Given the saturated festival market these days any event has to offer something a little special and a tad tempting to ensure that their event is one that will bring the crowd back year after year while also engaging newcomers.
Wychwood Festival has its formula just about right, having just completed it's eleventh year, it's one that brings Cheltenham Racecourse to life offering a weekend of unbridled fun for all the family and it's attracted a very loyal following.
With all the charm of a village fete merged with the joy of live music Wychwood is a delightful event that turns the racecourse into the perfect oasis, offering festival goers the opportunity to let their hair down, embrace the fun things in life and revel in an environment that is really easy and laid back whilst offering a huge and eclectic range of entertainment and activity on top of the musical offerings.
The first thing you really notice is the absolute ease of access; as it's held at the racecourse it's a breeze to get to and there's plentiful parking that just a very short walk into the festival site. Make no mistake, this matters, and it means you get to the festival without the misery of long queues and parking hassle that frequently heralds the start of so many other events.
Then you notice the stewards, none of those unpleasant security stresses for Wychwood, instead you get friendly, helpful stewarding who do an amazing job throughout the weekend. Always smiling, always ready for a chat, that attitude goes a very long way in making the atmosphere just what it should be, a relaxed community of fun loving folk who are all in it together.
The site itself is set out clearly and you can get around it really easily, with a Main Stage, the Big Top tent, the Hobgoblin stage and the Pomme stage all offering something a little different with the top billing acts strutting their stuff on the Main stage, a wealth of new and up and coming acts (plus a few more established) bringing the Big Top to life, and BBC Introducing taking charge of the Hobgoblin stage whilst the Pomme stage brings a wealth of acoustic acts.
Away from the music there's a wealth of other activities on offer, a plethora of workshops engaging festival goers in all manner of things they might never have thought of giving a try. The Waterstones tent had various authors engaging both adults and little ones throughout the weekend, there was an open mic stage giving people the opportunity to perform to the festival crowd, harp workshops, tightrope walking, skittles, roller skating, belly dancing, go karting and so much more.
Mercifully the threatened horrendous weather we had been promised didn't materialise during the daytime, so although it was cold at times and often overcast it was largely dry which meant that the outside activities were on!
Headlining the main stage on Friday were disco divas Boney M, the 1970s stars provided a slick set that included all the hits you'd expect, transporting the crowd back in time and closing day one with a heritage act that had everybody doing their very best 'John Travolta' moves.
The Undertones brought the punk with another raft of music from days gone by and the crowd got all the expected hits including "Teenage Kicks", "Jimmy Jimmy", "Here Comes the Summer", "My Perfect Cousin" and a whole lot more which gave the crowd the chance to get a bit of po-going action going, fortunately it appeared that 'spitting' wasn't on the cards for the Wychwood crowd!
Dreadzone brought a whole different vibe with their dub fusion pioneering sounds, sadly without the awesome MC Spee who was unwell, but we still got the classic Dreadzone experience. Songhoy Blues bought the sound of Mali to the main stage and were one of a number of world music acts the event brought to the main stage this year.
BBC Introducing were doing a sterling job of bringing top quality acts to the Hobgoblin stage with different acts taking to the stage every hour throughout the weekend, proving without doubt that there are some hugely talented performers just waiting for you to discover them, Wychwood's BBC Introducing folk have a knack of picking the best of the best, so much so that you could have spent the whole weekend in the Hobgoblin and you would have got to see some great performers.
The stand out act of the day and quite probably the whole weekend had to be Josephine and the Artizans. This band call themselves Hip-Hopera, which really doesn't give full justice to the amazing sounds this boundary defying, genre blending group produce. Make no mistake here, this is a hugely talented group of musicians with classically trained Josephine fusing opera with hip hop to the nth degree and in so doing are producing a sound that is fresh, vibrant, different and enthralling. No one who witnessed the performance was left unmoved or unimpressed by this accessible opera magic brought bang up to date in a way that music has been missing for so long. The only question we have is why are this band not getting the airplay they so deserve? They would have been a perfect choice for the main stage and we would say that if you haven't heard them yet make the effort, you will be richly rewarded.
