Now in its 16th year, Green Man Festival is an “award-winning, independent music, arts, comedy and science festival held in the breathtaking surroundings of the Brecon Beacons, Wales.” Taking place between 16–20 August 2018, this year’s headliners were King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Fleet Foxes and The War On Drugs.
First of all, I should say that although I have varied and eclectic musical taste, I have seemingly found myself at more and more electronic music festivals over the past couple of years. I love that world for its ability to transcend everyday existence, how the people you meet are so open and how the music simply speaks to my soul. However I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was looking forward to getting back to my folk-y roots, the change of scene, and not knowing too many of the bands so I could receive new recommendations, from both my own ears and of those around me. I was especially looking forward to not being governed by demanding set-times, having to rush from here to there and to just be open to what experiences may reveal themselves... and boy, did Green Man not disappoint!
The festival has been on my radar for a few years now and I thank my lucky stars we got to visit in 2018. Despite being fearful of the 16/17° temperature (threat) forecast (after 25°+ for weeks on end, those numbers just did not compute), the weather Gods were smiling down upon us and we enjoyed a mix of sunshine, warm grey days and the minutest of drizzle. A somewhat different experience to a friend of mine who visited 7 years prior (the word she used was “biblical”).
The site which plays host to 20,000 festival-goers across 10 distinct areas feels intimate and easy to get around. The campsites conveniently straddle the main site which means you can nip back to the tent throughout the day or in-between sets. I never once felt insecure about my own personal safety or leaving my belongings in the tent, which I believe is a testament to the crowd it attracts (a beautiful mix of families with kids, music boffs, party-goers, artists, young and old alike). I have a personal rule of only taking as much as I can carry in one go however should you be the kitchen-sink type, there are hireable trolleys to help you cart your belongings to your temporary place of rest (which for us was only about a 10-minute walk from the box office).
It’s clear the festival organisers pride themselves on both inclusivity and care of others and the environment. Quiet and Accessible campsites mean that peace seekers and those with accessibility needs are catered for, whilst the provision of cigarette stub pouches and re-usable (and impressively stackable) cups are just another example of how much care and attention is put into making this an enjoyable experience. Queues for toilets are small or fast-moving, and they are kept super clean and well stocked. The little details certainly don’t go unnoticed and I believe it’s this conscientious attitude that keeps bringing Green Man’s revellers back for more and more (most people we spoke to were seasoned veterans returning for their 3rd, 5th or 8th time!)
One of Green Man’s USPs is the magnificent and appropriately named “Mountain‘s foot” area and main stage. The cloud-covered Black mountains sit regally behind the natural amphitheatre, making the perfect backdrop and only adding to the drama of the musical events below. If you know anything about the Chinese practice of Feng-shui, you may know that to be nestled at the foot of a mountain is highly auspicious and a classically ‘good’ site for accumulating ‘chi’ or positive life-force/energy. And positive vibes there were a plenty! I particularly like how you can perch around the edge of the bowl, overlooking the crowds below. There’s no pressure to be right in the action and because of the natural acoustics, the sound travels clearly and effortlessly to you. We even brought our duvet along and made a base at the top of the hill for an afternoon of main-stage listening on Sunday. During the day, kids throw diabolos high into the air as adults watch on, sipping their craft beers, listening to the performances and soaking up the vibes. Food stalls serving anything from smoothies and juices to falafel, bangers and mash, jamon, Chai and Bloody Marys decorate the edges meaning you’re never far from sustenance either. Expect to pay around £7-9 for a meal and £4-6 for a beer or single spirit and mixer. As the natural light dims, the fairy lights begin to brighten as does the sense of wonder. The picnic blankets get put away and the crowd begins to swell at the foot of the main stage in anticipation for the climactic headline act.
