It's late on Sunday afternoon and Eliza and The Bear are coming to the end of their set here on the outskirts of Gloucester at Barn On The Farm. It's been a triumphant display. Their brand of happy, melodic pop has got the crowd bouncing. Arms are thrust into the air in unison as we launch into a spirited sing along. "I've got friends, I've got family here", sing the band and all of us in the crowd echo the sentiment. Friends and family - this is what Barn On The Farm has oozing from the trough.
Earlier in their set, Eliza And The Bear had thanked the crowd for their continued support. It's their third time playing Barn On The Farm and they love being able to make these return trips. They're by no means alone in this. Indeed, it's a rare thing when a band say during a set that they are farm virgins. It seems that the organisers here have worked hard to foster such fine relationships with acts that repeat bookings are the norm. As acts develop their stagecraft and raise their profiles, they get an increasingly prominent slot. Jack Garratt, Sunday night's headliner, first played here when his name on the poster was almost an afterthought. But now, he's the BBC Sound of 2016, taking over that mantle from James Bay (who headlined Barn On The Farm in 2015 after similarly working up the bill in previous years).
The evident loyalty from the bands is mirrored in the crowd. There's a lot of love for this small festival. I rarely chat to anybody who's not been before. The punters here seem completely committed to the whole ethos of this place. And why wouldn't they be? With no more than 2,000 attendees, this is a festival that's clearly punching above its weight; with quite minimal effort, you can get a prime position to see up and coming acts who the likes of Huw Stephens praises to the hilt most evenings on his Radio 1 new music show. In Barn On The Farm we trust.
There are three stages. The main stage is housed under permanent shelter, in a dome-like construction. To get to it, you have to walk down a track away from the core of the site. But, I don't want to give the impression that this is a tough stroll. If you're in a hurry, you could probably get from end to end of the farm in little more than five minutes. There's an outdoor stage, made to look rustic with wooden adornments and tractor wheels. The space is furnished with large crates, box-shaped for people to lean up against. As you walk towards the farmhouse and beyond, a courtyard reveals itself. Here people sit and mingle whilst enjoying the tunes coming from the third stage, the wooden barn. This is a festival venue like no other I've seen. An antique architectural space, you imagine that labourers, farmhands and stable lads have enjoyed secret parties and hushed celebrations here for many a year. Acts take to a stage high up in the rafters of the barn whilst the crowd look on from the floor. Watch too much here and your neck will surely feel jarred the next day. It's definitely an impressive set up.
We arrive on site after a drive across from the East Midlands at about ten on the Saturday morning. Things are in full swing. Gaining access to the car park is simple; well briefed stewards seem clear about their responsibilities. For a festival so small, there's a long queue at the wristband exchange booth. Perhaps, this is an inevitable consequence of having to deal with a rush of people all wanting their wristbands at the same sort of time. Nobody seems too upset at having to wait with the overall tone being one of excited anticipation. We find a space to pitch our tent, a task not without challenge as much of the camping field already seems taken. Perhaps, those arriving early for the 'intimate Friday' bonus session bagged the best spots for their groups of friends. I wonder how those arriving after us will have coped with the full camping field. It might be that next year, a 'no gazebo' rule needs to be enforced in order to accommodate all. Oh, the challenges faced by the organisers of popular, sold-out festivals.
The queues sometimes appear at the various food stalls that are dotted around the site. There's enough choice without being overwhelmed by options. Quality over quantity seems to be the mantra here. We don't have a burger from Bristol based 'Burger Theory' until the Sunday evening (because burgers at festivals are naff, right?). Wrong, this ranks up there as the best burger I've ever had. Quality local produce and a brioche bun that doesn't fall into pieces when you take your first bite. Sarah had the vegetarian option and I almost had food envy as her portobello mushroom and deep-fried halloumi was served up in a colossal tower. If you see these guys around at other festivals this summer, I urge you to give them a try. Elsewhere on site, there's a pizza option (£10 for quite a small veggie pizza but one that had better cheese and fresher ingredients than you typically get at festivals) and a stall doing Greek wraps. In a small marquee between stages is the Den. This cafe-like space did a mean trade in breakfasts and was a nice place to watch the world go by in the mornings. It might have been improved by having a better and more efficient ordering system (my breakfast order got misplaced amidst other tickets) but I guess the slightly shambolic, almost amateur set-up here is ultimately part of the bimbling, cosy charm.
