Only minutes before I‘d been caught up in the hastiness of everyday life, motoring down a congested M4 and across the Severn Bridge, but as I waited in Chepstow racecourse's car park for transport onto the Green Gathering site, I was about enter a radically different kind of world. A slightly dishevelled minibus approached the pick-up point in a cloud of dust and our driver made her presence known with jolly 'hellos'. With unbounded friendliness, passengers and kit were bustled into the bus, and the journey began. Our driver saluted stewards and security with her now familiar glee as we bypassed the racecourse and headed up an access track leading through sun-dappled woodland, emerging into Piercefield Park to a wonderful festival vision. Beneath stands of mature oak trees, tents and tipis, caravans, campervans and live-in vehicles of every description - some of quite considerable vintage - clung to the rolling parkland. Topping the picture, the festival site itself was a visual feast of brightly-coloured canvas, with banners and pennants flapping in the stiff summer breeze. As I walked into the site still more cheery greetings, welcoming smiles and wafts of incenses, woodsmoke and pungent cooking aromas from dozens of kitchens filled my head, and so with a warm cup of chai in hand I was ready to experience this Green Gathering.
Sipping my chai and taking in the atmospherics the thing to strike me was just what a great word 'Gathering' is to describe the event, where a breadth of ideas and viewpoints come together in kaleidoscope of thought and action. Whether revolutionary gardening, Low-Impact Development, unCivilisation, Hare Krishna or Wicca, there is an astonishing range of belief and lifestyle showcased at the festival; you're talking about skinning roadkill at the Organic Tannery one moment, next it's militant veganism; munching smokey flapjacks at Stone Age Baker's oven then discussing parabolic reflectors and comparative boil times of various space-age solar cookers with SLINK. It's a place where you can workshop 'til you drop with a dayful of weaving, hammering, bending, carving and firing. Recover from the exertion in the Healing Area with a craniosacral massage, laughter yoga session and a nice gong bath followed by re-imprinting your matrix to the gentle sounds of harp and cello, all of which prepares the brain for the heady debates about housing, inequality, transport, education, sustainable agriculture and renewable energy held in Speaker's Forum and Campaigns field. Food for thought indeed, but in case of actual hunger you are spoilt for choice with caterers familiar from likes WoMAD, Secret Garden and Shambala. It's a place where the couscous platter is king, the steaming veggie pizzas emerging from wood-fired ovens are enough to feed the family for a tenner, where the burrito man is actually crowd-sourcing cash for his trans-Atlantic sailing ferry service and a travelling mobile sauna serves up the most delightful Americano I've enjoyed for a while.
The Gathered themselves were pretty broad spectrum. Bronze skinned, long-dreaded inhabitants of 50-odd year old Bedford hippy trucks mingled with'Guardian' type pale middle-class weekenders. Days of sunshine brought out many, many stunningly gorgeous hippy girls, but sent young families to seek shelter beneath oak tree boughs, sometimes in the shaded parts of Kids Area. Activists and acid-casualties, Rastas and goths, and every kind of open-minded people made up the congregation, but the feeling of togetherness, arising I suppose from a shared ecocentricity, meant it felt to me like a very natural coming together of much of the best of festival culture.
Accordingly it was acts from Festival grass roots that made up the majority of the entertainment on offer, with long established favourites Dub The Earth, and Kangaroo Moon opening on Thursday to though psychy stalwarts Here & Now, festival fixtures Seize The Day, and finally 3 Daft Monkeys, whose exuberant climax closed the show on Sunday. Along the way I particularly enjoyed the conscious, rootsy party vibes created by Hayereyah and the Human Bridge Band, Tarantism, and the Flea-like funky enthusiasm of Dohnut's bassist. A nod must also go to wordsmith Hannah M Teasdale, whose shocking tales of personal trauma were delivered with a bite which I found utterly compelling. Other highlights were the highly enjoyable, if a bit silly, Wierdstring Anarchist Ceilidh (the role of caller in an anarchist ceilidh one of few subjects not listed for discussion at the Co-operators' Camp) and Magic Bus who were very much how I imagine the house band of the Hotel California would look and sound. With four stages and hundred odd acts running from noon to midnight and plenty more going on around the site after-hours - for instance a pop-up parachute disco playing only 45s and late-night dance tunes in the 99% bar, plus all sorts of psychedelically decorated places and spaces around the edges and margins to chill and chat – the organisers certainly had worked hard to prepare the ground for a fantastical festival experience, which the festival-goers needed little encouragement to tend and make grow.
I should say the same organising principle applies for the festival's younger attendees too, with storytelling, adventure and learning woven into fabric of the festival, and dedicated areas such as The Toddler Space, Magical Youth Project and the Radical Youth Space providing sumptuously decorated spaces especially for the kids. Plus elsewhere on the site many enclosed spaces and gardens, an upcycled crazy golf course, kite flying over Tipi valley , and even forest school with Pirate leaders. What a wonderland.
The festival certainly did put into practice much of what was being preached around the site. Solar powered stages, cups you keep, plenty of rather neat composting toilets, veggie catering and a comprehensive, if at times mindboggling, array of recycling options. This was more than tipping the hat to sustainability for licensing purposes, but giving it a full on man-hug. The racecourse is already set up to accommodate numbers arriving by car, and shared travel form the carpark to site is a genius way of managing the traffic, and reduces the amount of gear people bring. Its surprising given how easy to access it is, just how idyllic the festival site is, but that's probably why Piercefield was so popular with the gentry on their picturesque tours down the Wye. Where the Tipis were pitched up in their circle was then described as “one of the sweetest vallies ever beheld”, landscaping of which won't have come cheap, though it seemed to be much appreciated by todays festival goers.
I think Green Gathering is one of the most interesting festivals experiences to be had. As well as the real, deliverable ideas for better human, animal and plant lives, there is some pretty outlandish stuff being discussed, some rather dubious alternative histories and pamphleteer's slogan philosophy, but the more you look the more you see, the more you hear the more you understand and the more you know the more you want to find out, and they'll always be something more for you at Green Gathering. What I took from all the discussions on energy is that of all of them Mind Power is the most varied, innovative and sustainable, only requiring thought compost to grow. This festival of ideas let me partake in a world of new possibilities, with the organising principle just be good to each other and the earth, so yeah, it was really very good to go Green.
line-ups & rumours
festival home page
video of the day