This summer I got the amazing opportunity to experience one of the nation’s fastest growing festivals, Bestival! The traditional shindig that closes the enormous British Summer festival season, as curated by ex- Radio1 DJ Rob Da Bank. Through a friend, who works as the Head of Music at Southampton University Radio station (Surge), I was lucky enough to lay my hands on a press pass and therefore able to explore the festival from behind its glittery curtains. Admittedly it was a festival that I wouldn’t usually go to and have never really given much thought to, due to it’s lack of the guitar based acts that I usually lean towards such as: Latitude, Reading or Glastonbury. However, my experience was extremely positive and I really broadened my musical horizons over its four days. In my first post documenting my Bestival experience I want to focus on all that goes on, besides the music, in the weird and wonderful world of Bestival.
Located on the Isle of Wight’s Robin Hill Country Park, Bestival has a huge site, offering a plethora of different activities to its revellers,that is after all a part of the huge appeal of Bestival, it’s more than just a music festival! This year’s theme, ‘the Summer of Love’ saw the site filled with homage’s to the hippie era of the 60s alongside CND stands and face-painted peace symbols being scattered across the faces of eager festival goers. Again this only adds to the chilled out vibe of the festival as a whole and gives it a unique sense of unity amongst it’s punters. A vibe that Rob Da Bank has been keen on establishing in his expanded string of festivals (with popularity leading to the creation of Bestival Toronto, Common People and Camp Bestival) and with great success. Quite frankly Rob Da Bank is a genius, as he realises that a festival can be so much more than just music, port-a-loos and beer, he has tapped into something unique and exciting. A totally different atmosphere to anywhere I’ve ever been to! You certainly wouldn’t find any alpaca farms at Reading!
Unlike any other festivals that I’ve been to, Bestival provides an array of different stages, with many different themes and genres taking place on these little worlds created by Rob Da Bank and his team. Other than the more standard Main Stage and Big Top, the third most popular stage is ‘The Port’ a huge structure built to resemble a huge boat that is the home of the festival’s biggest DJ sets; Mark Ronson, Skrillex and Annie Mac. Entitled the ‘H.M.S. Bestival’, the stage is truly spectacular, and runs late into the night (when it is experienced best) with an eclectic mix of pyrotechnics and high wire acrobatics making it one of the greatest festival stages in the country. There were wacky stages aplenty scattered through the Bestival grounds; you had the ‘Bestiversity’ a small stage that housed a variety of comedians as well as interesting talks (tackling a variety of different political and environmental issues) and small clubs such as the Jagerhaus (a small intimate setting sponsored by Jager and had DJ sets from the likes of Jungle) and Club Dada (a small DJ arena that looked like a cross between an English pub and an Arabian Bazar). One thing that totally bewildered me was the Observatory, a large building that had a bar hosting impressive views of the whole site, more interesting yet was the fact that it housed a small cinema (chairs and all), where I took in a short Spanish animation film! It was literally as strange as it sounds! Other hidden gems came in the form of the Wishing Tree, another of the festival’s many DJ stages that this time takes place inside a huge tree located in the campsite. Another of my favourite spots was Caravanserai, an enclosed stage modelled on a sort of bric-a-brac Gypsy camp, with lots of food stalls, bumper cars styled into seats and what can only be described as an adult climbing frame made from two caravans, laying on a varied mix of folk acts. A truly spectacular venue and one that really summed up the gloriously chaotic ambiance of the festival.
Over the weekend I also experienced some of the wackiest entertainment I’ve ever seen at a festival. With the organisers working hard to cram in as many different obscure activities they left their audience in awe and bemusement. Whether it was offering free haircuts or laying out a huge catwalk in the Bollywood field, they had everything you could ever dream of and more! Some of my friends even booked a hot tub session! There seemed to be a strong leaning towards fitness and health this year, with a number of various Yoga and Pilates sessions taking place across the weekend, alongside massages and even morning runs around the Bestival site. There was even a group known as ‘The Fitties’ dressed in 80s exercise gear that were organising high energy games with bypasses, including a hilarious egg and spoon race. As equally important was the festival’s theme of ‘The Summer of Love’, a theme embodied by the ‘Train of Thoughts’ and ‘Commune’. The latter being a small 60s esque hippie community, preaching for love, nuclear disarmament and even hosting UV underwear parties. A particular highlight for me was when my friends and I got drafted in to an inflatable church in order to be witnesses for a Bestival marriage. Making for one of the most surreal moments of the weekend, seeing a Pastor (of whom was self-titled Pastor Bake, yes really) marrying a couple whilst dancing to Beyoncé and R. Kelly, making for comedy gold. To this day I am still unsure whether it was real or not, but nevertheless thoroughly entertaining.
It is easy to see why its grown in such huge popularity over recent years, with the festival celebrating its 12th birthday and many of its spectators having attended every single one. There is so much going on for you to get your teeth stuck into and that is before you’ve even got to the music. It’s these little obscurities that combine to create the eclectic patchwork that is Bestival, a thing of an awe and wonder. There is truly no other like it!