a new breed of festival is born at Wilderness... and there wasn't a brawl in sight

Wilderness 2011 review

published: Tue 16th Aug 2011

around the festival site

Friday 12th to Sunday 14th August 2011
Cornbury Park, Charlbury, Oxfordshire, OX7 3EH, England MAP
early bird £99.50 adult weekend camping
daily capacity: 10000
last updated: Wed 3rd Aug 2011

Wilderness kicked off this weekend in the quiet Oxfordshire countryside and will truly pave the way for organic festival-going for many years to come.

Upon first impression I felt like I was in Glastonbury – but this was a Glasto before the big stages and certainly before the brands took over.

Not surprising since organiser Tim Harvey has worked at all the major festivals in the country and he is part of a crew which masterminded Secret Garden Party and Lovebox.

Tim came up with the concept which has been six years in the making, for a country retreat especially for lovers of art, nature and of course music.

And that's what makes Wilderness, set in Cornbury Park, so special - It's not enough to simply put on music anymore. Festival-goers want something else, something more.

around the festival site
Take the joy of Glastonbury, the secret pathways, the great folk fields and the independent traders. Move them to Oxfordshire, size them down and keep the litre bottles of vodka out (there is a limit of a bottle of wine per person or six cans of beer)... and you’ve got Wilderness.

Philosophy played a major part of the experience – with crowds surging towards a talk about Cloud Spotting from Gavin Pretor-Pinney and Mark Vernon introduced us to Socrates and Plato.

It was more middle class than you could shake a polo mallet at - you could swim in the river (in bathing suits sadly - the festival-goers weren't hippy enough to go nude), you can sit in the hot tub by the lakeside in the spa area (yes honestly spa area) and there were more 'glampers' than real campers.

I refused to take a shower on festival principle but many queued in the early hours of the morning to wash the glitter off their bodies - a sign that fancy dress is still in its hay day.

Come night fall the atmosphere changed. People lost their inhibitions, some clad head to toe in leather, some simply took to the woods naked for a midnight walk and everyone partied into the early hours at the masked ball (ball gowns included) to prove that sometimes roughing it just isn’t an option.

Sunday morning gave way to Pimms and cricket on the lawn. Families a plenty - all generations from babies to ladies in their 80s – enjoyed the various stalls including the local primary school which set up a tea and scone tent.

Afternoons saw 1920s jazz music and sack races from the Bearded Lawn Society and while campers nursed hangovers, day trippers built stone towers and watched their toddlers play on toy drums.

The food was mainly organic and all local. There was even a Jamie Oliver tent for those who wanted to fine dine (yes this really is a festival, hard to believe I know). Michelin starred chefs arrived on the Sunday to treat those who'd bought tickets for the Banqueting Hall (completely sold-out before the gates even opened). There you could eat BBQ quail, grilled wild sea bass and frozen peaches with greengages.

Food and drink was typically expensive for a festival (£6 for a burger, £4.50 for a pint) but it was delicious and I didn't come away with that; "yuck, I've eaten too much junk" feeling.

around the festival site
At Wilderness I didn't feel like we were in a recession – possibly the worst time to set up a new festival – but at £120 for a three-day weekend ticket (including camping) and a day ticket at £60 or £30, you really couldn't get more value for your money.

There was even a family rate - £300 would admit two adults, two children aged between 11 and 17, and under 10-year-olds went free. What a beautiful way to introduce the youngsters to live music, art and theatre.

Most people were there for one reason. The music. Over 40 bands played over two days ranging from indie folk to punk rock ballet.

Dry The River were astounding as they rocked the main stage - adorned with twisting trees and music fans stretched out relaxing the summer sun. CW Stoneking, and Toots and the Maytals warmed up for the headliner getting the crowd in the mood for a party.

And what a party it was. Gogol Bordello really got the crowd jumping. A mosh pit quickly formed and thousands screamed, danced and watched in awe as a topless Eugene Hutz displayed his usual crazy antics, albeit it toned down for these masses.

Laura Marling
Sunday saw a spine tingling array of fine musicianship. Laura Marling's dulcet tones reverbed around the forest, while Daniel Johnston, The Low Anthem, and Guillemots pulled out phenomenal performances.

Mercury Rev played their entire seminal Deserter’s Songs – frontman Jonathan Donahue truly put on a show. Like a magician he weaved his body to make his band play.

Toddlers spun round in circles, laughing and playing in the grass set to music which was made generations before they were born.

But it was Antony and The Johnsons who put on the most beautiful performance I've ever experienced in my whole life. Playing with London's The Heritage Orchestra, dressed in bright white, there were tears in the eyes of even the most grown-up of men.

Strobe lightning juxtaposed with Antony Hegarty's prose directed at emancipating feminine governance made for a surreal night, set below the harvest moon.

Antony and The Johnsons
Playing all the hits, his vocals were on top form and most stood in awe as he weaved across the stage with effortless ease. With a shy performance at times, you couldn't help but warm to his slightly vulnerable nature and I had a; "I'm glad I saw this before I died" moment.

The weekend couldn't have been more perfect. We got the sunshine, we got the full moon and we got a stellar line-up – musicians who simply came to play music. Leave the gimmicks at the door and enjoy the harmony.

Wilderness is a type of festival that makes me want to tear up my review – because I don't want anyone to know about it. I want it to stay unspoilt, I don't want the mobile phone marketing to move in and I certainly don't want the yobs to descend – luckily the organisers feel the same.

This is a place where Ginger Beer rules, Lager drools and nobody wants to go back to reality.

around the festival site
review by: Zoe Vaughan

photos by: Rob Koster

Friday 12th to Sunday 14th August 2011
Cornbury Park, Charlbury, Oxfordshire, OX7 3EH, England MAP
early bird £99.50 adult weekend camping
daily capacity: 10000
last updated: Wed 3rd Aug 2011

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