The first thing I notice is the stewards. They’re nice. Don’t get me wrong, it’s rare to get a grumpy one nowadays, but here, at the Green Gathering, there is a blithe, easy-going quality about them that reminds me of festivals in days gone by. And I already feel optimistic about this coming festival weekend.
They tell me to drive off the site, park up and then wait for a shuttle bus to ferry me and my gear to the campsite. This could easily sound like a bit of a faff but, as I say, they are nice about it. Everyone’s chatty in the bus queue, and when the reduced, reused and recycled minibus arrives, the trip to the festival is short and passes in good spirits. There are many festivals that expect you to walk much further with your gear after you’ve parked up; so in the end, its less of a faff, more of thoughtful gesture on the part of the organisers. The everyday world of work is already far behind.
It’s early evening, and moisture hangs in the air from an earlier deluge. It serves to trap the smell of woodsmoke and incense,and the place smells and feels a bit like Namche Bazaar. It’s an interesting co-incidence, for in the days to come, the spirit of the subcontinent and the East will often seem to interweave with the cultural fabric of the festival. Near the bus stop is the healing field, which offers myriad styles of yoga, in addition to tai chi, chi gung, dancing, songs and meditation, most of which are eastern in origin. Elsewhere on the site you’ll find the Buddhist café and the Tibetan kitchen; though sadly, Mo mos are off the menu, for the chef is in need of some healing.
The festival programme is the size of a small poster, and contains a map which reminds me of something that might be found in a fantasy novel. It’s a pleasantly sprawling site, a patchwork of little kingdoms in an otherworldly domain: Permaculture, Speakers Forum, Kids Zone, Markets, Campaigns and Earth Energy, each with its own culture and its own quirks. You wander between them as the mood takes you, meeting a variety of interesting characters as you go. Everyone talks and no-one drops litter. Everyone drinks but there’s no drunkenness, and, apart from some funny smelling fudge that we get offered on Friday, there’s no sign of any drug use. Furthermore, the child-transporting compost trolleys are the most pimped up that I have ever seen at a festival. They feature artwork, fairy lights, blankets, cushions, the lot. And it’s not just the few keen parents that make the effort, it’s all of them.
The campsite is vast and features a variety of festival living choices.Alongside the tents are tipis, yurts, lorries, buses and even a couple of shepherds huts. White painted, forty grand camper vans are refreshingly scarce and there is no sign of the gazebos and windbreaks that festivals nowadays often tell you not to bring. They are not missed:all of the socialising takes place where it is supposed to and there’s all the more chance of forming new friendships because of it.
The musical venues are similarly spread around the site, and there are no generators present.The sound systems are solar powered but are plenty poky. The great thing about the sparseness is that you never have to deal with the sound of another concert impinging on your own. The venues hold a few hundred which feels about right, as there’s plenty of choice around the site, so, as if preordained, you tend to get the right size of crowd showing up for each event.
On that theme, a mooch around the site reveals a programming culture of the right acts in the right places at the right time. Friday evening, for instance, sees Radical Dance Faction (RDF) on the solar powered soundscape stage: exciting, insightful, and with a political edge, they exemplify the spirit of the festival and set the scene for the weekend that is to follow. Mellow Martha Tilston headlines, and sends everyone off with a song in their hearts. There’s some genuine warmth in the air: proper in-tune, in-harmony community singing, just as you’d expect at a green gathering.
The night isn’t over though. A few minutes of wandering from the soundscape stage is the peace dome and it’s a world away from the music. Here they offer a late night meditation;barefoot, with candles and Tibetan bowls. Next to the peace dome is the fairy glen which is a magical place to walk though by night. It contains a mystical labyrinth, which is enjoyed by small children of all ages, and, at one point, a bloke walking his dog.
Morning comes all too soon, and reveals cornucopia of ways to start the day. There is a big circle of people doing exercises in the middle of the festival site, a scene that is repeated in many other locations, both in the open air and in the venues. Others prefer to find a more solitary spot for their salutations and meditations, and many start the day playing music or drumming. You don’t need to wander far to find something that suits.
In the sunshine, I notice that many of the concert venues are handily grafted on to tea and cakestalls, and you’re never far away from life-giving chai. The atmosphere by day is one of mellow lounging, perhaps listening to poetry or taking in one of the many talks, lectures or discussions on offer; political in the Causes area, or practical in the Permaculture Zone. My favourite workshop title is the esoteric call of freedom and there’s plenty more in that vein. Programmed music kicks in at midday, and there’s an excellent open-mic tent in the far corner. It has a a sign pointing to it saying “Free scrumpy if you’re not shite.” And it’s a favourite haunt for many.
The High Breed are a highlight in the Flying Lotus tent: rap and dub poetry that is thoughtful, incisive and aware, again echoing the spirit of the festival. Later, Arhai offer a complete change of scene: Greek and Macedonian in influence, with an Apple Mac, some ethereal vocals and a deftly picked bouzouki. Their performance features the rare but welcome appearance of a hammered dulcimer. I’ve only seen one once before at a festival and again the spirit of the Green Gathering is summed up. You don’t quite know what is around the next corner but chances are it’s something enlightening. The dancing on show at this gig is exceptionally expressive and I later realise why, when I find out that you can do a workshop in it.
On Sunday morning, I find myself faced with a Green Gathering dilemma, which I’m sure has been common to many here; namely, shall I attend the anarchist ceilidh or go to the talk on chickens in the permaculture zone. In the end, I find myself at a sign languaged poetry slam in which all are welcome and all are entertaining. No one leaves disappointed. Later, Tori Reed and the Flightless Birds are just the thing for a lounging Sunday afternoon. It is at this point that I see my first pile of rubbish. It’s three coffee cups on the floor of the bar tent, really not bad going for the final day of a festival.
In the beginning, the Green Gathering looked like a nice way to escape and unwind for a few days. In the end though, with its inspirations and meditations, it’s an effective way to get energised and inspired to return to the everyday and live yes, more lightly but also, more fully. And that can’t be bad.
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