It all started with a little rain. Driving down the M3 into a wall of water falling from the skies and traffic grinding to a halt. The wave of panic driving to a festival in heavy winds and rain is not what you are looking forward to when you booked your tickets, but it’s always a gamble. Then an hour away from the site and my daughters motion sickness kicks in, vomit in the hire car, managing to catch most of it in a potty. A pit stop in Starbucks and the desire to reconsider the options fades again as the sun pokes out from behind a cloud. Half a litre of coffee and an overpriced toastie and its time to carry on into final approach. A muddy maelstrom or England’s green and pleasant Dorset coast?
Fortunately, Camp Bestival seemed to avoid some of the worst of the weather and it was actually pleasant when pitching a tent on the Thursday when we finally arrived. A warm evening, busy but well managed car park, and very little mud damage. With much of the campsite full, apart from some of the steeper hills it was a case of squeezing in the gaps and keeping the guy ropes in tight and then going for a look around. There were some prepared campers and some very prepared campers. The tent clusters with a cooking gazebo and a dining gazebo fenced off with wind breaks were impressive. Some of the tents floor space would cost you a couple of hundred thousand in London. There was enough open on the Thursday to get a good dinner and even head over to the Caravanserai for some entertainment. Junior Jungle and a cocktail is clearly the best way to shake off a long drive. Even the little one perked up watching the trapeze artists swinging into the air. A chai / hot chocolate in the Smoky Tentacles tent and the festival feeling of tranquillity took over.
The Friday pretty much followed the forecasts – its always worth preparing for the worst. The morning was dry and gave some time to see what was up for grabs. An giant interactive robot, a crafting field and a farm shop were the first to call us in. Queues were already forming for the popular crafting options like making a wooden sword or smithing a metal broach or ornament. Booking a time slot in the morning seemed to be the only way to get into some of the classes. The farmers market had some really good food from croissants to boar sausage rolls to seafood salads and a great tomato and herb bread (the blue vinny bread is calling me for next time).
Moving on, as we arrived at the Bollywood tent, The Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band serenaded us in. As the skies turned grey it seemed a good idea. Playing a mixture of pop songs with an Indian brass band flourish, they were very entertaining. Further round the site brought us past the castle and down to the bottom field. A large open field with space to spread out and full of kids entertainments. The first to catch us was the science demonstrations, but at 4 years old, it was a little ambitious to push onto the poor kid so some CBeebies art fun next door was on the cards. One brightly coloured dinosaur and one goody bag later we were on our way.
The rain started as the main stage opened up. The crowds moved away to the sheltered stages like the Big Top, Bollywood and the Greatest Tent on Earth. Covering entertainment for all ages these 3 had it all. Fresh new music from the likes of Ska Vengers, a New Delhi ska-dub-funk band for the adult crowd. DJs from Norman Jay, Congo Natty and the Big Fish Little Fish crew pulled in the teens to Bollywood while the kids got Theatre style productions in the greatest tent. Meanwhile, the anoraks (like me) camped out at the Castle Stage. Mexrissey took the covers band formula and threw it away singing Smiths and Morrissey songs in Spanish giving a wholly different spin to the music. Enough to cheer up even the most miserable soul. Reverend and the Makers haven’t really peaked since their early single "Heavyweight Champion of the World" but they managed to get the dad’s out of their chairs and moving again. The Cuban Brothers always go down well and have been a stable feature of Bestival’s since the beginning.
Ray BLK must have started some awkward conversations with her more explicit songs but … Drawing on her life and experience she encapsulates the social pressure and culture of modern London into neat songs. The undercard (and basically kids headliner) on the Friday were All Saints. They came on stage to a fresh wave of rain blowing onto the stage. Taking it in their stride, they put on a great show even with a wet stage. A welcome reminder of how good a tune "Pure Shores" is.
Mark Ronson finished the night. A set going through funk and soul to hip hop with shoutouts to Mobb Deep, Amy Winehouse and James Brown, as he went through some of the greats. With munchkin asleep in the pushchair mum and dad had a break for some wine and a dance before wandering back to the tent.
