This year Wilderness had doubled in size from 15,000 capacity last year to 30,000 this. Despite this it still felt intimate and never over-crowded, mainly thanks to the spacious layout and beautiful rolling countryside it's nestled within.
Dubbed “the most middle-class UK festival” we immediately got a sense of that from the word go. Compared to Secret Garden Party two weeks prior to Wilderness, it felt like a more sensible, chilled out version of it's wilder sibling festival. With more cash in it's back pocket. But that's not to say it didn't tick all the boxes when it comes to a well-rounded festival experience, plus more.
The luscious Oxfordshire landscape was awash with good vibes and creativity around every corner. Being quite family-orientated the crowd was pretty well behaved with good attitudes and clearly up for defying the constant threat of being rained out by hurricane Bertha. Although not quite as flamboyant as the revellers at Secret Garden Party, a lot of people went to great efforts when it came to costume, decking themselves out in all-manner of feathers, glitter, and spectacular leggings. And that was just the guys.
We decided to spoil ourselves at this festival and booked a Squirt for the weekend. To quash any thoughts you may have of this review taking a seedy nose-dive, a Squirt is a mini yurt; a small wooden hut equipped with double blow-up mattress, duvet, rug and table. Perfect for unreliable weather conditions with a hint of hurricane, I would highly recommend this luxury if you can afford it. I emphasize IF you can afford it, at £675 for four nights it did make our eyes water a little.
Aside from the music, our weekend included powerful contemporary dance from the Rambert Dance Company, enlightening talks on Mindfulness by author and teacher Ed Halliwell, and more than enough delicious street food to keep the tummy rumbles at bay. If you don't indulge in one of the banqueting feasts served up by an array of top chefs, I would highly recommend the Buddha Bowls by Whole Food Heaven, winners of “best main dish” at the British Street Food Awards 2011. The team dished up hearty and wholesome boxes of Massaman curry with new potatoes, pineapple, and soya chunks. Layered with carrot and homemade kimchi pickle, flash steamed garden greens, organic shortgrain brown rice, and a sprinkling of omega seeds. If you're a Chai lover I'd also recommend heading to the Strumpets With Crumpets for Emily's homemade recipe, so good they'd run out by the last day of the festival to our absolute dismay!
Live performance collective Macnas delivered a visual feast for the eyes with a conceptual procession involving fire artists, travelling art installations, one giant mechanical fire-breathing wolf, and “this summer's tallest burning effigy” as quoted by Wilderness. It was quite the spectacle as the mass of people and mythical characters crossed the lake, a sea of light and colour bounced off the calm waters illuminating daredevil fire artists who danced away on floating islands.
Musically I didn't think the line up was the strongest I'd seen this season. However new artists such as Jamaican-born singer/ songwriter Denai Moore impressed us with an acoustic performance, showcasing effortless range and gorgeous poetic lyrics. The main stage at first seemed a little big for her solo presence, but when she started singing her voice soft like velvet would boom into huge top notes that made the big space pale into insignificance. She sang from the heart and captivated all who came to see her.
Irish musician SOAK was a breath of fresh air. Her Facebook page describes a “Short Irish kid who appreciates Dragons & Dinosaurs. Has wonky bottom teeth & writes song. Kind of funny sometimes.” And this is who she is. She introduced “Sea Creatures” as “a song about fishes and other aquatic sea creatures”, which transpired to be her honest take on relationships and people who don't appreciate what love is. She applied a similar introduction to a few other songs, lacing her raw underlying messages with a curious humour which gave her set a unique twist. SOAK is the kind of girl who when you see her and hear her sing, you just want to wrap up in cotton wool and look after for the rest of your life. But she's far too clever and talented to be hidden away, so understated she barely looks up when singing. A thoroughly enjoyable performance and definitely one to watch.
Another highlight included Land of the Giants, a raucous six-piece band from the West Country. Playing in the packed out Travelling Folk Barn, the boys had within minutes raised the entire tent from seated to crazy dancing with all manner of indie, ska, blues and hip hop with some awesome brass thrown in for good measure. Their energy is unfathomable and they left the crowd begging for one more, not surprising considering the frenzy they'd built up within an hour.
Jessie Ware was one of the headliners, and sung another flawless soulful set belting out her entire new album as well as some of her catchy older numbers like 'Wildest Moments'. She is consistently great entertainment value, never afraid to show her true colours on stage which is all about having fun and engaging with her audience. For me the highlight of her set had to be 'Tough Love' from her new album, a song she'd written about her fiancé and how long he took to propose. Mid-way through she broke into giggles, spotting said fiancé in the crowd waving back to her whilst precariously balanced on someone's shoulders. A very sweet moment, she described the experience as “intense” and it was just lovely to be there and feel the love!
London Grammar brought the festival to a close on Sunday night, and it was great to see them headline this year having watched them last year at Wilderness when they were billed a lot lower down on the line up. As darkness enveloped the main stage Hannah Reid astounded everyone with her incredible vocal talent, powerful and pure and hitting you right in the heart. It was good to see the band growing so much in confidence having followed them since they first started out. And despite their rapidly rising stardom, they are still so grounded; it was funny to hear Hannah having to apologise for blowing her nose every now and again in-between such powerful performances! Tracks such as 'Nightcrawl' and 'Strong' had people singing along at the tops of their voices, as did closing song 'Metal and Dust'. A great ending to the festival.
Overall there were elements of Wilderness that certainly made it a contender for one of the UK's best festivals. During the day there was plenty to see and do with a healing and wellness field, a beautiful lake complete with hot tubs for ultimate relaxation, a daily Oxford vs Cambridge (banana) boat race, trapeze, and plenty of entertainment to keep the kids happy. Not to mention the theatre, comedy, debates, and array of vintage clothing, festival attire, and craft stalls.
The after-dark soirees in the woods satisfied the party animals appetites with DJ's such as Eats Everything, and Psychemagik, while there was theatre, cabaret and open-air cinema for those with less energy to expel. At night the site looked magical, every tree twinkling with fairy lights bringing the festival to life.
The negatives are that where most of the fun to be had is outdoors, unfortunately the rain and strong winds stopped play a few times leaving us to seek shelter under the great trees that dotted the site. But this is the risk you take with any British festival. Another small but valid gripe is that Wilderness still charge to use the eco-loos, which in my opinion defeats the purpose of encouraging people to be more environmentally conscious. Finally the fact they don't let you take alcohol onto the festival site itself (only campsite) is testimony that this truly is a middle-class festival. You're expected to have enough money that you can afford to spend £5 per pint or head to the Champagne bar if you're feeling a bit parched.
To sum up Wilderness did a great job in providing a well-varied bill of creativity and entertainment which attracted a friendly crowd and no trouble. If you're looking to indulge yourself in a chilled-out environment, be inspired, and are not too fussed about the music I'd highly recommend.
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