Musical highlights at the Mountain Stage included folk-rock-baroque-pop icons, Fleet Foxes, who’s melodic harmonies and poetic lyrics echoed deep into the night sky, stunning the crowd into attentive silence. Hearing the purity in frontman Robin Pecknold’s voice allowed a flood of nostalgia and heartbreak to surface for me during the set, and a knowing nod from the stranger beside me indicated I wasn’t the only one to be feeling all the feels. Seamus Fogarty was another standout act bringing with him that gift only the Irish seem to possess of weaving together two seemingly opposing emotions in one song, whether it be melancholic lyrics to a jolly tune or playful words to an emotive score. The crowd were with him for the duration, either stomping along to Carlow Town or chuckling to the aptly named God Damn You Mountain. Fellow Lost Map Records artist Ed Dowie also joined in on the fun on stage for a tasty spoken word piece about eating biscuits (whilst eating biscuits). Nearing the end of her set on Friday, Joan as Policewoman’s rendition of Kiss (Prince) was sensual and sassy, and Anna Calvi brought raw feminine power and an air of intensity, mood and indulgence to the party on Sunday.
If sitting and soaking up the vibe isn’t for you, there are plenty of opportunities to mooch, and mooch you must.
You may find yourself at a craft beer festival in the Courtyard; having your palm read, shoulders massaged or whole body blissed out by a gong bath in Nature Nurture. You could listen to literary talks, intellectual debates and tickling comedy at Babbling Tongues; or learn about the wonders of science and the natural world in Einstein’s garden. Perhaps you’ll stumble into the post-office, where you can send a letter to anyone in the festival which will be hand-delivered by the resident posties over the course of the weekend, or come across some bedraggled mermaids or one of the other bewitching performing art pieces. Movies and film your thing? Check out the Cinemdrome. Shopping? Peruse the many stalls and shops for gifts and treasures. Into workshops? Meet Ralph the Mushroom Man, who will demonstrate with frivolity the intracacies of woodturning.
For me, it really is this eclectic mix of humans doing what they do best; sharing their knowledge, passions and creations with others, that make festivals such as Green Man so special. It moves the experience beyond just the music, and into the magic.
Other musical highlights across the festival included Edd Keene, a talented multi-instrument loop pedalist who had the crowds in awe as he moved from percussion to guitar to flute to vocals and back again in his folk set in what I like to think of as my spiritual home, the cosy Chai Wallahs tent. Ider, a sassy female duo from North London charmed the audience with their honest chat, heavy bass and haunting vocals in the Walled Garden and in a similar, but different vein Bristol based Chaouche sent our spines tingling with her spellbinding vocals and beating electronic drums.
Speaking of electronic, to appease the partiers within we also caught Floating Points and Mount Kimbie at the Far Out Stage on Friday. Watching Floating Points felt more like a spectator sport as he was completely consumed in the creation of the Techno blips coming from his laptop. He did manage to meet the crowd at the end of the set, but I’m not convinced he had them the whole way through. Mount Kimbie lightened the tone with their synthy guitars, keyboards and trippy visuals and meant we got the dance these ravers were craving.
However, one of my favourite (and impromptu) party moments was at the Pie shop next to Chai Wallas, when on route to the loo I spied a sing-a-long. The beckoning crowd inside was just too much to resist and I quickly found myself crowing the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean with a load of strangers. Sometimes, life can be beautifully silly.
All in all, I really can’t fault Green Man. Before I arrived, I was imagining a larger-scale Shambala (another one of my faves). The two do share the same warm, friendly and creative vibe and a unique ability to draw out my inner child, however it is the impressive programming and inclusivity of the bigger bands and Mountain stage focal point that sets Green Man apart. The festival seemed to reveal more of itself to me as the days went on, gradually shedding it’s initial introverted nature and allowing itself to stand proudly in all its enchanting glory. On Sunday evening, the ceremonial burning of the man and the wishes that were hung on him throughout the weekend was the perfect finale. We looked on as the embers rose high into the night sky, accompanied by a dazzling firework display and the fitting "oohs" and "aahs" to boot.
One for all: families, music-heads and merry-makers alike. I left feeling satisfied and wondering if in time it’ll be me who’s the seasoned Green Man veteran. One happy camper signing out. Diolch Dan Gwyrdd.
latest on this festival
festival home page
video of the day
video of the day