With so many entertainments and activities for kids of all ages, a dull moment was the one thing not on the Camp Bestival programme. On a secluded country estate in Dorset the legendary DJ Rob da Bank and his team have created a wonderfully well thought out celebration of all things family and festival.
For this its eighth incarnation, the festival's 26,000 attendees were blessed with the most amazing weekend of weather. Wall to wall sunshine turned the rolling grassy parkland golden, like a sandy beach. A cooling sea breeze blowing over from the nearby Jurassic coast added to the seaside holiday fantasy. There was a distinct sense of Feng Shui at work across the site as the estate's landscape and the festival's layout combined to create countless spaces with their own micro-climates and particular vibes. The main stage audiences on a gently shelving slope beneath the estate's mock medieval castle felt the sun's heat tempered beautifully by the breeze.
Behind the castle, in the Kids' gardens it felt like the best village fete imaginable, thanks to the glorious weather and any number of fascinating stalls and rides. The Magical Meadow was an ideal spot for sunbathing away from festival hullaballoo, though the peace was occasionally interrupted by the roar of a motorbike engine from the Wall of Death attraction. Shade was to be found beneath the estate's specimen trees – like the seriously gnarly old oak tree in the Spinney Hollow gypsy craft corner, the towering evergreens of the tranquil, new agey Hideaway or in the shadowy woodland of the Dingly Dell. The festival's furniture created some lovely spots, for example outside the Bollywood marquees an array of colourful umbrellas sheltered benches and stands which meant the audience for Norman Jay's Saturday afternoon DJ set could get hyped inside then chill ‘just right' outside. And then there were the tented stages and installations spread all over the site which provided structure and shelter - Bollywood, the Big Top, the Greatest Tent on Earth, The Travelling Barnyard, Guardian Literary Institute, the Train of Thought, the list just goes on.
As darkness fell and a blue moon rose over the site there were plenty of chances for “Living it up as the sun goes down” as spaces took on intriguing new characters. Some thanks to clever use of lighting, others like Blue Coats shifted up through their musical gears and yet other areas came in their own – like the Caravanserai enclosure, a chaotic corral of cut and shut caravans, whose vibe became more anarchic the darker it got. Variety and interest seemed to be high up the list of design priorities in this festival landscape, and the same can be said of the musical selections which ranged from kids TV favourite's like Justin Fletcher aka Mr Tumble and ‘Deadly' Steve Bagshaw to acts for older heads like Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Bob Geldof, or Soul II Soul
A blissful Sunday afternoon soul-pop set from Ella Henderson was followed by invigorating punkrock grind from Slaves. On Friday night the polished popularity of classical meets dancefloor act Clean Bandit on the main stage competed with dancehall classics from David Rodigan over at Bollywood. It was all there, and in such an abundance, there truly was something for everyone, and accordingly every type of people were there too, sharing in the free style of living it up with thousands of other likeminded families from noticeably diverse ethnic and social backgrounds.
Curators and organisers Rob Da Bank and wife Josie have obviously put so much thought and love into this festival. Making the focus on children enjoying themselves in a‘real' festival environment is surely a masterstroke. The Kid's garden was absolutely packed with play opportunities- whether circus skills, double dutch skipping, fairground rides or any number of make and takes. Up until the gardens closed at dusk by bedtime stories from the likes of Dick & Dom or Howard Marks there was so much laid on for the children's delight. Out on the main stage the daytime acts were clearly picked to keep the kids interested. Only The Young's set was greeted with Beatlemania-like screaming from the young girls. Teens had a fenced-off area in the Magic Meadow, the Den, where no adults or kids were allowed. Here in their own world they could learn DJ skills, beatboxing and breakdancing during the day and go to the dances at night. Over at the Freesports park opposite the Den junior skaters, scooters and BMXers shared the halfpipe with parkour demonstration teams and pro riders. All pretty cool stuff. Happy kids is happy families, and happy families could get on with the business of enjoying all that our hosts made available.
