Arriving at the Farmfest site on a bright and breezy Friday lunchtime, we don't know quite what to expect from this curious little Somerset institution, celebrating its 10th birthday this year. At the unassuming entrance to the festival the whole arena is immediately visible, consisting of a handful of tents and stalls in a downward sloping field, situated in a beautiful valley.
Even though it's only 1pm, the campsite is filling up quickly, and we pick a spot towards the bottom of the hill. There's a second campsite stretching up the next hill with a few tents in already, but neither field gets uncomfortably busy during weekend. (There's also a family campsite at the top of the site, near a good number of compost loos.)
The festival boasts a capacity of around 5,000 people, a decent number of upcoming and local bands and a conscientious avoidance of corporate sponsorship; it quickly becomes apparent that the DIY vibe is integral to the festival's identity and there's a pleasing lack of pretension or snobbishness in the air. With just two days of music, it feels most like a big party in someone's back garden.
We explore the arena, strolling around the open field and trying to note the names of each stage, noticing an impressive number of portable toilets and compost toilets on site (which surprisingly remain fairly clean all weekend).
All venues except the mainstage are housed in marquees, whose uninteresting striped exteriors belie gorgeously bedecked interiors. Tempted into the dub tent, we boogie here for a little while, then recline on the grass in the fading afternoon sun, sipping cider and watching carefree children running around and falling over like tiny drunk people.
Swinging by the campsite to collect beers and snacks, we notice that the bass from The Den just over the hedge is already pounding and reverberating around the sleepy green valley. Back at the Big Blue stage, we jive to the sweet swing of Bristol's Toyface, led by a charismatic and elegant frontwoman; they're just one of many excellent Bristol bands on the line up, who somewhat collectively steal the show throughout the weekend. Then, dashing over to mainstage - the only open air stage of the festival, and charmingly small - we catch the end of stylish alt-pop trio All We Are, playing to a good-sized crowd who don't seem too bothered about who they're watching, but nod along happily nonetheless.
Feisty female trio Stealing Sheep are up next on mainstage, and we hang around soaking up the atmosphere as they set up; they pull a pretty big crowd to the mainstage, and deliver a punchy and energetic set, sparkling with flawless vocal harmonies as the sun goes down. Continuing the trend of farm-related band names featuring dynamic women, headlining duo Lamb dazzle with their intriguing and experimental trip hop-inspired electronica, accompanied by an impressive light show; it's a bold choice of headline act, but it works.
Eagerly anticipating the upcoming three hour set from Nightmares on Wax, we dash over to the The Den. It's a mixed blessing that the site is so small - it takes us about three minutes to move from stage to stage, but several of the closely-situated covered stages suffer badly from noise bleeding. Nightmares On Wax begins DJing on the back of a tractor - definite bonus points here for that - but it's a long, thin tent rammed to the rafters, with speakers at the front and we quickly realise we're a little too far out of the action to appreciate the music, surrounded by drunk revellers more interested in taking selfies and shouting to each other than checking out the set.
We move nearer to the front where the sound is infinitely better, and as the set progresses the crowd thins a little (though it's still definitely the most packed tent onsite), which just as well, as it's impossible not to throw serious shapes to Nightmare's enticing selection of classic soul, hip hop and disco tunes. It's an unusually cold July night, so we're grateful for the massed body warmth and three hours of guaranteed fun provided in the Den, so other than a couple of breathers outside the tent, we pretty much dance on the spot for the whole of the pleasingly long set.
Towards the end of the set, an older guy with a shock of white blonde hair and a blissful smile on his face leaned over to me and drawls, 'Hey, isn't that a beautiful groove?', and I have to agree. At 2am, Bristol DJ/producer Phaeleh takes over the decks and kicks the party up a notch with a sizzling, unpredictable set that flies through every hue on the electronic spectrum and keeps the Den bouncing until 4am.
Saturday starts slowly as we come to terms with the idea of morning, and gradually we unfold ourselves for a leisurely wander to seek out breakfast; I picked a tasty cheese/tomato/mushroom 'breakfast calzone' from the pizza stall, filling and not at all unreasonable at £6. With the sky ominously grey, we pass much of the day at the lovely (indoor) Big Blue stage.
Solo guitarist The Flamenco Thief, astonishingly cool and a polyrhythmic delight, coaxes a very hungover crowd onto their feet with his bewitching performance. Baraka maintain the energy with their irresistible fusion of highlife, soca and reggae, featuring the enormously impressive Senegalese kora and djembe player Modou Cissoko. During a quick stop at the campsite, we encounter a large wandering samba band, squeezing between tents and initiating a temporary carnival to the hilarious surprise and delight of the campers chilling there.
Bristol's best Afrobeat export No Go Stop are a highlight of the festival, drawing a huge crowd into the Big Blue within about thirty seconds of their first tune; this 12-piece band seriously know their stuff, and the packed tent shuffles and jumps with abandon to their innovative reimagining of Fela Kuti's legendary style.
After their set, the sun's come out and we catch a bit of Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band's bizarre but infectious funk on the mainstage, followed by a welcome bite of disco courtesy of DJ collective Banoffee Pies at the Kitchen stage.
Bristol represents once again as B.O.M.B.S.' ballsy and bluesy set packs a punch at the Big Blue. Portico (formerly Portico Quartet) are up next on mainstage, and it's the first time I've seen them in their new mould; they've shaken off the 'modern jazz ensemble' thing and taken a bit of a u-turn towards synth-based, vocal led pop; although it's a fun set and the crowd love it, I'm not sure I'm convinced by their change of tack.
There's a frustratingly long delay following this as headliners Submotion Orchestra set up. They've only been allocated about half an hour to assemble a complicated operation and soundcheck, and it's plainly not long enough, so although they're due to start at 10pm, technical difficulties stall their set by about 20 minutes - leaving them only around 40 minutes to play. Nonetheless, it's an utterly blinding set and a fantastic choice of headliner; their blend of jazz, dubstep, trip hop and soul works beautifully and enchants an enormous crowd.
We're left wanting much more - never a bad thing - and run to snag a place in Big Blue for Sheelanagig, the legendary Bristol quintet who are masters of showmanship and play folk like rockstars. Suddenly the festival is transformed into a rowdy parochial wedding from the turn of the 20th century, and it's perfect. Latin jazz supergroup Baila la Cumbia (also from Bristol) round things off in style, and, knackered, we forgo the temptation of the Closing Party in the Den or the Just Jack showcase in the Kitchen, choosing chips and bed instead.
In some ways I wish there had been a third night of revelry, as we really got into the swing of the festival on Saturday afternoon, and it felt somehow unconventional and abrupt to leave on Sunday, but on the other hand it made the party (and recovery) more manageable, and didn't eat into the working week too much. Farmfest is a fun, odd little festival, with a charitable soul; it's clearly well-connected enough to attract a fairly trendy line up, but this doesn't overshadow its pleasantly rural and homemade identity. With tickets available between £40-£70, it's an absolute bargain; it's probably enjoyed best with a big group for a silly weekend in the countryside, but also suitable for families or those just wanting a chilled, budget festival experience.
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