The festival rumour-mill is an interesting thing, and every festival has its share of scuttlebutt as part of the warm-up, usually this is centred around who is or isn't playing/making a surprise appearance. Bestival, like it's counterparts has had plenty, but also this year have been some darker rumours, alluding to poor ticket sales, local land-owners not being accommodating, as well as the perennial one that suggests this will be the last year (one that the Isle of Wight Festival also gets thrown at it), and Rob Da Bank's statement that this year he was going back to it's boutique festival roots seemed to be suggest there was some weight to them. With the introduction of day passes this year adding to the fuel, so it was interest that we headed to site to see what Bestival 2016 has to offer.
The first thing that first things to struck us was the smaller main stage. Over the last few years we have got used to the large box-shaped stage that sat in the centre of the site visible from most locations, this year is a far smaller hemispherical stage that nestles into the valley in a far more sympathetic manner. The other major change is the hillside, that has since the start been the centre of the 'chill-out' area of the festival is noticeably empty. Particularly alarming is the apparent lack of the famous WI tea tent that is traditionally sited at the top, thankfully after consulting the map we discovered it had merely been relocated – phew! As we wandered round the other areas that were open on Thursday (tonight is campers-only, and only about half the site is active) we saw that the site has been condensed significantly, with areas that had been spread across four fields were now condensed down to to two. As Bestival regulars it certainly was a surprise that left us feeling like the festival we know and love has gone, leaving a body-snatching imposter in its place - this may be Bestival, but it's not our Bestival! I guess time will tell whether we can grow to love this new version as much as the old.
The Magic Meadow has always been a field with plenty going on, but in the past it has only really had Temple Island – a DJ venue, now this has been joined by the Invaders of the Future and the Carnival stages - already at this point it seems quite crowded and these other two stages seem to be dominated by the familiar 'wub-wub' - not a problem with a loud band, but some of the more acoustic acts needed to be blasted out to try to cover the distraction. There is also a noticeable absence of the quirkier bits of decoration that covers the site. Hopefully these will be in other areas yet to be discovered.
Thursday is focussed on the big top, and as the acts that we wanted to see there tonight were on later, we headed off towards the campsite fringes expecting the usual melee of small stages, curious acts and food stalls, but they were all noticeably missing with the camping starting right next to the main arena - and although the Wishing Tree was still there, it was lacking the charming illuminations that made it a late-night focus. So our exploration was shorter than we hoped.
The big top was well attended, but has a lower stage than previous years and is missing the usual large screens resulting in difficulties for those at the fringes to see what was going on. After a solid performance from Glass Animals it was time for tonight's headliner, Hot Chip are Bestival regulars and their return is always welcomed. This is a band that really seem to come together live and their dynamic set of hits, and a few surprising covers - such as a barnstorming version of Bruce Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark - got the crowd in a good mood and set things up nicely for the rest of the weekend.
Friday saw the full site open for business and new for this year the introduction of day passes saw an increase in early traffic, but whether this will have a lot of impact on the respective days is difficult to say. With another sunny day on the cards we started our main Bestival with another festival regulars - Kitty Daisy & Lewis – a family group whose upbeat music whose roots in fifties and sixties US pop always sounds bright and fresh.
After some bubbly Europop from Petite Meller, it was time for one of the first big acts of the day. Having scored a number one with tonight's headliners Major Lazer, MØ was given a chance to perform her own songs, certainly she is a musician with a lot of energy in her performance, hitting the stage with plenty of energy, she soon drew quite a crowd with her performance.
Now that Friday is here and the whole site is open, we had a chance to size up the remainder of the site and see what changes had been made. One of the first things that hits you is the Bollywood tent is much simpler, having lost it's signature pavilion entrance, now just an open sided tent, with a bar and seating behind it. Fortunately not all of the indian flavour has been lost with regular performances from Circus Raj – a Bestival regular who performing some amazing and some faintly disturbing circus acts with a traditional indian flavour, their show gave us a good opportunity to have a rest and enjoy a mojito from the cocktail bar, unfortunately last years favourite cocktail bar, the jam jar bar, has been another casualty this Bestival so we had to settle for a more usual plastic cup. From there it was into the spaceport, which is the new futuristic version of the port stage, personally it seemed a lot less impressive than the full-sized boat at one end, and the skeletal rocket ship seemed to lack the same dramatic impact, particularly as it's retro-shape seemed a little at odds with the grey and industrial stage beneath, the two giant astronauts were impressive enough, but it still left a sense of an arena still in construction. Rather than a fully formed area. A later visit at night was more impressive when the lighting was in action, hopefully this stage will develop as the festival continues.
From there it was into the ambient forest, and the search through the myriad of pathways to try to find one of our favourite areas from last year. The Blind Tiger is a hidden stage so not marked on the map, but fortunately it hadn't moved from last year, so after a couple of wrong turns, we found ourselves back in it;s warm embrace. The venue itself is an opulent yurt hidden at the end of a shipping container, complete with a giant chandelier and plenty of comfy sofas, offering a real getaway from the bustle of the main festival, it offers solace in a festival that can at times be overwhelming in it's sound and colour. The main entertainment comes from a succession of talented pianists and so we settled down and enjoyed performances from Mark Chettle, Sally Layne, and Tom Colborn.
It was hunger that encouraged us to leave the comfort and we went back down through the Bollywood arena. As usual Bestival has a lot of different food choices on offer a there is are a variety of stalls well spread through the site so no matter what area of the festival site you are in you can find something good. Once refilled with a rather delicious Mac and Cheese - a meal that's fast becoming our new festival favourite, we returned to the Blind Tiger to listen to Jazz singer Alice Tolchard, who gave an almost faultless performance. Sadly the same couldn't be said of Sophie Faith, who instead presented us with an example of the perils of drinking too much with your mates before you perform, and her rambling performance was littered with forgotten lyrics and in-jokes that just managed to empty the venue instead – not that she noticed this as her friends had formed a barrier round the stage cheering and singing and probably gave her the illusion of a great show.
We too voted with our feet and instead headed back across the site, catching the headline show on the Main Stage from Major Lazer - I have to say that I couldn't tell you what any of their songs were, but it was almost impossible not to be swept up by the party atmosphere they create, and as such a large crowd were dancing along. Afterwards the crowd dispersed into the night and we chose to head back to the tent after what had been a pretty good day in the hope that the rain forecast for tomorrow doesn't materialise.
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