boomtown to another festival and a partnership that would be good to see continuing.
Back at Whistlers Green, Coyote Moon are offering a hot-tub experience. For the sake of journalistic endeavour I purchase a one-off golden ticket. I soap myself down in a cold, private shower before joining others within the steaming tub. There's space for one small arse on the opposite side of the door. I'm encouraged to close the entrance quickly to not allow the heat to escape. I perch down, very aware that I'm the only person in here who is modestly covering my privates with my towel. My arse isn't small but space is made amidst the brazen nakedness of others. I sit, sweat and allow the poisons and toxins a release. Perhaps I'm now ready to party again.
Let's swing. For those of us with an uptown bent, the natural point to congregate is in the vicinity of the Town Hall. Whilst all manner of wild things happen for those who knock on doors and head into the pop-up venues that make up this square, we sit, stand, stagger and swagger to the musical delights that jump from the stage. The young kids rush past us to get to the front when a name they've heard begins. The young kids spend five minutes watching those acts before pushing back past us, easily distracted by alternative pleasures.
Gogol Bordello, and Goldie Lookin' Chain are two such acts that suffer as hustle and bustle curiosity sideshows, a shame as both (in their different ways) show they've still got mileage in their tank. The Dubioza Kolektiv might be less of a name but on the evidence of this enticing, extravagant upbeat show mightn't be for long. Slamboree make the Town Hall stage their own, even before they introduce Beans on Toast to do his bit.
I recommend to all that they dip into the Wild West area to see Curtis Eller's American Circus do their thing. He's a moustachioed banjo player of some repute. He tells tales of historical yore whilst kicking his foot high in some odd kind of salute. Just before he takes to the stage, The Skimmity Hitchers do their Dorset thing. I'm willing to bet that there is nobody from Bridport, Dorchester, Weymouth or Shaftesbury anywhere else on site but instead they're packed into this venue.
There is much more to remember. Sleep deprived, I find that it's only recently coming back to me. I still have dreams of Boomtown fair nearly a month after returning home; vivid dreams in which I'm walking around a fantasy world. Characters populate my dreams; faces I'm familiar with but can't quite place smile sweetly at me and tell me it'll be alright... Boomtown Fair – not for the faint hearted but an incredible festival pursuit that'll change your head forever. There is no better on the circuit at the moment.
latest on this festival
replacing Napalm Death
line-ups & rumours
featuring Gorillaz, Jimmy Cliff, Ben Harper, Goldie, Susan Cadogan, Hollie Cook, Mack B & more
featuring Limp Bizkit, Enter Shikari, Sleaford Mods, Soul II Soul, & more