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Blissfields 2014 reviewed

Sebastian Schofield checks out this little hidden gem in the heart of the Hampshire countryside

I have heard so much buzz about this festival that I was excited to cover Blissfields out in the heart of the Hampshire countryside. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but everyone I have spoken to loves this little hidden gem, so I was keen to find out why it’s so special.

Getting there is no problem; it’s well signposted and virtually traffic free. This year’s car share seemed to be a success as there was loads of parking and from the furthest point it’s only a 10 min walk to the festival entrance which is a bonus for those festival goers with 10 times their body weight in festival necessities, mainly booze or in my case, camera gear and Haribo.

The Crowd celebrating the Natural World at Blissfields
The Crowd celebrating the Natural World at Blissfields

Each year has a theme – this year’s being ‘Walk on the Wildside’. This was truly embraced and just about everywhere you looked there were people dressed up which was really good to see. With this theme came a new area to the festival – ‘Amoeba to Zebra’ – celebrating the natural world and incorporating the Born Free Foundation (Blissfields’ charity for this year). It was amazing to see Virginia Mckenna speaking to the crowd about the foundation. She has been an inspiration of mine since I was a child and the film ‘Born Free’ which unfortunately I still can’t bring myself to watch today as I’ll blub all the way through it.

Virginia McKenna
Virginia McKenna

It’s difficult to put your finger on what makes a festival work. Whilst some seem to grow exponentially year on year, and possibly become so big they lose the essence of what made them successful in the first place, others just don’t take off and disappear into thin air.
Blissfields seems to be an exception to both. Now in their thirteenth year, the festival is a thriving success with more to do than most bigger festivals, yet still retaining the original vibe of the early days – family and friends having a party in a field.

As such, major importance is placed on entertaining the kids with a whole area dedicated to them in the ‘Angel Gardens Family Area’. The list of activities here is endless……dance, drama, yoga, birthday parties (every-one is invited!), themed discos, kids entertainers, arts and crafts, treasure hunts, giant bubbles, ponies…………there is even a dedicated baby care tent. They seem to have covered everything!

There were lots of games (sort of like a school sports day but without the teachers) - sack races and water fights were in full swing throughout the day. The world record attempt of largest gathering of people wearing animal masks happened on the sat afternoon, kids and adults piled into the arena, which was followed by a balloon water fight. I managed to catch a science experiment located in one of the tents which went down a storm, interaction with the kids and teacher showing them how stuff works was great to see. Mind you I did get dragged into one of the experiments only to be shot at with an air blasting cannon thing by one of the kids (all in good fun though).
It was also the first time I have ever seen birds of prey at a festival in my life, with the handlers allowing the public to stroke and hold our feathery friends.

Even the Owl loved Blissfields
Even the Owl loved Blissfields

Another stall, which I thought was excellent, was the woodworking tent where children were allowed to use the tools and lathes to create their own work. Interaction and educational with lots of fun thrown in. Other crafts and demonstrations included leather craft, pottery, blacksmith demos, willow weaving, pole lathe turning, copper work and tie dying.

The food stalls looked good and everyone I spoke to said the food was great and reasonably priced. I managed to grab a coffee from one of the stalls and they really went out of their way to make it just how I like it. The weather was generally great although we had a little downpour on Friday which managed to kill one of my cameras but didn’t stop the festival goers having fun.

One of the new attractions this year was the very popular ‘Fields of Bliss Spa’, which included hot tubs, saunas and massage. Perfect for nursing a hangover or relaxing in between the plethora of activities available. I’m sure this will be back again next year. The ‘Director’s Cut’ (last year’s theme) inspired Film Festival was back from 2013 so along with the cinema, any budding film directors out there get the chance once again to submit a short film.  ‘The Hidden Hedge’ with AREA 51 was back, with a giant mechanical spider thing and the scary electric chair.

Out of the music acts I managed to see the ones that really stood out for me were:

  • The St Pierre Snake invasion - 5 piece punksters from Bristol. These guys tore up the Hidden Hedge stage on Sat evening bringing their own original sound and energy to this year’s festival. Playing a 50-minute long set which included their Flesh EP - definitely a band to look out for and a great act to catch.
  • Wolf Alice - playing the main stage on Friday. The indie rockers from North London featuring Ellie Roswell’s haunting vocals was a great start to the weekend. The set was brilliant, the band looked great, the music was loud and the sun was shining - what could be better.
  • Chloe Howl - it’s the first time I have seen Chloe Howl and for a young 19 year old she certainly didn’t disappoint the audience, giving it her all and putting on a great show with her energetic stage presence and awesome voice. I’m looking forward to catching her show again later in the year.
  • The Tune Yards - well I’m still not sure what to say about these guys but I instantly loved them. Interesting and entertaining. Pop mixed with live drum loops, added indie, R&B and general weirdness got the crowd up and dancing. A great festival band and really good to watch live.
  • Sleigh Bells - another new one on me, these guys rocked out the main stage on Friday night, heavy guitar riffs and visually brilliant. For me live music should be entertaining and almost theatrical and Sleigh Bells offered it all. Singer Alexis Krauss through a backdrop of blue and red smoke busted out some heavy pop rock vocals before legging it into the main pit to get a closer view of the crowd. The crowd loving every bit of their set and so did I.

Sleigh Bells getting down with the crowd at Blissfields
Sleigh Bells getting down with the crowd at Blissfields

It’s difficult to pick the highlight of my weekend as there is so much to do and see, the people and the happy atmosphere, but if I had to pick one thing it would be the Fairyfloss (mobile candyfloss stall) which let people have a go at making their own candyfloss - something I have always wanted to have a go at since I was a kid. The only drawback was that for about an hour I had candyfloss-covered face and hands after scoffing myself silly with the magical stuff. (Try the strawberry flavour).

Organic Candy Floss anyone?
Organic Candy Floss anyone?

The only hitche during the festival was that The Gentleman’s Dub club didn’t play as they were stuck at the airport, but hey it happens, let's hope they can make it next year.

Organisers of this event may want to forget the sudden downpour on Friday evening but I think a bit of rain wakes people up and really gets people in the festival mood. The kids seemed to really enjoy dancing around soaking each other and generally having an awesome time so to be honest I wouldn’t put rain into Room 101 as it has its place in the UK festival scene.

I would recommend this festival to anyone who wants a chilled out and relaxed weekend, or for the youngsters who have never experienced a festival before. A huge well done to the organisers of this event, everyone I spoke to loved the festival, which more than lives up to it's mighty reputation, small, compact and bijou and yet offering so much more than you could ever expect. 

Blissfields is a real contender on the UK festival scene - check it out if you can get tickets to this one.

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Review Info

Sebastian Schofield
4th July 2014
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Blissfields 2014 reviewed

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UPDATED 10/12/2017

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