Wood a festival promoting an ecologically friendly lifestyle celebrating music and nature. This is my first visit. Wood is a festival of re-wilding to a certain extent, not least because for me at it's centrepiece was George Monbiot's talk on how we must re-wild our natural spaces in this country. At one point in his fascinating talk (unless you’re a sheep farmer) Monbiot explains how much erosion of children's wild experiences are happening in today's society, and I realise for many kids here this is a chance to re-wild themselves to reconnect with that shared experience of childhood in the countryside. For me I grew up outdoors in the countryside and to some extent that’s what festivals in the great outdoors offer us grown ups too, a chance to re-wild with nature.
Monbiot’s words trigger in me memories of childhood dens in woods, walking or cycling for miles across fields, damming rivers, lazing in the sunshine, discovering nature, and making swings in trees. Wood captures the essence of that world as though 100 Acre wood was just over the brow, Swallows & Amazons moored up on the Thames, and Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill, or Pamela Dean's Secret Country just through the hedge.
An overview of research into outdoor education by King’s College London found that children who spend time learning in natural environments ‘perform better in reading, mathematics, science and social studies.’ Bearing in mind that 50% of kids growing up today have never even visited the countryside! There’s been lots of studies that have revealed that exploring the natural world makes other school subjects more relevant and gets apathetic students excited about learning, particularly if there are straight tusks elephants involved (who once roamed this land Monbiot explains).
Wood is a re-imagined world of how people probably think family friendly festivals used to be, but having been a kid who went to festivals in the 70s-80s they were never actually like this. This is more like a garden party. There was never this much for kids to do at festivals, they were never this sedate, they were full of more alternative folk, more oddballs, and adults experimenting with bending their minds. Kids just ran wild creating their own versions of 'Lord Of The Flies' hierarchies whilst their parents largely ignored them.
There's none of that here, well perhaps the occasional band of boys with a leader who illicits calls of “it’s not fair,” whilst children dismember nettles with wooden swords, but it’s not quite as feral as the wild days of festivals away from the mainstream. The wooden sword is a symbol of childhood games here rather than a weapon, there are even a few bows and arrows too. Here in the green fields bordered by trees it’s about doing stuff with your kids in the variously shaped tents dotted around the workshop field, learning a few basic skills together. Okay so festivals often had storytellers, jugglers and clowns (that usually terrified the hell out of me) and the occasional crayons and ‘waiting room’ left over toys. Here it’s not just firing interest in the kids there's also a chance to dip into some adult education of a wholly more (classical?) kind, alongside adopting a few potential green future items like solar panels including that Mr Monbiot envisages.
My daughter is no longer of an age to take to family friendly festivals but when she was we did family festivals across the summer that Wood reminds me of, and this festival would have fitted right into our summer schedule.
Wood also smells nice, there's the occasional waft of incense or smoke from the fire, and the taste bud whetting smells of Tibetan curries, fired pizzas, or wholesome cooking. But mostly it's fresh air, and with only compost loos there's no latrine pong. Smokers are few and far between replaced by sweet smelling vapers and their rapidly evaporating plumes.
Alongside the tasty choices of wholesome home fare priced at around £8 for a main, to £2.50 for a snack like a portion of chunky chips, there's also a choice of ales and Lilley's (sweet) ciders, dispensed in re-usable plastic cups to keep the litter down on site. The overall impression is one of relaxing in the great outdoors, you could imagine if Victorians had amplifiers they’d have been doing this too, there’s something that feels distinctly English (in a literary sense) about it – it’s not really village fete, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that creates this impression, it’s an intangible timeless feel, maybe it’s the bunting (or the scrumpy), as the festival was only founded in 2008 springing from the larger Truck festival.
And what a lovely site it is..… low impact living solar powered stages, compost loos, thatch and rudimentary wooden structures, permaculture, and simple living, it’s in a truly wonderul location and an escape from the modern world. My phone works intermittently but I feel no desire to connect to social media or read emails. There’s even a leafy dappled woodland playground and places to make dens with lots of the right kind of wooden materials, long grass meadows, and birdsong, all overlooked by this year’s animal a dozen or so spiralling red kites.
There's an added bonus for those in a live in vehicle, the main stage is just a few paces away, most campervan fields are another world away, and it makes a refreshing change to be so close to the action.
The days a predominantly for the kids who wake early and play around the tents until it's time to go off for a workshop with their adults. The peace lasts until the PAs burble into life. Even then most of the music is fairly sedate, predominantly Americana and very, very good. There's no big names but there's not one duff performer on the bill across both stages.
Unfortunately Saturday’s mizzly weather means a rather sparse walk up crowd. But seems to stay dry during the outdoor performances on the main stage, and rain down a bit more heavily whilst acts are on in the covered Treebadour Marquee.
The music programme isn't full of household names, but is of a good standard and offers music fans the chance to see acts up close and in an intimate setting. There’s almost a house band of musicians augmenting the line-up each day, <a href="/festivals/bands.php?BandID=2774"><b>Natureboy</b></a> repeatedly appearing on bass, guitar or supporting vocals over the weekend and only one cancellation <a href="/festivals/bands.php?BandID=61334"><b>Louis Berry</b></a> who wasn’t well, so of course Natureboy stand in for him.
Headliners Sam Lee & Friends, Danny and the Champions Of The World, and Owiny Sigoma Band Soundsystem, are all great choices to top each day's musical offerings. I'm particularly impressed with Owiny Sigoma Band Soundsystem who mix African traditional rhythms with modern beat and bleeps, and it proves a heady mix, as the skies clear and the stars come out to play. Children's favourite Nick Cope is also popular with his songs attracting a good crowd in the Sunday sun. Emily Barker is terrific too, particularly showcasing her acappella singing, her band is, (as many are over the weekend) augmented by members of festival organisers The Bennett brothers' band Dreaming Spires who also put in a decent performance. As does Edd Keene who loops all his own instrument playing and it's an interesting look at how music can be put together on the hoof, perhaps buskers should take note. Also worthy of a mention is Boo Seeka the Aussie duo make a great sound, and are sure to build a fan base on the basis of what they offer us. There's not a duff acts all weekend though, and the standard across both stages is exceptional if a little slanted toward Indie Americana - which is no bad thing in my book.
I’m disappointed to spot not one scenester, or even a confused bearded lumberjack in a chequered shirt. Clearly the low key nature of the programme doesn’t attract such people and it’s quite a refreshing change to see crowds consisting of normal festival goers – many have been before at one time or another and are here with friends. We aren’t here with anyone we know but we chat to friendly folk, do a tour of the house once home to a young Ian Fleming - the inspiration for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and where Mick Jagger brought Marianne Faithful. It’s home to an alternative community of residents who are part of an ongoing social experiment which has been taking place since the 1950s, and the place is fascinating and worth exploring, I entertain the idea of joining their community and escaping the modern world as I sit in their tea room eating cake and sipping tea.
Wood is a great escape of imagination, one that’s not arduous, and once the sun shines on Sunday it becomes an idyllic music filled escape, one that rapidly sees an exodus of families returning to the real world for work on Sunday. As the sun sets we hop into our can, and leave the stragglers to enjoy the festival’s final moments. Already it’s become a fond memory, and is a great warm up to the summer festival season. I feel renewed after winter and just a bit re-wilded. I manage to stop myself buying a wooden sword and hiding it in my sleeping bag – but only just.
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