So here it is then August bank holiday week, the first one I've had off in some years, so as the end of the mainstream festival season draws closer, I feel I best shoehorn another in a bit quick. The choice was made to try a new one for me and so its off to the Big Feastival I shall go.
Set on Alex James' (of Blur fame) farm and in partnership with Jamie Oliver (it also supports his charity, Jamie Oliver food foundation), these two food and music lovers have created a hybrid of a festival, as much about food, (its preparation, enjoyment of eating it and every part of the process in between) as it is about music. So here high in the Cotswolds between Stow on the wold and Chipping Norton this site will play host to the highest echelon of chefs as-well-as some big music names too.
Being a rural setting, the site isn't the easiest by road, and with many a small village in the surrounding area, routing all this traffic can't be fun, but when close to the site the vehicles seemed to move smoothly enough. That said, bizarrely enough to me, with the limited rural train stations now around, there is one just a few minutes walk from site, and can easily be seen as a viable means of getting to the site with its mainline connections into London. In addition a bus service runs daily between the site and oxford, this is however pre-bookable only I believe.
So once on site and parked up in the fields I arm myself with booking confirmation to find the booking office. Thankfully I leave all my kit in the car whilst doing this, as although the walk isn't to far, about 7-10 minutes ,it is a scorching hot day by now. So wrist banded up for the weekend I head back to the car. En-route I check the available camping, and the sites nearest the arena have filled up fast, so I spot the site (lemon campsite) nearest the car parking. this at the top of it is nicely flat, a lot of the rest of the camping is on a very gentle slope, so not too bad. Flying solo, I don't have much to carry in (two trips will suffice, tent, sleeping bag and mat in one, clothes, camera and essentials on the next).
For families or others with more to transport there are handy garden trolleys on hire, the type you see many people pulling their kids around in now a festivals. This I see as a good idea and I think came in at around £5 for 30 minutes, enough time to load and unload. I think longer periods were available as it looked like some hired them for the whole weekend. All set up for the weekend and beer in hand I set off back to the arena, this is a no beer from offsite festival, thankfully I knew this from reading the Feastival rules, unlike others that had theirs confiscate upon entry bag searches. I was thirsty enough to have finished mine before that point!
Upon entry the first things I see are a Big Feastival sign, and a large swing carousel (the old fashioned fairground type) just beside that are a dodgems and waltzers too. To my right and beyond the rides to my left is food related stalls and stands. On the right hand side are the main demonstration stands and areas. Such as the big kitchen where the First chef, Cyrus Todiwala MBE OBE is demonstrating his styles of cooking, to a full audience, all sat on benches and hay bales under cover from the heat of the sun. I've never watched a cooking demo before, the chef chats away to the host of the stage while cooking and describing as he goes. A large mirror above the stove is tilted at 45 degrees so we can all see into the pans!
After stopping for a while I head off to walk the site a bit more. There are more areas just along where people get the chance to book in for a Neff cooking session on their induction hobs and next to that a webber bar-b-q cooking masterclass, including making your own foods to go on them, its quite hands on this place if you want it to be!
I decided to pop around to the main stage next, where most of the musical entertainment will take place, but not all of it mind you! As there is a smaller marques called the udder stage and a band stand also. Plus our hosts favourite haunt "the cheese hub"!
I'd missed the first act on, Hannah Grace but managed to catch the last couple of songs by Seafret, performing as a two piece now of vocal and guitar; they seemed to warm toward the early audience, but an easy slot to fill. But Duke pull more of crowd as more people head towards this main stage, with live vocal, beatbox and guitar the three guys on stage produce a full and impressive sound, using no loops or backing tracks and only one non-human instrument!
First of the names I guess that most of this audience would know are up now. Stereo MC's have been around for a couple of decades now and still have that familiar sound from way back when, with favourites like "connected" and "step it up". Welcome shade upstairs in the double floored Birra Moretti bar. It also gives a good view over the main arena. I'll sip a cold one and watch the rest of the next act on from here. Roland Gift, (of Fine Young Cannibals fame) shows he's still got a great voice and is well enjoyed with his crowd enjoying the likes of "Johnny Come Home" and their famous Buzzcock's cover "Ever Fallen In Love (with someone you shouldn'tve)".
Truly Ford on bandstand, has a Jefferson airplane's Grace slick sound to me. A Florence cover and her own material too. Some one for me to look more up of.
