Wood has a uniquely enjoyable festival soundscape. It is a place where the laughter of festival-goers children blended with feelgood music, the chitter of birdsong and chatter of folks to create those natural good vibes which make a festival experience special.
The festival's site is kept by the commune which occupies the neighbouring Braziers Park mansion house. Once home to Marianne Faithful and Ian Fleming, it's been an ongoing experiment in social interaction since the 1950's. The community's stewardship of the ancient woodland and hedges which encloses the site resulted in a wonderfully verdant natural backdrop of cherry, beech, oak and ash highlighted by hawthorns heavy with blossom and a few exotic trees planted back in the house's Victorian heyday. Within this enclosure the festival's fixtures – the green-roofed Wood stage and other well-weathered wooden festival furniture, benches, pagodas and composting toilets - created a feeling that everything was in its right and natural place. The bird life certainly seemed to feel comfortable. The calls of chiff chaffs and chaffinches, wrens, blackbirds and black caps completed with the solar powered PA for volume. Overhead red kites battled with crows for aerial supremacy, whilst swallows darted hither and thither above the stage. This provided an absorbing display punctuated by the occasional parachutist or daring wingwalker flown out from some nearby aerodrome. The ambiance wasamplified by a musical roster which featured Jali Fily Cissokho's hypnotising cora playing contrasted with the fast paced folk sounds of Spiro, the technological wizardy of Duotone's simultaneous cello and guitar workwith Thomas Truax's intriguing homemade musical contraptions. These acts didn't demand attention, instead they provided an apt soundtrack for a these extraordinarily atmospheric festival afternoons.
Atmospheric afternoons might well have been the draw for the particular Wood festival demographic – the young family. During daytime under-sevens well outnumbered adults. The space and relaxed, easy-going vibe meant kids played together freely. Games of cricket and football were set up where space allowed. At the stalls and in the workshops, wide eyed wonder was everywhere to been seen. A roped adventure playground had been built in the woodland and was very popular with the older ones. Bands of armed rugrats roamed the arena, fighting with newly-acquired wooden swords in a bizarre counter to the prevalent peace and love vibes. Others congregated around the stage front, treating it more like a piece of furniture than a podium. It was clear that at least until tea-time kids ruled the festival's roost. And that was no bad thing. Their rather yummy mummies certainly did not seem too concerned as they relaxed and chatted on colourful rugs, many letting the sunshine get to work on their bared skin, a visual feast which only contributed further to the good feelings.
Whilst it was tempting just to sit around and take in the vibes there was so much of interest going on at Wood. The Kindling tent hosted talks on a diverse range of subjects from sustainable living to wicca, from ‘Ask an Anarchist' to hedgehog conservation via canal living and birdsong. Close by in a collection of teepees and yurts were yet more fascinating things to see, learn and do. Whether natural dyeing or shamanic flying, up cycling plastic bottles or splicing ropes, sensing nature or maintaining bicycles, these and fifty plus others were put on by volunteers over the Saturday and Sunday. The whole weekend could be spent in the workshop village without repeating an activity, though I would have been quite happy just in the acroyoga workshop, music from the stage just drifting gently by as I balanced with a smiling hippy chix.
Wood really did practice as well as preach low impact living. The solar powered PA was already mentioned, a wood burning stove was the heat source for showers and worked much more effectively than its steampunk appearance might suggest. Many people know the festival for its composting toilets, long drop structures built into the surrounding hedgerow. With the added option to wee on bales of straw there was not the long queues you always seem to get outside the turd tardis, nor the awful smell. As the end product goes to the commune's kitchen gardens, in an excellent permaculture-style positive feedback system, the previous year's contributions might have helped to grow the vegetables in this year's delicious salads and curries served up by the SuperNatural café.
Naturally there was a wood fired pizza place but also of note was the taste of Tibet's stuffed dumplings and warm spicy chai tea, and Alpine raclette cheese with potato and sausages. Both are well recommended as are the locally sourced beers and ciders in the Treebadour tent. This tent doubled as the festival's second stage and attracted in big crowds for concerts from the charming Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou, the delightful Katy Rose Bennett, the now obligatory ukulele act and the All Star Singalong which closed the festival on Sunday night.
Wood festival is at its best in daytime. Once the kids are taken back to camp and the spring night chill starts to settle in, the remaining festival goers tended to congregate around the stewarded campfire in anticipation of the headline act to come on the Wood stage. Despite quite a wait for Saturday night's band to squeeze themselves onto the cramped stage and an awful lot of farting and fizzing from the PA whilst all the band's bits of kit got sorted out, once underway Tunng did a great job of keeping their audience warm. This was a great acoustic meets tech show which climaxed with the release of ten giant balloons and an awful lot of bouncing around. When the crowd called for an encore it was fortunate the band had not been able to leave the stage otherwise things may have got tricky. Afterwards I happened on some interesting visuals being projected onto a big screen up in the workshop village. The video set in Yucatan peninsula starred a Mexican beauty petting a macaw, jaguar and crocodile whilst looking out over forested plateaus or tombstoning into sinkholes whilst wearing long dresses It was sublime but a little too chilly to concentrate on the meditational video which sent me scurrying off to seek the warmth of company over at the Kindling tent's late night disco.
At Wood the evening show was the real top billing, so it was not a surprise when the volume went up a notch or two for the festival organisers band Dreaming Spires tea time slot .The Bennett brothers mellow mid-western sound was one of the festival's musical highlights. It seemed to bring together the different elements of that feelgood vibe which ran through most of the acts. Lashings of lapsteel, jangling Rickenbackers, and a guest appearance from one of the yummiest mummies around Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne fame made this set deeply pleasing. My other musical highlight really didn't have share in the festivals feelgood vibe, but the dark turn of mind apparent in Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker's set of Sandy Denny songs, psychoballads and melancholy musings cast a captivating spell over the audience. The festivals wooden shack stage was much more convincing than the backdrop they had at the recent BBC Folk awards. The PA less so. Mention must also go to C.C. Smugglers who whipped the crowd into a frenzy then quit the stage and solved the tricky encore problem by playing acoustically surrounded by their newly made fans.
So for those who like a chai tea with their morning tai chi and love searching for supertruths in the spring sunshine, Wood festival comes highly recommended. It is not a festival of big name acts, but one where families come together in a wonderful place to create a vibe which they'll take home with them, perhaps feeling both changed and rested by the experience.
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