Out Of The City & Into The Wilderness
For the last 5 years Wilderness Festival has grown from what was the Cornbury Music Festival to what is now a 10,000 capacity showcase of food, arts and culture.
There are few places that are more suitable for a festival setting than the Oxfordshire countryside. With its’ rolling hills, lakes, a manor house and tree lined fields the surroundings for Wilderness are stunning. Mix this with 4 days of pretty much perfect weather and the foundations were set for a superb weekend.
Wilderness is at the higher end of the festival market; the cost of the tickets, food, drink, showers, hot tubs, massages… it’s all pretty hefty in terms of expenditure and this seems to attract the slightly more mature festival goer, those who still want to experience all the frivolities of the festival environment but with a glass of Champagne instead of local moon shine from a bucket. This tends to lead to very expensive hangovers!
Now for most festival reviews it would be appropriate to open with an intro about the range and quality of the music on offer but from many conversations with attendees it became apparent that apart from a couple of die hard headliner fans most saw the music as a secondary reason for heading to Wilderness. Celebrity chefs and high end restaurant offerings put the food on par with the music and many “tasting tables” and culinary events had been booked months in advance.
Now to the music… for any Bjork fans reading this I apologise but this was the low point of the weekend for me. What possessed the organisers to book the eccentric Icelander as the headline slot for the first night I will never know. It didn’t work at all. With a swelling crowd assembled just before the singer came onto stage, after about 30 mins there were droves heading off for something more entertaining. Two comments that I think summed the set up in the most polite manner were from a family walking back past us on their way out just before the end. The parents reflecting on the fireworks as the most exciting part of the show and the kids with a simple “she’s just really weird!”.
One other element that didn’t sit too well with me was the lack of interest Bjork seemed to have with being at the festival. As it was her only UK festival appearance for 2015 I thought she might give it her all, but it seemed like to was already mentally checking into her flight home before she’d even got to her encore. Poor show Bjork, poor show.
However, no pain no gain and after leaving the main stage we stumbled into a group of folk watching Ed Hicks and the Imaginary String Band who were one of the most fun shows and probably the highlight of the festival for me. The small group of passes by were mesmerized by their swing beats and constant joviality. Loved it and I'll be seeking them out again!
Saturday saw a relatively late start with a few drinks at the Juke Joint (a crowd favourite) for some big beats and then back over to the main stage for Hercules & Love Affair. A solid performance which pleased throughout and got the crowd moving which was well needed. We’d made the decision (based on the experience of Friday evening) to spend more time at the Juke Joint with the end of the night in the Hidden Valley to catch DJ Harvey’s set.
The atmosphere was building and the over head performers added to the sense of excitement as the anticipation for DJ Harvey's set. As the valley filled with revelers from the main stage (all main stage music finished at 10.30!!) everyone was ready for something epic… which unfortunately never really materialised. A pretty standard set in such an amazing setting, there was a slight sense of disappointment.
However, the excitement was to be found on the way back to the campsite via the Travelling Folk tent. The congregated crowds swayed in libated unison to folky tones and raucous voices, the best place to be after dark no doubt. I'd love to be able to tell you who was performing but due to the crowds and the sway (mine included) it was tricky to get a clear view. The atmosphere however was awesome!
Sunday started in true festival style with a plethora of hazy eyes and slow movement, however by early afternoon the main stage played host to the beautiful tones of Robyn Sherwell bringing everyone back to life. An awesome set and I recommend seeing her live as soon as possible… simply superb.
Rhodes followed suit, a brilliant and charming set that fitted perfectly with the Sunday afternoon vibe although it could have easily fitted anywhere in the line-up. Great energy, awesome tunes and the crowd responded well. Brilliant!
And that was the end of the festival for us… a strong finish to an interesting and very different style of festival. One which, at times, reminded me of going out in London’s West End – expensive food and drink, queues for bars and main stream artists – to the other end of the spectrum – stumbling across superb music from little known acts I will most definitely seek out and see again. I’m not convinced the organisers have the festival completely figured out… is it a music festival with food and drink, or a food and drink festival with music? Or as someone pointed out… why can’t you just enjoy it as an everything festival?
To find out more about Wilderness Festival click here.
Words by Mark Jennings
Video & pictures by Cibelle Michepud
Big thanks to Loriann @ Family PR for all her help!