I rarely have to queue for alcohol here and this makes me very happy. All pints on site sell for the very reasonable price of £3.50. You're encouraged to buy a plastic glass, complete with 'Barn on the Farm' logo when you first order a pint for an extra £3. You then carry this around with you. This seems to be a developing trend at festivals. It's certainly a good way to reduce litter and I like not feeling the crunch of broken plastic beneath my feet at night. We stick to cider options throughout the weekend. There's a main bar selling pints of Stowford Press and an additional wagon in the courtyard. For more adventurous souls, there's local produce from a Gloucester company in a tucked away shed. From here, we indulge in pints of Bramley and Gwatkin's Silly Ewe. Delicious. I intended to get a pint of Pimms from one of the bars (£5.50) at some point of the weekend but the cider proved too much of an ongoing compulsion.
Great music (and fab attention to sound) was found across each of the stages. Early on Saturday afternoon, Mahalia put down a marker in the Wooden Barn stage with her gentle, laidback, smiley soul. Many gasp when she reveals that she's just 18, such is the composure with which she approaches this set. Her songs tell of the trials and tribulations of being a teenager from Leicester but it's delivered with a real calm charm. Few who saw this set would bet against Mahalia securing a more prominent slot next year. Headlining the barn on Saturday evening is the Dublin based romantic, Gavin James. It's standard singer songwriter fare but delivered with such strident confidence that you can't fail to be impressed.
Perhaps the best set that I saw all weekend in the Wooden Barn was the surprise act on Sunday evening. Listed in the neat programme (which came complete with mini cloth sack to keep it dry) as a simple question mark, there was much anticipation as to who this would be. Most realised that it would be one of the 'Barn On The Farm' family, an act that had graced these stages in previous years. When Alfie Hudson Taylor walked onto the raised platform, the audience went wild. Alfie apologised that it was going to be a slightly different Hudson Taylor set as his brother, Harry, was holed up in hospital with a broken leg. Charmingly, Alfie called Harry from his phone to prove his case. Even though this wasn't the full experience, I was blown away by a band that I'd previously ignored. Gabrielle Aplin came on stage to add to the harmonies. This was beautiful, modern folk music, great song writing and I was overwhelmed.
Over on the outdoor stage, there were also many highlights. I first saw Rag 'n' Bone a few years ago on a small stage at Shambala. Even back then, you could tell Rory Graham was an impressive presence. In recent years, he's honed his craft and added a band of fine musicians. The bassy blues of his booming voice prove to be a fine choice of Sunday evening headline set on this stage.
Clean Cut Kid appear to be playing pretty much every festival possible this summer and it's clear that by doing so they will acquire more fans. I stand next to generous and happy punters who share sips of smuggled single malt and fruity vodka with me whilst we sing along to the fabulous 'Vitamin C'. Hidden Charms make a very clear statement of their intent early on the Sunday afternoon with their new look at sixties influenced jangle.
I've already mentioned Eliza And The Bear and Jack Garratt's appearances on the main stage. They both impressed within these comfortable surroundings. Samm Henshaw stands out on Saturday afternoon as a real rising talent. His brand of soulful pop definitely hooked the crowd and he's another one who might look forward to a more prominent billing next year. I can't say that I entirely understand the growing popularity of Frances at the moment ('it's like Beverley Craven has merged with Adele”) but I concede that I might be in the minority with this view given how well she went down here. Oh Wonder demonstrate on Saturday night that they are worthy headliners, one of the few bands that have never played Barn On The Farm before, but I'd hazard a guess that this won't be the last. VANT, offer a bit more guitar noise and general anger than many of the 'nice' acts that we see across the weekend. Issuing cries deploring the Brexit leaver's naivety might seem a bit like closing the barn door once the horse has bolted but it elicits cheers from many (including me). Some of the audience look on bemused though and I wonder how many of the moshing crowd actually voted on the 23rd.
After Drownload and a very muddy Glastonbury, some are suggesting that 2016 might be marked as a festival year where weather was at its worst. Barn On The Farm doesn't escape the rain but it's not particularly sustained. You've got to feel for Ady Suleiman though who had to endure a really heavy downpour for much of his set on the outdoor stage. We shelter under the canopy of the main bar during this. When we leave (and spot a lovely rainbow over the campsite), the ground is a little bit sticky and you have to go careful underfoot for the rest of Saturday evening. But by Sunday, the sun comes out and dries the ground. Bouncy earth is the best.
There are other sights to mention that all contribute towards the fun that was had at Barn On The Farm. This is a working farm and there is something quite smile-inducing about seeing ostriches bouncing along to the music from their side of the fence. The pigs seem less interested in the beats but aren't oblivious to the attention foisted upon them by many of the crowd. In a corner of the farm, a local Micro-light club uses their mini aeroplanes to takes people into the air to get what must be an incredible perspective upon the festival. I'm not sure if this was something being offered to the crowd or a completely separate endeavour. Perhaps next year I will ask. And that's one of the best compliments that I can give towards Barn On The Farm. Like many of the acts here and most of the crowd, I now feel like I'm edging towards being part of this family. I'll be back.
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