Happy tenth Birthday Solfest! Yes, Solfest has evolved from being a small gathering of friends to an alternative festival which has successfully hosted the best and most diverse live music for the last decade, attracting festival lovers in their thousands. Staying true to an ethos of a wide eclectic style, Solfest 2013 was a roaring success.
Setting foot in Solfest is stepping out of the tardis in 1970. A sea of tents ranging from the odd pop-up to those which contained chimneys filled the rolling hillside parallel to camper-vans fit for Royalty and caravans fit for the scrap yard. A big draw of this festival is the amalgamation of people and music. How many festivals can boast an audience which combines mod-rockers, hippies, ravers and families without any alcohol fused conflict?
The Dance Tent (from which the bass was still vibrating through the camping fields at 5am) is the perfect place to send the young singles, the teenagers and the old-schoolers reliving the 90’s. For those who prefer a relaxing smoke and beer, Dogs In Space provided numerous sofas on a luxurious carpeted floor whilst DJ sets and live Jazz fusion ignited the inner soul sister.
Maximo Park headlined on Friday night and managed to dodge the rain for a crowd pleasing performance (not that the rain would spoil play as the components of the ground being mainly sand ensured that wellies were not required).
The loveable thing about Solfest is that there is no mad dash to see bands, one can wander from stage to stage discovering new bands. The Bar Stage saw newly signed Colt45 produce a sound combining The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and The Foo Fighters whilst remaining impressively original. Tako Lako opened The Main Stage on Sunday morning whilst the audience nursed hangovers, giving such an invigorating performance the whole camp was forced out from the lull of post-alcohol by the bands astounding stage presence, jaw dropping musical ability and a rarely seen accordion. Solfest proves that when it comes to music an open mind will reap its own rewards.
One can not deny the unbelievable talent of the musicians performing on The Dry Stone stage. For those seeking a traditional Ceilidh sound blending acoustic, folk, jazz and roots then this was the place to be. Performances included local Cumbrian bands Room Full of Mirrors and Stooshie as well as a memorable reunion from Home Service and Solfest regulars Pikey Beatz. Nestled in between an appropriate large ‘LOVE’ sign was The Love Shack and House of Joy, offering pure roots reggae and soul, punk disco. Unfortunately, I am unable to comment on any of the performances there, although the beats could be heard from across the site and maybe in the neighbouring villages too. Entering both areas with ear plugs and ear defenders clamped tightly over our heads we tolerated the area for about thirty seconds. Seriously Solfest, turn it down! The music was so loud it could perforate eardrums and in an enclosed tent area this was not necessary and undoubtedly a health and safety issue.
Revellers take note- this place does not sleep. People do, of course, well some of them. For those who are searching for a venue which will allow freedom to do pretty much anything you want to - look no further. Amazingly, the group camped behind us showed no evidence of having slept for three days and even managed to look particularly wide eyed at all times. There are three designated camping areas- the noisy area (no description required here), the main camping area and family camping. I strongly advise that if you intend to sleep for any length of time throughout the 72 hour festival that you camp in the family area. As no clear instructions were given, we camped where we found a space. This was after driving aimlessly for half an hour as stewards sent us on a wild goosechase. Our space was not in the noisy area, we were (thankfully) inside a well insulated campervan and yet ear plugs were required to achieve any level of unconsciousness.
Permanently damaged eardrums aside, it’s easy see why this festival has expanded so much over the last decade. Not only does it provide six music stages, some of which were playing music non-stop for seventy two hours, yet it also caters for those seeking somewhere to offload the children. Solfest has an action packed children’s itinerary with something going on all day every day. The entertainers worked incredibly hard to keep the festival atmosphere going in a cheery sort of Saturday morning Live TV kind of way; tug of war, the weakest link knockout and parachute games with hilarious commentary had parents rolling with laughter as tongue in cheek jokes went over their little one’s head. All of this took places alongside numerous tents which surrounded bouncy castles, a sand pit, sit-on tractors, giant board games and a climbing frame complete with swing. Inside the many tents children could learn how to make dogs from plastic bottles, join in with Zumba, Yoga, get jammin' on the array of musical instruments or draw on a huge chalk wall. A childs only toilet, soft play, food warming facilities in an enclosed area under cover ensured that parents of those ‘I can toddle and therefore cause mischief’ babies could relax away from the ever-changing weather and busy site.
Solfest emphasises a more traditional way of life and this was reflected throughout the weekend. One could participate in a skinning and meat preparation demonstration, sit alongside a group of mixed sex twenty somethings learning how to knit, attend lessons on extremely useful skills such as starting fires or learn about bio-fuel. New parents can find a wealth of information and support from Midwives and Breast feeding supporters who provided a quiet space to relax and learn. Expectant Mothers can even make casts of their bumps to take home.
If you were able to drag yourself away from the children’s area then browsing the many stands will keep you entertained. Watch a glass moulding demonstration before browsing the indoor market, have a massage and rummage through retro clothing stalls or spend forty minutes trying to decide where to eat for lunch. This caused some trouble for us- so much choice. We opted for an organic cafe which charged us ridiculously for packeted oat cakes and cold nachos (avoid) and scored highly at an authentic curry house which was divine. Of course, as campfires are allowed (a festival rarity) then one could be just as satisfied with toasted crumpets, marshmallows or a BBQ made with your own hands.
Feeling thirsty? At Solfest there is no queuing for drinks. Most of the larger tents had bars inside them, otherwise the site contained lots of smaller bars to quench your thirst. The best thing about Solfest is that there are no huge queues for anything anywhere. Meaning that necessary top-ups from the bar needn’t be a mammoth task, especially when sampling the delicious Solway Cider on offer. Another plus is that one could buy a pint for £3-3.50 and children’s drinks for 60p meaning that enjoying a drinking in the glorious sunshine was a possibility for all budgets.
The weather was kind to Solfest, sun cream was necessary and the rain stayed away throughout the day. Even if it had turned into the Leeds festival mud bath, the spacious arena, many indoor areas and mud proof ground would have stopped any rain related incidents. Solfest 2013 was a place to lose oneself, a break from the stresses of modern life and a chance to relax (for those who streaked on the Saturday evening maybe a tad too relaxing). There is no worrying about being sandwiched in a mosh pit, no need for wellies as barefoot is more appropriate, no queuing, and pretty much anything goes.
If Solfest returns in 2014 write it in your diary. First ensure you consider whether sleep is important, buy some ear plugs and you could have the recipe for one of the best weekends of your existence.
Solfest 2013 proved a great success for music, but as a family festival, perhaps a team of helpful stewards who are prepped into directing campers to appropriate areas, and sound checks, particularly in enclosed spaces would further the festival's success.
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