The main stage at Bearded Theory festival 2024
Credit: Julia Mason

FESTIVAL REPORT: Bearded Theory 2024

When: 23rd – 26th May 2024

Where: Catton Park, Walton-On-Trent, South Derbyshire, England

Bearded Theory festival may have opened its 15th edition in the rain, but that did not deter organisers, artists, staff and festival goers from embracing the weather and simply making sure everyone had a fabulous weekend. Yes there was mud, and yes there was a request across social media to delay arrival, but the festival officially began on Friday 24 May, and still had artists playing on not only the Thursday but the Wednesday too. There was gratitude for the information updates as people headed to Catton Hall and an appreciation for staff onsite who were dealing with muddy car parks and campsites.

As a first timer at Bearded Theory the initial thing that struck home was how much smaller it was than expected. The capacity is 10,000 with a main stage plus the open sided Meadow Tent, the Convoy Cabaret tent, plus a new addition for 2024, the CODA dance tent, being the main music sites. It was stress free to move between the music areas and very small, if any, queues for toilets or bars.

The main stage on Thursday opened with the drum ensemble Drum Machine, their beats pulsating out over the site. They were followed by festival favourites Tarantism celebrating their 30th anniversary. A folk-punk dance collective whose name is derived from “a psychological illness characterised by an extreme impulse to dance, prevalent in southern Italy from the 15th to the 17th century, and widely believed at the time to be caused by the bite of a tarantula“. 7-piece Australian metal band Battlesnake followed, all dressed as druids and ready to set the place on fire! Dublin quartet Sprints were moved onto the main stage and demonstrated they can hold their own, showing just why they sold out their recent UK & Ireland, EU and US tours. The main stage closed out with Soft Play fka Slaves and this was a theme of Bearded Theory, giving artists the opportunity to play on much bigger stages than they would perhaps expect.

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And so to the first official day. The rain held off and wellies and boots were the footwear of choice. Hot Wax opened the main stage at 12 noon, a treat to see such a quality band so early in the day. Irish singer songwriter Meryl Streek wowed the crowds at Woodlands, his direct tirade at corruption still having a startling impact in an afternoon set. Gen and the Degenerates in Convoy Cabaret and Lambrini Girls in The Meadow followed and another utter joy of Bearded Theory was becoming clear, its gender diversity. Band of the day was Bob Vylan who brought the girls to the front half way through their set. The bouncing energy and freedom to dance with complete strangers is a memory that will live long. Also caught sets by Doss, bis, His Lordship, Ist Ist and Therapy? What an eclectic mix of music.

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Day 2 and the sun came out! This was festival heaven. Only in the UK do you need wellies and sun cream on the same day! Saturday turned out to be packed with a bucket load of bands I hadn’t seen before. The Meffs opened The Meadow at noon and no matter the time, the moshing started. Wargasm on the main stage were almost upstaged by a moshing dinosaur. And Jim Bob held the crowd in the palm of his hand including Carter USM favourites and even a cover of Dexys‘Geno’ a nod to their set the night before. And herein lies one of my “complaints” about Bearded Theory, such was the quality of the programming clashes were inevitable and sets were missed. The Menstrual Cramps clashed with Sleaford Mods and as I’d never seen the former that was my pick. They had led The Great Escape boycott due to the sponsorship by Barclays and I wanted to see more by this band who took a stand. I wasn’t disappointed. I also saw a few bands in Convoy Cabaret which proved to be a hotbed of ska punk on the Saturday. Day 2 ended with Jane’s Addiction on the main stage which pulled in the crowds.

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Inevitably there were clashes and it has to be a said a few surprising decisions on who played the main stage compared to the smaller stage, but these are small, inevitable festival quibbles. The different areas of the site had their individual vibes. There was the quiet Earth field with its Healing heaven, Craft corner and tents offering yoga and massage. This is a child friendly festival with fairgrounds and even a kids rave area! Add in the Maui Waui, and The Something Else Tea Tent (who only released their schedules on the day) and this really is a festival for everyone.

The last day started damp due to early morning rains but the weather gods were kind as this didn’t last. The line-up was strong with memorable moments including moshing and bubbles at Problem Patterns at noon, Bodega on the main stage, Big Special storming Woodlands, the whole Meadow dancing to The Orb and one heck of a closing set by Amyl and the Sniffers. This was the perfect close to Bearded Theory, an exhilarating set by an icon of our times. Appealing to all ages I was surrounded by women who were buzzing to see Amy Taylor whizz through a set which never stopped to take a breath. Fireworks shot out behind the main stage towards the end. What a thrilling end.

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An addition to this years festival was Coda, a dance tent which pulled in a high quality of artists including DJ sets from Orbital, 808 State, Utah Saints, Leeroy Thornhill (ex-Prodigy), The Orb and Bez’s Acid House, to name but a few. There was dancing everywhere across the Bearded Theory site not only by the iconic Big Ed and its outdoor space with different music genres but even on a corner where there was a mini foam party – yes I danced along to Donna Summer and Bananarama while making my way to the bar!

This festival was a joyous affair in the Derbyshire countryside. No rigid security with the staff working with festival goers rather than against them to have a good time, even when moshing started. This extended to bar staff who were all so upbeat and friendly. Very little litter, partly due to the reusable pint cups. This meant I used one for the duration of the festival – just think how much that saved across the days. With info and advice for campers and cars on how to get in and off the site, including help if vehicles got stuck – the whole ethos of this festival was perfect. It felt like the Glastonbury of 30 years ago.

What will I take away from Bearded Theory festival 2024? Bubbles, very few queues for toilets and bars, easy to move between stages, smiling faces, gratitude for correct footwear, stomping through mud becoming normal, utter joy on faces when seeing their favourite bands, leaving reality at the gate, moshing dinosaur, and evidence of widespread Tarantism.

Photo credits: Julia Mason

For more information on Bearded Theory please check their website and facebook.

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