This business was made significantly easier by the use of converted compost trolleys, which were everywhere at Camp Bestival. Some pimped up to the nth degree with plywood coachwork or astroturf cladding, camo netting and maybe some funky LED lighting systems. The effort people put in to their décor was outstanding. It was easy to see the practical benefits too, in getting a family's worth of gear from car to campsite, and then for moving said family and their chattels around the site itself. Pretty useful too at the end of a busy day, no need to head back to the tent for the little ‘uns bedtime when they can safely be accommodated in the trolley. At times the festival fields felt like scene from Westward Ho! as these covered wagons made their way over Dorset prairie lands to the promised land – or in this case the Castle stage - where they formed up to create temporary base camps. A best in fest competition would have no doubt attracted many, many entrants. As it was many an interested eye looked over their neighbour's design perhaps looking for next years' ideas. For us these wagons were one of the festivals most memorable features.
The space we liked best space at the festival was the Spinney Hollow, the craft area where rhythmic tap, tap, tapping at the Al Fresco Forge became a musical event in its own right as the youngsters were enthralled whilst making Knight's shields or a Fleur De Lis. Elsewhere at a natural headdress workshop princesses become the queen garland makers of tomorrow. Under a shelter beside a Romany caravan and the Woodland Banquets served up delicious lunch of smoky spit roasted venison, mixed root slaw and herby new potatoes whilst all around people merrily engaged in puppetry workshops, wandmaking, and carving roses and spindles from greenwood. There was enough interest to spend everyday in especially this appealing corner of the festival.
Musically there were so many highlights, not least from our impresario himself. Rob da Bank's Saturday late night DJ session had Bollywood packed and jumping from the opening bars of Biggie Smalls and Faith Evans ‘A love like this'. Ella Eyre was a big hit with young and old in her first Camp Bestival appearance on Sunday evening.
Wretch 32 showed his rhyming skills to the fullest in a Friday evening set, and was well supported by a terrific band and quality backing vocals. In the Sunday sunshine Soul II Soul's Jazzy B talked of his dream of universal love and everyone “living together under the sun”, under his direction the band and vocalist Carol Wheeler rolled out a silky smooth sound which certainly had everyone locked in as they grooved together. Both Clean Bandit, and Underworld, tested the main stage's sound system bass responsiveness, a test which it passed with plenty of punch to spare.
The PA absolutely excelled itself for the super-fast and funky fingerwork of Level 42's bass supremo Mark King, who gave us a set littered with family references from their back catalogue like ‘Sons and Daughters' - which featured a stage invasion of children and WAGS from backstage – and ‘Running in the family'. Of course these were just our selected highlights; the roster was so tightly packed with quality performers that almost every music fan at the festival would be able to choose a completely different list.
For this massive choice of entertainment the £200 ticket price didn't look too bad, but at Camp Bestival you do have to pay to play, as there are a lot of extras, add-ons and upgrades. Most people needed car parking, as remote East Lulworth is not brilliantly served by public transport. That was an extra £20. Workshops were mostly chargeable and not cheap, for example at £25 for a spoon making. A campsite on the flat for anyone arriving after Thursday meant booking a Camping Plus spot for an extra £125. Or you could pay a premium to avoid the car to camp ordeal by booking a yurt or tepee in the Boutique camping. There was even the option of pay to pee toilets at the rear of the main stage, this attracted a huge queue but you had to wonder why as most of the composting and chemical toilets were in pretty decent nick most of the weekend. Still with the wonderful it seems most folks had come prepared to spend, as there was no evidence of a lack of demand – workshops were all booked up, many caterers were sold out by Sunday and the camping fields and car park were all packed.
Overall Bestival was a jam packed family extravaganza which offered festival goers an eclectic edginess all of its own. It was impossible even to get round all the different nooks and crannies of the site in one weekend, let alone appreciate them fully. It's the sort of festival you could keep coming back to, and as the kids grow there's always going to be something new and something familiar there for them. Indeed many overheard conversations between strangers centred on how many times they'd been before and what they'd found this time.
The festival culminated in a firework show from the Castle. It was a sight to behold and felt more like a romantic gesture of love for the event, a fond farewell to Camp Bestival 2015 which no doubt will be etched on the minds of those who attended for all the right reasons.
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