Saturday carried on as the day before with a break in the rain in the morning. The wet ground was getting churned up into mud though so it was getting squelchy underfoot. The core billing of the main stage was dedicated to the kids. Mister Maker, Mr Tumble and Dick and Dom all got a great reception. With a barricaded area at the front for disabled people to watch from and deaf children being allowed at the front of stage. It is clear Camp Bestival go out of their way to be as inclusive as possible. A sign language interpreter added even more visibility to many performances. Seeing the excitement from all the children watching was really heart-warming. I’ve been to a fair number of festivals but this was pretty unique.
The School of Rock musical was an utter delight. This unique performance outside the theatre really shone. The connection between the kids on stage and the audience really pushed them higher and the buzz was phenomenal. Squeezing in a glorious Dorset Ice Cream after a lunch of freshly made pizza, the decent variety of food on offer is always handy. Alice Jemima serenaded us while eating. Sometimes verging on the XX, it sounded better when she opened up more and pulled away from the stripped back sound they pioneered. Kate Nash is great fun and always manages to connect with an audience. Never one to shy away, she stresses her message of empowerment between songs too.
The Bootleg Beatles – the second edition of the greatest Beatles mimics was another great choice. Giving an opportunity to see and hear the greats as they were at their peak. The nostalgia trip was just beginning. Holly Johnson was surprisingly good. What I thought was going to sound dated and dull still had the power to thrill. The Frankie goes to Hollywood classics were great to shake off the raindrops and welcome in the night. With most children piling into trollies or pushchairs to sleep, a few remained standing to dance on while others left tired, dragging their parents reluctantly along.
Madness managed to threw in a few covers amongst their constrained set after some keyboard problems at the start. Getting Max Romeo’s "Chase the Devil" was a curveball for me as the Dangerman Sessions had passed me by unaware. Mainly sticking to classics, the recent "Mumbo Jumbo" held up alongside the One Step Beyond’s. With "Our House" still in my head, the snaps of London streets (and the Dublin Castle) really did bring on the homesickness as new volley of rain hammered down. Another night, another cheeky Chai before bed. Heaven.
The sun finally arrived on Sunday. Hope you didn’t lose your sunscreen over the last two days, its time to get on with all the kids activities outdoors. The biggest bouncy castle in the world finally opening long enough to let people on. Team Extreme finally getting their skates on. The Chelsea FC training club carrying on as they had done all weekend. It was the day for doing, not watching. Meeting King Henry VIII and deciding which useless invention he deemed worthy enough. Dressing up all historical. Playing with Lego for an hour..I mean watching my daughter play with Lego for an hour. Yes, Lego Friends were there with a mini silent disco, photobooth, and play-area. All pretty special. Losing the snowboard of the freebie figure soon after, not so much..
The kids entertainment was all very good, but some of it did start to get expensive, £4 for 10 mins on the bouncy castle, £2.50 for the Carousel and the Ferris wheel, £2 for the Helter Skelter and £10 an over for some of the crafting. On the other hand, the beer wasn’t too bad at £4.80 a pint, but there is stiff competition with BYOB from the open campsite/arena setup. On that note, the independence is fantastic. There were big brands on site, with Waitrose, Rowntrees, Lego, Chelsea, and CBeebies all there, but it didn’t feel invasive or forced. The security was light touch, but reasonably visible and thorough enough. Well considered plastic tracks to ease walking on the muddy steeper hills. Hireable trolleys for (un)packing trips to the car. A fair number of loos, but a slight lack of water tap/sink facilities given the number of kids.
For many I guess, Brian Wilson presents Pet Sounds was to be the highlight of the festival but I was a little ambivalent. Whether it’s generally not being a beach boys fan or just the way Brian is wheeled out onto the stage to sit behind his piano and sing. The album Pet Sounds leaves me feeling uneasy in itself and the fragility of Brian just puts me off. God only knows. Leftfield on the other hand was a star booking. Leftism 22 has been having a few spins on Spotify since its release. No introspection and the only depth was the booming bass.
As far as I could see, there were no problems getting out on the Monday either. Full marks to everyone involved for keeping it running so smoothly given the amount of rain. A clearly skilled team whatever the circumstances given the difficulties seen elsewhere over the weekend. Having grown up going to folk festivals, they’ve managed to put together some of those values and the culture but with some of the biggest acts around. It just comes at a price, even without the myriad of boutique and VIP options available.
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Camp Bestival 2019 review
get 'em cheap!