Saturday saw more world music grace the main stage in the form of Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba and Monsier Doumani with Andy Kershaw providing a world music disco over in the Big Top. The big pull of the day were headliners UB40 with Ali Campbell, Astro and Micky Virtue who, not unexpectedly, pulled off a storming headline set. "Red, Red Wine", "Kingston Town", "Rat in Mi Kitchen" and more gave the festival crowd exactly what they wanted.
The Proclaimers drew the crowds with a typically upbeat performance that saw the first ever Wychwood wedding proposal played out to the Proclaimers "Lets get Married" part way through the set. Great big sing-alongs were the order of the day with "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)", "Sunshine on Leith", "I'm On My Way" and "Letter from America". Charlie and Craig Reid didn't let the side down and provided quite the festival vibe.
Once again it wasn't all about heritage acts and world music with Ghostpoet putting on a compelling headline performance in the Big Top, Mt Wolf bringing the electric folk and the delightful Puppy who played a very slick set.
Sunday brought another day of eclectic musical offerings with The Barron Knights, Rusty Shackle, Mad Dog Macrea and more keeping the main stage going and the crowds occupied. The Wonder Stuff did a superb acoustic set, a perfect Sunday afternoon offering, a band that has played Wychwood in the past and will doubtless do so again in the future, they just seem to fit so well.
Craig Charles is another Wychwood regular, his DJ sets are legendary and he never fails to get the crowd going from the first track to the last, always a performance to look forward to, always a winner.
Another festival stalwart, Dr and the Medics got the crowd on their feet and moving as one, "Spirit in the Sky", "Ace of Spades', "You Spin me Round" and “She Sells Sanctuary” were delivered in raucous style with bags of energy, providing just the oomph the crowd were after at that time of the day when energy levels were in danger of crashing!
The Big Top belonged to the girls in the evening with sets from Lucy Rose and the up and coming Charlotte OC, a performer who sits perfectly between London Grammar and Foxes. Lucy Rose seems to keep on getting better and better and this performance was no exception, closing the Big Top with a beautiful, thought provoking and elegant performance she did what she does best and left memories of a delightful set delivered with heaps of style. Did you know she also does tea? Apparently it's quite a good cuppa!
Once again the BBC Introducing saw a stunning line up Crowsaw were a really tight band and worth catching if you get the chance and you like your rock.
There was a stand out performance from 7shades who bring very original music, all quite bizarre and an awesome performance worthy of a larger stage. Think 70s inspired psychadelia of early Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and you'll get a rough idea of what to expect, if you get a chance to see them do, completely mesmerizing.
A further stand out performance came in the form of Ronin, definitely ones to watch and they seem to be going places. They didn't have the crowd they deserved but it didn't stop them putting on a top performance for all the world as if they were playing a packed venue.
Wychwood 2015 ended with a headline performance from Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which was stunning, perfect and joyful. This mesmerising band of South African musicians and performers are world-class entertainers and gave a truly wonderful and breathtaking set.
The only possible downside we could find was the cost of festival food, obviously not a problem confined to Wychwood and clearly this one is going to be a factor at all festivals this year, with £8 per portion for a small plate of food it's going to be very expensive for a family to survive a full weekend. Although the food was varied, good quality and tempting, the prices were high and portions did seem stingy.
Proving that small can be quite beautiful the thing that strikes you most about this one is the total commitment from all those involved in the organisation of the event. It's quite rare to find a festival that is so easy to get to and to get around, with such a lovely vibe from all those responsible for stewarding the festival, it makes a huge difference to the festival experience and ensures that everyone feels valued.
The vast array of entertainment away from the music stages was quite stunning for a small festival and the commitment from those running them was obvious making a proper inclusive community feel to the event. Musically there was a very eclectic range of music on offer with the best finds in the Big Top and BBC Introducing where it seemed that things really had moved up a notch this year.
Wychwood Festival is a little gem of an event, a proper jewel in the crown for Cheltenham and after 11 years it's difficult to imagine the festival calendar without this one. You’re not likely to see the Foo Fighters or Taylor Swift or Kanye West, although you can never rule anything out, but Wychwood has worked hard over the years to deserve its place and delivers to its loyal crowd not only substantial discounts on the following year’s ticket price, but everything they need for an awesome weekend.
Overall this is little slice of perfection in the Prestbury Hills offers an awesome array of entertainment and ranks as one of the friendliest and best organised events on the circuit.
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