FESTIVAL GUIDE: 10 Best Boutique Festivals

FESTIVAL GUIDE: 10 Best Boutique Festivals


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Following on from our selection of metropolitan festivals, this week we’re presenting our favourite camping events. From the more upmarket boutique weekends to the defiantly alternative gatherings, we believe all of these festivals offer more than just a soggy, expensive weekend in the country.

Despite the gloomy predictions at the start of the decade, last year’s figures showed that smaller independent festivals are not just surviving but in many cases thriving. Anchored by original concepts and strong audience engagement, these events have a strong identity based on shared values and music tastes. While some big corporate festivals may struggle to balance their books, audience appetite for the fields shows no sign of satiation, demonstrated by the longevity of the visionary Green Man or the swift rise of picturesque Festival No 6.  Moving away from the old-style, music only festival format, more and more events are heading in the direction of experiential multi-disciplinary occasions embracing audiences of all ages, choosing unique settings and offering plentiful peripheral entertainment in the form of talks, lessons, debates and workshops that involve everything from dancing to cookery and archery.

Lunar Festival
5th – 7th June 2015, Warwickshire

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Lunar is a newcomer to the scene, brought to us by the organisers of Midlands events like Moseley Folk festival and Mostly Jazz Funk & Soul.  It may not have the scale of the more established boutique gatherings, but its eccentric theatrical line-up marks it out as a special event in the festival year.  Set near the birthplace of Nick Drake, this intimate family festival joins the dots across everything from funk and soul to jazz and African sounds, electronic space explorations, psych and indie.  Alongside new talent, last year saw the eccentric brilliance of Arthur Brown and  The Polyphonic Spree; this year we’re treated to performances from idiosyncratic rebels Julian Cope and Wilko Johnson. There may not be as much in a way of additional entertainment, but the music line-up and its beautiful farm setting (complete with bemused horses, donkeys, pigs and cows) make for a very special experience that can endure the calamities of June weather.

Music highlights: Allah-Las, The Fall, Jane Weaver, Julian Cope, Pretty Things, Public Service Broadcasting, Sun Ra Arkestra, Tinariwen, Wilko Johnson

Tickets and full line-up information: http://lunarfestival.co.uk
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Deer Shed
24th – 26th July 2015, Yorkshire

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The term ‘family festival’ was invented to describe Deer Shed. In fact, if you don’t have any offspring in tow you may feel a little out of place. Even its comedy tent is PG-rated.  There is a huge array of children’s activities and family-friendly entertainment.  It would all be very village fete were it not for the fact that Deer Shed’s music-line up is pretty spot on. There are definitely some heritage acts to entertain the parents but there is also plenty of interesting new sounds and names familiar to 6 Music connoisseurs.  As you may imagine, the crowds are very polite, the toilets are clean and the mood is happy. Sadly, most of the fun draws to a close at around midnight, with only one venue open till 2 am and most of the entertainment ending on Sunday afternoon. Optional Sunday night camping is charged extra.

Music highlights: Billy Bragg, Boxed In, Emmy the Great, Honeyblood, John Grant, Menace Beach, The Pictish Trail, Shopping, The Unthanks, The Wedding Present

Tickets and full line-up information: http://deershedfestival.com
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Port Eliot
30th July – 2nd August 2015, Cornwall

imageStarting life as a literary event, Port Eliot was one of the first festivals to explore the boutique festival paradigm. With over a decade on the clock, it has established itself as a friendly place that consistently attracts a stellar cast of writers, thinkers and artists like Jung Chang, Jarvis Cocker, Dominic West, Caitlin Moran, Louis De Bernières and John Cooper Clarke. In 2011, the festival was honoured with the presence of cinematic legend Martin Scorsese, and its kitchens are run by the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen chefs. Its unique features are a fashion workshop area, The Wardrobe Department, and a celebrated Port Eliot Flower Show, curated by production designer and associate designer of the Rambert Dance Company, Michael Howells. The grounds of a Grade I listed mansion provide the setting and add to the magic fantasy of this relaxed event.

Music highlights: Archie Bronson Outfit, Awesome Tapes From Africa, Hooton Tennis Club, Jane Weaver, Matthew and me, Stealing Sheep

Tickets and full line-up information: www.porteliotfestival.com

Kendal Calling
30th July – 2nd August 2015, Cumbria

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Simple, unpretentious fun is the essence of Kendal Calling. It may not offer highbrow debates, experimental music or haute cuisine, but it consistently delivers big name headliners and solid new acts, attracting big crowds from across the North West. The site is small and easy to navigate, and the atmosphere is friendly and exhilarating.  There are things to do that don’t require you to pay extra, food/drink prices are reasonable, and actual festival ticket prices compare very favourably with other boutique events.
Manchester legends Tim Burgess, Dave Haslam and John Robb are regulars, ensuring significant Mancunian presence. Dance tents are also a big attraction keeping the party vibe going through the night and providing cover for the persistent Cumbrian rain.

Music highlights: Augustines, Billy Bragg, British Sea Power, Dutch Uncles, Elbow, Emmy the Great, The Horrors, Kate Tempest, Public Service Broadcasting, Snoop Dogg

Tickets and full line-up information:  www.kendalcalling.co.uk
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Wilderness festival
6th – 9th August 2015, Oxfordshire

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Born in 2011 out of an unlikely pairing of teams behind Secret Garden Party and Lovebox, Wilderness is a refined concept event that feels like a cross between Glastonbury and Glyndebourne.  The extensive programme of talks, debates, workshops and luxury communal dining is arguably a greater part of Wilderness than its music and arts adventures.  From wild swimming to perfume making, Sunday services at an atheist church to holistic therapies and spa treatments, Michelin-star gastronomy to opera production—everything about Wilderness radiates sophistication, adventurous spirit and unashamed intellectualism. An elegant and smart musical line-up is guaranteed and so is significant damage to your bank balance.