Mainly cooking vegetarian and Vegan foods over the last sixteen or so years I was interested in seeing what would be on offer at what first could be perceived as most likely to be a more meat eaters type weekend (don't get me wrong there was plenty of meat available to try if you wanted). I pottered around a few of the traders stalls and found some lovely vegan chocolates, hummus which is made with food discards ie near expiry, and some odd mixtures inc cocoa or beetroot. Yum. I opted for Halloumi fries with za'atar yoghurt, pomegranate seeds/molasses, mint, Turkish chilli and sumac, these were legendary on site with people seeming to want to hunt them down.
The next chef I happened by on at the big kitchen was none other than Raymond Blanc OBE, probably one of the most well known chefs and certainly highly respected. Norman Jay spins up some happy laid back sunshine vibes, whilst Alex and Jamie battle off behind the dj booth in the cheese hub, Mr Oliver using a certain Madchester band's "Wonderwall" as a joking dig to a particular little feud way back when!
Foxes were the surprise act of the day for me, suiting the feel for the evening wonderfully. My second act to go off and listen to a bit more!!
Under clear night skies Mark Ronson DJs with a crowd pleasing set of known classics, finishing with Blur's "Song 2", his collaboration with Amy Winehouse's "Valerie" and Fat Boy Slim's "Praise You".
Musically its an earlier than usual at this family oriented festival, with the stages winding down at about 10.30. though the Cheese hub goes on later as does the silent disco until around 12.30.
Saturday starts with a shower and it's really humid. Time for a trip to the campsite toilets, but for some reason there aren't any in our site (there are about four different camps around the site) it's not far from where I'm set up but all the arris fencing dividing the sites up (the main thoroughfare into the main arena from the carpark is set between them also) prevents easy access and would have been a bit of a trek from the far end of my site for a night time visit! One of the few things I felt needs to be addressed in future. To avoid queues and save time I just headed straight into the arena and used those. That said inside there were plenty of toilets portable loos and urinals divided off from ladies facilities, and also lots of hand wash basins and sanitizer too.
A Berlin Brunch's sun rise for me to start the day, sweet potato mash topped with feta and pomegranate on a bed of leaves served on top of a slice of sourdough bread.
Dick & Dom are our daytime interval entertainment. Bit edgy at times but mostly humour the younger folk in the audience wouldn't get, a bit like 90's/00's Saturday morning tv! Reggie N Bollie continue next, X-Factor duo engage and entertain the crowd well, I didn't know them but everyone else seemed to, I guess fitting nicely after Dick and Dom.
Vegan paella for lunch, a festival level price of £6.50 and filling with lots of summer veg in it too. Food on site is as you'd expect, is very good. Choices really range across the board, from fries to full on sit down service in the big kitchen or a pre-booked four course meal for £50 at one of the pop up restaurants. The more usual festival type food vendors were also priced more in line with most other festivals. Drink wise, Sharpe's have ales at £4.50, Birra Moretti at £5, wines from Brancott estate, ciders by the good cider of San Sebastian, and Kent ciders, still fruit and farmhouse varieties. But cheapest on site were the Royal College Of Agriculture's "muddy boot" selection, golden ale, original ale, and a cider at £3.50, with tasters to try each first, well done for coming in at this price level!
Threat of lightning strike closes the main stage around 1.45 (I was in front of it when a large crackle happened and seemed to pop the power), so we miss a couple of acts. Fair enough: it did rain heavily with electricity flowing across the sky, so it was the safest option and the crowd all sought out shelter. I get to see Gizzi Erskine in the shelter of the wellness kitchen's tipi, she talked of career, new books, and childhood ambition, she was very interesting and someone I'd probably not listened to had the downpour not happened.
Eventually the rain subsides and Reverend And The Makers can take the stage, brief sunshine warmed the crowd back up as did the band. Their set seemed a little short but I think that was just to get back onto schedule.
Reef come on full of it and they gave us it too! It was a great set full of all crowd pleasing energy and verve, just what we all needed after the storm to really bring everyone back onto the festival plain. The bassist, Jack Bessant, even managed to break a string, something that is not that easy to do (before hand he could be seen wandering back stage warming up, meandering with his acoustic guitar). They finished with the obvious "Place Your Hands".
A happy maki vegan sushi wrap for supper they are yummy and often at other festivals, worth a try if you fancy a break from the norm. Then it's The Cuban Brothers, also a combo that flies close to the wire but the saucy humour and odd swears seemed to be overlooked and gig wise enjoyed by the majority.
Ella Henderson, another X-Factor finalist I believe, seemed to hold this audience in her hands, though oddly she didn't want photographers in the pit! She finished with "Ghost", the song that I think started her on this career and was sung along to by her crowd. DJ Fresh ramps up the dance atmosphere now with live vocal, bit of a marmite affair, people I chatted to seemed to either love the set or hate it. Not my general cup of tea it has to be said but it was an enjoyable change in tempo.
