This was our first time at this now-established 6th Cornbury festival that's set in the tranquil Cornbury Park within the heart of Oxfordshire. We chose it mainly on the basis of an intriguing family-friendly line-up, mixing a few typical-festival acts with some name acts that we'd never seen. We weren't disappointed in practice with the music, but the place had enough going for it to maybe squeeze beyond sometimes calling itself a 'Music Festival', and I'm left struggling to work out if it was a good or a great weekend. It was certainly a festival that's up there in the pack following the market leaders. This is the long and the short how I experienced the festival, hopefully incorporating everything anyone might need to know about Cornbury 2009 and beyond.
We arrived around 4pm Friday afternoon, gates for camping having been officially open from 2pm. There were no queues to get in, with easy enough road-signs directing us from as early as Oxford. The car-parking system rewarded those arriving early as they got to park closest to the entrance without ultimately being blocked in upon exit. Indeed, the system worked very well insofar as everyone was close to the exit road regardless of where parked. The only sufferers were only those arriving Saturday who had a 5-10 minute walk to the campsite entrance and ticket exchange.
The entrance to the camping area had a number of high-quality food outlets ranging from breakfast baps through fruit stalls, bakers, filter coffee merchants, and a Spanish doughnut seller. We were entertained sitting outside one of these stalls early evening by a couple of hot air balloons slowly gliding over the campsite at very low altitude.
The campsite also provided music at the back of the bar-tent. The choice of two local ales or various other standard drinks could therefore be supped or guzzled to low-key soundsystems or from around 10pm until 2am local acts plying their often-quite-decent wares. As the main arena closed around midnight, this became the focus for many of the night-owls.
Some comments should be made about tickets. You were looking this year at the pricier end of the market here, £90 weekend for an adult plus £20 per person if you wished to camp. There was no car parking fee on the other hand, and some under-12 tickets were made available for free. Plus the steeper overall cost presumably helped to attract two things: One, slightly classier musical treats, including a number that weren't otherwise seen at UK festivals this summer. Two, more of a sense of middle-class punters. This gave us an impression of greater family safety and of everyone being really polite if occasionally reserved.
Going back to the tickets, it would have been useful to have made it crystal clear that camping wasn't included with the festival booking, an issue that certainly confused a few on the festival website's forums. For a family of five buying tickets expecting to camp & then discovering they'd not yet bought that aspect of the weekend, there would have been an extra £100 cost upon such a late discovery. I've no problem with the cost, it did seem to be ploughed back into the festival, just that these extra costs should have been transparent to the average person from the word go.
Finally with the tickets, we walked past non-moving ticket-exchange queues on three occasions whilst collecting more items from the car across two days. I heard on one occasion that radio communications, to confirm the validity of ticket barcode, had broken down. So whilst many undoubtedly sailed straight through this part of the entry process, I presume the frustration experienced by those in the queues will have been noted by the organizers.
Ah, the food and drink available! Whilst many clearly brought large hampers of well-thought-out nourishment with them, there was no lack of choice and quality food outlets scattered around the main stage and beyond. Festival regulars may recognise such names as La Grande Bouffe, The Real Meat Sausage Company, Pizza Tabun and Pura Vida. There's also hog roast, vegetarian outlets, Caribbean, Chinese, chips, and many others. Further afield we enjoyed the Charlbury Primary School tea tent that supplied gratifyingly-large slices of home-cooked cakes for a pound along with one of the few places for rain shelter when the heavens opened from around 8pm Saturday evening.
Malinkeys, the 1920s-themed mobile restaurant, should also be applauded for getting their roof working again after the freak-weather of a previous festival. And if anyone missed out on the free Muller yoghurts, all 19 varieties, then you must have been asleep when they wandered through the main arena or you just didn't explore the back of the site properly.
The main area had a bar each side of the stage serving standard drinks along with two real ales. A jobsworth's sample of one ale found it to be most palatable. The Pimms Bus provided the more up-market drinker with a certain tipple, and there were enough suppliers of cold or hot non-alcoholic drinks. It was however surprising to find no drinking-water outlets despite programme assurances to the contrary.
The arena provided for a fair number of other market-traders, dealing for instance in clothing, wood-carvings, a general store, and CDs. The latter had a relatively-unique set-up allowing people to purchase a recording of any main stage act from the weekend.
Generally speaking the festival was kept very clean. There were the standard types of recycling bins scattered all over the site. Never did I see them overflowing. Litter-pickers were active throughout the day, and the one that got chased by some performance-artist break-'dancers' is to be applauded for commitment to the cause.
I wasn't convinced about the amount available for kids. There was an arts & crafts workshop area that seemed to appease some younger ones, there was that Bubble shop, and eventually I found a hula-hoop and simple juggling area. There was of course a rather huge fairground with plenty of thrill rides, but with prices ranging from £1.50 for simple toddler rides up to £5 for extra-bounce trampolines. But I've seen festivals providing a lot more for children and teenagers, at no extra cost to parents, so this is an area for Cornbury to consider investing in further.
On the other hand, the range and quality of music, albeit it from a line-up that doesn't necessarily immediately attract, is to be applauded. There are separate reviews for this, but the crowds in the main areas throughout the day and evening, especially those standing and joining in down the front, told their own story.
So these are my thoughts on Cornbury 2009. In essence, it was a nicely-organized & comfortable music festival set in a charming country estate with many helpful and enjoyable add-ons. Whilst there are some areas for further improvement, it's a festival going further in the right direction that should have left punters feeling fulfilled and relaxed. If you're prepared to pay a little more, you'll generally find it wisely invested. And as the program states from its opening pages about the music, "It's a key part of the Cornbury experience that you go home saying 'well I never thought I liked them'." Mission accomplished!
review by: Clive Hoadley
photos by: Andy Pitt
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