The wonderful Neville Staple and his band are playing a joyful, headline set at 'Off The Tracks'. You take a moment to look around this makeshift marquee on the Saturday night and realise what an unbridled gem this little beauty, now in its 31st year actually is. It's comfortable, old school, homely and full of people who've been festivalling for years. You spot somebody across the room that you half recognise, wave and smile. They're drunk; part of the grizzled crew who have largely drunk the real ale bar dry a day before the festival finishes. They wave back and you continue the conversation you began this time last year. "Brexit's going well eh?"
It seems busier at 'Off The Tracks' in 2019. There's been years in the past that legitimate fears have been voiced about the future of this event. But, it seems to have turned that corner. Certainly, the camping fields are full to the brim. Caravans, motor-homes and camper-vans take up the bulk of the space meaning that our tents have less room this year. The Donington farmhouse is an all-year-round camping site and that means you get the full range of facilities here; decent, flushing toilets, hot showers that you pay for in tokens and hardcore standing with electricity points for your vehicle. A new, impressive shower block has been built adding to the site capacity. This year, the site has the added attendance of mosquitoes - loads of the buggers annoy those who are prone to their bite.
Like the mosquitoes, it's a flying visit for me at this year's OTT. But I see enough to remember how blooming lovely this festival is. Typically, I've been too drunk to fully enjoy the legendary silent disco that begins at midnight as Saturday becomes Sunday. But an effort to drink with more moderation sees me still standing at 2AM as the disco draws to a close. And what fun it's been in the barn. There's no £10 deposit required for headsets here. You pick a set up at the entrance, choose your channel and dance away. I always seem to be on a different tune to the bulk of the crowd but none of this matters. The concept remains simple but the Off The Tracks DJs still rule the roost.
We'd been dancing before this. Over in the introducing space, a full-on rock disco, led by Nick Smith DJ has the crowd recalling their younger years. Photographer Phil lets his hair flail around as he gives it large to an AC/DC track. You can't fail to be impressed. Rock is well serviced at this year's festival - The staple diets of ska, punk, folk, world and blues now being added to by something a bit more extreme.
The punters lap up the variety. Bad Touch will never be my sort of band. They’re hair-rockers who draw upon the spirited excess of Bon Jovi. One of their tunes sounds the spit of ‘Wanted - Dead or Alive’, so much so that we sing along with those words. They still go down well with the bulk of the leather jacket brigade here.
Nordic Giants fare better with me just before Bad Touch. This commentator has seen them before; their post-rock sound perfectly accompanying the skewed range of dystopian short film that is projected behind them. The two giants are feathered to the hilt in futuristic bird costumes; they’ve lost none of their magic and continue to be an act to behold.
Unique amongst festivals, Off The Tracks doesn't run into Sunday evening but closes after exuberant afternoon sessions. All of the stops have been pulled out this year sending us off with four acts of top quality. The Wigornia String Quartet are exactly what our tired limbs need to start our Sunday. Informative facts are merged with ball gowns and dress suits to make us feel temporarily posh. The simple melody of Pachabel's canon doesn't sound out of place beside a classical arrangement of Sweet Child Of Mjne. I lie on the carpeted floor and feel so relaxed that I almost doze.
Linos Wengara Magaya has played a Sunday afternoon OTT slot before. Linos and band indulge us with some African rhythm on the mbira before breaking out into full-on reggae mode. The Lancashire Hotpots provide the comedy value in this afternoon session. Festival legends further north, they've been persuaded to travel down to the East Midlands for an hour of fun. They're great especially when extolling the virtues of carbohydrate diets. Three Daft Monkeys finish things off with lively class.
Off The Tracks revels in a simple approach to just about everything. The food here is never elaborate though many cook up meals from the comfort of their caravans. For those of us who eat out, there’s a food court area provided. The jacket potato stall never seems that busy yet the potato, cheese and baked bean combo I have to soak up some ale truly hits the spot. We talk later about how there should be more jacket potato options at festivals. They really are perfect fodder. There’s an Indian stall that I don’t try - the smells coming from it delightful. The covered areas, well-versed in catering for campers at other times of the year offer breakfasts, hog-roasts and all manner of other dishes. It’s hard to go hungry here.
For a festival of such a compact size, there are an incredible number of stalls; you won't struggle to find that Celtic jewellery you've always wanted or that crystal to ward of the spirits of punk-folk music. Circus poi, tie-dye and fairy wings are also prominent. I find myself wondering how much trade these stalls are doing; I rarely see anybody shopping despite the increase in numbers. There's a whole field dedicated to cacao ceremonies, sound baths, yoga and meditation journeys but I'll have to confess that once again I was too busy for the Energy Orchard. Youngsters are well provided for. I'm told once again by some that it's their favourite festival of the summer because there's so much freedom to roam. Proof that bigger is not necessarily always better.
The tent has been packed up as another summer draws to a close and Autumn draws near. Bearded Theory, just up the road in Derbyshire, starts the summer festival season for many and there's evidence that increasingly Off The Tracks will end it for that same crowd. Long may such book-ending continue. Like a fine red, this lovely, friendly, vintage festival gets better and better as it matures.
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