Blissfields festival may be a small festival, but it has a lot of character, good music and for yet another year fantastic weather. 2013 sees Blissfields have its third festival at Vicarage farm in the middle of the Hampshire countryside, moving to the new site three years ago to allow its capacity to grow to 3,500. The festival is now beginning to stretch out to fit the space and this year there were several changes to the layout, and on the whole they worked well, the only misstep was the new acoustic stage that was sited between the main and the second stage - often resulting in sound from both the larger stages overwhelming the quieter acoustic acts performing there.
One of the good things about small festivals is the lack of pressure when finding a camping space, unlike large festivals where the prime spots are subject to a gold-rush stampede, even our arrival at about 4pm on the Thursday we were able to amble down and get a spot almost opposite the arena entrance. Once settled we set off around site to see what changes have been made. As you enter the arena, the first thing that strikes you is second stage (the Bradley Bubble) has a new larger tent, with the stage placed along the long edge moving the audience into a wide narrow arc which gives a reasonably large venue a friendly and intimate feel. In addition it helped the smaller acts, as even low audience numbers didn't feel too lost in the space.
Tucked in on one side of the arena is the Blisscoteque Bus where DJs perform for those who want to dance the weekend away. The main stage has also moved slightly this year, and fits more naturally into the shape of the field, making the arena seem wider, and adding the shade of a few trees on one side which look to be a necessity for the weekend ahead.
One of the big changes for this year is the merging of the children's and craft areas into a new combined area, offering art workshops, blacksmiths and wood-turners, as well as areas to just sit and enjoy the circus performers that appear through the day. Behind this area is the Hidden Hedge, an area that started off literally in a hedge on the old site, but has now expanded into a mini-Arcadia with dystopian bio-mechanical sculptures, pickled dolls in jars and things done to barbies that would make a little princess squirm. At its heart is Area 51 – A geodesic dome that is home to the festival's dance line-up. Back out in the open area is, in-keeping with the festivals filmic theme of 'The Directors Cut', is a cinema tent showing feature films and documentaries form the festivals own amateur film competition run over recent months. Completing the arena is the acoustic stage and a games area, where festival goers could compete over the weekend in themed games to win tickets to an exclusive after-show party.
For such a small festival what I really have to applaud them for is the wide range of good quality food available, and this year as well as the usual burgers and chips, there were award winning German Sausages, Cheese and wine picnic hampers, woodfired pizzas, and festival favourite the Luardos Mexivan, serving probably the best burritos anywhere in the UK. The bars on site are always very reasonable and you can get a pint for £3, Additionally this year was a Hobgoblin beer festival, where a selection of real ales and ciders from around the UK were available for those who wished to look beyond the usual lagers on offer. In fact, so good was this addition that I didn't go near the main bar all weekend.
Although previously the festival has been a two-day affair, with a small music program for those who wished to camp on the Thursday evening, this year there was more emphasis in making the Thursday an event in its own right, with a full program of acts in the acoustic tent, hidden hedge and acoustic stage from 6pm. There has also been a change of focus across the whole weekend, where previously live music finished around midnight, and DJs around 1am, now the live music goes on to 2am each night, and the DJs until 4, giving the festival more of a 24-hour party atmosphere of some of the bigger festivals such as Glastonbury and Bestival.
The first half of the evening was given over to winners of the 'Road to Blissfields' competitions held around the country. We missed the first act to take the stage in the Bubble while we were exploring the site, While most of these acts largely sat in the category of 'indie landfill', a couple stood out. First was Luxe, a band from Guildford, whose direct and energetic rock bought to mind Ash or Manic Street Preachers. The other was I'm Designer, A heavy rock band in the QOTSA mould, whose big anthems and screaming guitars got even the youngest members of the crowd bouncing along. Over in the acoustic stage we caught Matt Jarvis and later Luke Ferre, who was very likeable even if he did wear a dodgy pair of dungarees.
In the Bradley Bubble headliner for the evening was Man Like Me, who are one of those bands that have been beguiled by Blissfields charm, performing here for the third time. It takes a hard person not to be drawn in by the antics and magnetic energy of this band, they really do prove that there is a very fine line between genius and madness, but got the festival off to a great start. Normally this is where the show ends, but the new longer hours meant they were followed by a huge helping of ska from One Step Too Late. Ska music never fails to please me, but whether it was the late hour or that they are not used to festival sets, it seemed to be a set that just fell short of all its promise. Rounding up the evening were reggae outfit General Roots, who were certainly full of love for the crowd. It was clear that this evening had drawn a good few festivallers in early and Thursday evening this year was the busiest yet. But with what was promising to be a hot weekend. We chose to get a relatively early evening, (well 2am is early for a festival), while leaving others to enjoy the wierdness of the hidden hedge.
latest on this festival
joining Gold Panda, Baxter Dury, Slamboree, Dub Pistols, Mr Jukes, & more
joining Gold Panda, Slamboree, Dub Pistols, Baxter Dury, Mr Jukes, Beans on Toast, & more
joining Slamboree, Gold Panda, Dub Pistols, Norman Jay, & more