Tinie Tempah fulfilled a lot of the teen audiences wishes tonight too, although as with DJ Fresh beforehand he seemed to have a split audience, either way I think most were catered for today. All done and dusted (or not given the dampness of the ground) by 11, it's an early night for me!
These earlier nights lead into earlier mornings than I'm used to at festivals so on a Sunday, mixed with cloud and sunshine, I'm sat eating my breakfast watching the gates open at ten and from the camping entrance the keenest of weekenders run in, possibly for early sign on for the daily sessions, mad, was like the early campers at larger festivals rushing for prime spots to camp. The site is holding up reasonably well and off the main walkways and pinch points there is plenty of grass still and no trouble in the campsites either.
CBBC superstar Justin Fletcher (as described on the run sheet) aka Mr Tumble opens to the kids on main, they loved it. With his pair of smiling dancers they really got the youngsters (and some parents) going.
Joanne Pickard host the big kitchen, asking questions and generally help whilst wellness and lifestyle author Madeleine Shaw (new book "Ready Steady Glow" is out soon) cooks, cauliflower rice, a dish I'd not heard of but will now try, the aromas were wonderful. April Towers, first band proper of the day, and its lunchtime, I'll wander and taste a few different dishes and samplers from numerous vendors. Ami's kitchen mac n cheese with chilli was great.
Nathan Outlaw, in the wellness kitchen, catches my ear so I pop over for a listen. These talks are up close and personal, sat around tables used to create or sample in other talk/workshops with easy going Q&A's too. He speaks of his favourite fish mackerel and turbot, and his restaurants in Port Isaac in Cornwall, newly opening restaurant in Dubai and how he only likes to open new places at a pace at which he can staff them with home grown talent he can trust, rather that rush out a chain!
Dan Doherty chats briefly with Jo Whiley and confesses to a few too many last night, and judging by the hands raised when asked, so had many in the audience! Danny and the Champions Of The World bring an alt-country rock feel as hot sun breaks through between clouds.
DJ Yoda brought back some memories with his kids classics set, for both young and young at heart, this set was created especially for this late afternoon set and was right on the demographic age grouping of the parents I'd imagine, many a dad could be heard muttering to his offspring such as "daddy used to love this" or "aw yeah". It was a trip down memory lane for me, that's for sure.
The Showhawk Duo also do the same for us with their guitar reworks of 90's trance classics bringing smiles and chants from the crowd that were there for sure first time around judging by how well they were received on the Udder stage.
Roisin Murphy blows most of the other performances away for me though, she's full of charisma, with costumes changes throughout but not so as to break the set up, more to enhance it and in tune with the songs too. At one point donning a hi-vis jacket and hard hat and thinking about building a hi-rise on the land, called Murphy towers with a different disco on every floor. My third must know more artiste of the weekend. Something I try to find at every festival and was glad this one was no different.
Kaiser Chiefs, are our final band of the weekend and its a blinder, tempered language especially for the family audience that included new songs like "parachute" and "fill a hole" from the forthcoming new album as well as classics "Modern way"," Everyday I Love You Less And Less". Talking to audience with a teacher-like banter ("are you chewing?", "now you know the words you can join in" And "I can wait all day"). " Ruby", "The Angry Mob", "I Predict A Riot", and a surprise cover of "Pinball Wizard" encored with "Oh My God." They were a great end to the main stage and thoroughly professional, changing their normal routine to allow for a much younger audience than I'm sure they normally play for, yet still engaging with them, something many headline acts would fail to do.
The cheese hub runs on for a little longer with some added exuberance as the weekend comes to a close, and for me its been a good one.
I came open minded to this as its not my usual sort of festival, but a change is as good as a rest they so, and this was refreshing for sure. I met and talked to some interesting people, who showed interest in me and what I was doing too, which is nice. My campsite neighbours enjoyed telling me of their day as they came back to camp and I hope enjoyed my story too. On site festival glamping providers sat me down at their table and regaled stories and listened to my festival suggestions. Also a couple I shared a breakfast table with and chatted to about festival "bolt-ons" and their worth, but also grass roots festival suggestions that they may enjoy. These were all different folk from different walks of life to me, but festivals can and should bring different people together over a mutual enjoyment, Music and food should be in us all surely?
Many thanks go out to the team that made me feel so welcome and to the photographers for not laughing at me too much. I hope and believe this Feastival will continue and grow into the future as I do think it has it's place on the circuit, but also its niche, which is not an easy thing to find nowadays.
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