For families Camp Bestival must be one of the best options for those wanting a festival that caters for everyone, and is a huge treat for the kids. Last year we went with kids, this year we did not, and I have to say the experience is greatly reduced if you don't have them, there's so much geared to children on the bill, and younger children rather than teens. A family arrived near us for the weekend with three generations, Granddad, parents, and three young kids, and all of them had thoroughly enjoyed themselves when I spoke to them on Sunday.
The site was vastly bigger than last year, a lot more camping, and car parking provided. The walk into the arenas was longer, and the number of places for late night coffee, or a snack in the camping area was minimal, although there were those who did their own catering in the campsite. Although kids are always going to be early risers the noise levels where we are in purple afforded us a decent sleep after returning in the small hours.
As last year the arena was divided into four areas, the healing area, which this year had the showers and a breakfast area beside it, although 'Restival' had gone, this area once again had the late night fire pit, with circled sofas and late night acoustic music for those able to sing-along badly.
During the day this area played host to children with the giant screen playing cartoons, comedy (also for adults) and much fun and games by blue coats, and even a packed field for a secret Mr Tumble gig. By night the tents were filled with parents dancing to cheesy tunes, and the big top was filled with those enjoying a silent disco. It also played host to crowd filling gigs by Frankie Boyle, Bon Ivor, P J Harvey, Marcus Brigstocke's Early Edition, and the English Ballet.
For me personally the three music tents failed to hit the mark for late night entertainment, Erol Alkan failed to impress although by all accounts he got better, and the other tents were too packed to get past the fringes leaving us only the most popular choice, the 'Silent Disco' which was good fun as was the Burleque although the speed with which the women got undressed, with very little 'tease' involved did make me wonder how much it had been designed to not be too risque for kids.
The last area was an expanded magic meadow leading to the boutique tipi field. This area was even bigger than last year, housing a smaller bandstand stage, insect circus, and the River Cottage where Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall tries out festival catering for the first time which also holds the longest queues of the weekend. The area also has masses for kids to do from a library to ballet, from circus skills, to maypole dancing, a bouncy castle, face painting and much more.
With numbers on site a crowded 10,000 adults and 5,000 kids, this area is the most open offering seating, space, and refuge from the madding crowds, and also less queues. It's the queueing that gets to me most, everywhere at anytime you have to queue, perhaps there's too few food outlets, or not enough bars, the cash point machines also having long queues but this is more likely because it's a fairly expensively priced weekend for food and drink and everyone, in the main, spends more than they budgeted for. The glasses too are a problem flimsy plastic and wide based they spill easily over the hand if an attempt to travel with a full one is made, and very long fingers are needed to carry three at a time, a pre-requisite if you want to avoid queueing again for a while.
I couldn't help feeling with so much for kids to do there was something missing for the adults to consider late at night, other than a walk around a well lit wood and lake, perhaps a dedicated comedy tent, or theatre for those who weren't up for the packed dance tents and the BPM assault, I heard tales of an acoustic tent but failed to find it.
This year the music on offer seemed to me a bit patchy, not as strong as last year, there appeared to be a lot of their own 'label' acts on the bill. I enjoyed The Cuban Brothers brand of mad cap feel good tunes, and Mercury Rev's light show was awesome. I was wowed by Frank Turner's new songs, and the band behind Kid Creole. P J Harvey as an acoustic set up was a delight but did not vary enough in delivery style constrained by her solo performance.
My personal highlight was the Bookworm tent, plenty of space, no queues, and some great poetry on offer, although adverts for Rob Da Bank's book got a bit wearing, to the point where the audience said they would rather watch nothing than another repeat of the colourful advert. Biggest crowds were there for Florence & The Machine, Bon Iver, the near the knuckle Frankie Boyle, surprisingly for me Will Young, and all the headliners proved enjoyable. My personal high point was randomly standing next to Scroobius Pip watching Kate Tempest dropping rhymes in the rain at the bandstand with her band Sound Of Rum, who weren't even given a write up in the programme.
We didn't have much rain until the huuuuuuge fireworks display at the end - which must surely have blown half the profits of the event and seemed to lasted for almost half an hour! It made up for any drawbacks and with a terrific soundtrack ended the festival on a high.
Rob Da Bank and pals should be congratulated for thinking so much about catering for what kids love doing, making the site look lovely, and providing a fantastic alternative for those wanting to have a family holiday. It's definitely grown into a family festival rather than one designed for those with or without families.
review by: Scott Williams
photos by: Karen Williams / Sarah Stevens
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