Music highlights: Bjork, Ben Howard, Caravan Place, George Clinton, Ibibio Sound Machine, Hercules & Love Affair, Nick Mulvey, Nils Frahm, Parliament & Funkadelic, Roisin Murphy

Tickets and full line-up information: www.wildernessfestival.com
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Supernormal
7th – 9th August 2015, Oxfordshire

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Created and curated by the non-profit Community Interest Company, Supernormal is the antithesis of a big festival business. ‘The alternative’s alternative’ rejects boundaries between artists and audiences allowing for total immersion in many creative activities. It has a strong political and artistic vision embracing commitment to active participation and debate. Musically, it is a niche taste, focussing mostly on more unusual aspects of noise-rock, psych, doom and folk. Its small size (1500 capacity) ensures a communal feeling and green ethos. With some of the cheapest ticket, food and drink prices of any festival, it is definitely an experience not to be missed.

Music highlights: Keep your eyes on our news – line-up yet to be announced!

Tickets and full line-up information: www.supernormalfestival.co.uk
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Green Man
20th – 23rd August 2015, Brecon Beacons (South Wales)

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A beautiful compact site and smart programming is the key to Green Man. With over a decade of experience behind it, it has established a loyal fan base and a cool but relaxed reputation. As might be expected of a boutique festival, it offers a great range of fun and cerebral activities, and is welcoming to both families and younger discerning urbanites. Musically, it’s a deluge of delight with echoes of its folkish beginnings and a distinct feel for the hottest acts of the season.  The giant effigy of the Green Man himself stands on a hill witnessing the proceedings, disappearing in a blaze at the end of the last day. It is definitely a bit Wicker Man with a Welsh pagan twist. Add to this a 24-hour licence and a top range of inexpensive food stalls and you’ve got a definite winner.

Music highlights: Courtney Barnett, The Fall, Father John Misty, Goat, Hookworms, Hot Chip, Matthew E White, St Vincent, Super Furry Animals, Viet Cong

Tickets and line-up information: www.greenman.net
GIITTV Archives

Shambala
27th – 30th August 2015, Northamptonshire

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Started in 1999, Shambala is one of the most established festivals on this list.  It offers a diverse range of music infused with fringe activities from cabaret to comedy, talk and debates, circus, theatre and poetry. It’s held in Northamptonshire at a secret venue with many details of the party kept under wraps until you buy a ticket. The line-ups tend to be refreshingly un-indie, showcasing international reggae, hip hop, folk, world, funk and jazz artists. Shambala is very popular with families and has a truly inclusive, chilled ethos. One of its very distinct features is a genuine, tireless commitment to reducing its environmental impact. Winner of the international ‘A Greener Festival’ award for the past two years, it is the only UK festival using 100% renewable energy.

Music highlights: Keep your eyes on our news – line-up is yet to be announced!

Tickets and line-up information: www.shambalafestival.org

Festival No 6
3rd – 6th September 2015, Gwynedd (North Wales)

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This is a festival that truly lives up to its motto of ‘A festival unlike any other, in a place like no other’. With only three years under its belt it has rapidly gained a reputation as one of the most popular events in the UK festival calendar. Every year it rolls out a superb and daring music line-up, but it’s the unique location and engaging arts programme that gives it its spark.  Previous years have seen contributions from the likes of Faber Social, Caught by the River, Heavenly Films and The Idler Academy. As well as a full range of camping options for those on a more extensive budget, No 6 offers accommodation right in the centre of the action, in the surreal fantasy of Portmeirion used as the backdrop to the cult ’60s TV series The Prisoner.

Music highlights: Belle & Sebastian, The Bohicas, Ghostpoet, Grace Jones, Kate Tempest, King Creosote, Shura, Young Fathers

Tickets and full line-up information: www.festivalnumber6.com

End of the Road
4th – 6th September 2015, Dorset

imageEnd of the Road radiates an inspired visionary quality. Over the years it has acquired legions of fans who come year after year from every corner of the country, and even further afield. Terms like ‘charming’ and ‘magical’ definitely spring to mind when you think about End of the Road, both in terms of its programming and its site. After all, which other festival can boast peacocks, lanterns and a tree library? Musically, this is indie at its best, definitely more ATP than NME. As well as legendary names, the bill often features little known names, which is both very bold and hugely important for the future of music. This year’s 10th anniversary line-up is already attracting a lot of praise likely to ensure a sold-out event. This is a kind of festival where audiences listen to the music rather talk through sets and everything from the beautifully-crafted designs to the glorious and inexpensive selections of food and drink speaks of genuine love and care.

Music highlights: Alvvays, Fat White Family, Future Islands, Jessica Pratt, Laura Marling, Mac DeMarco, Ought, Sleaford Mods, Sufjan Stevens, War on Drugs

Tickets and line-up highlights:  http://endoftheroadfestival.com
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NEXT WEEK: 10 BEST EUROPEAN FESTIVALS

Read our selection of 10 BEST METROPOLITAN FESTIVALS here.

Photo credit: Simon Godley

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