Roaring from the campsite to the main stage, you take a swig from a friend’s hip flask before the two of you notice that – uh oh – that group over there have the same fancy dress on. Briefly stop, have a chat, compare outfits – then form a lifelong friendship or two. And then onwards, into the night.
Festivals have for thousands of years acted as cultural glue, binding us together over music, arts and food and drink in safe spaces where we can bombastically celebrate life. We don’t have to worry about trains, buses, or getting home – we can fall into a tent to sleep (with or without a festival dalliance to cosy up with in our sleeping bag.)
While a handful of lucky festivals went ahead last year, silence loomed over many fields these past 24 months as lockdowns hit – fields that should have been filled by glorious rackets from electric guitars, drunk punters and chefs cooking up fine food (it isn’t all just music, you know).
But as we approach what we’re hoping will be the first summer of normality since 2019, UK festival runners are realising there’s an opportunity for change. Whether by expanding their offerings, bringing back old favourite events or birthing new festivals, 2022 is an exciting time to be spending the summer in a field.
“We’ve really crammed the line-up full this year,” says Keith Miller, founder of Wide Awake festival taking place in Brockwell Park from 27-28 May.
Wide Awake is one of a cohort of festivals upping the anti in a bid to stand out in a crowded festival market in the first proper year post C-word. They’ve expanded to a two-day event for the first time and they aren’t alone. Another London festival, Gala, 2 – 4 June, has gone three-day, and LGBTQ festival Mighty Hoopla, 3 – 4 June, also runs over two days for the first time. “There are so many bands that haven’t had a chance to play, so many new DJs that have got music out, let’s try and get the industry going,” adds Miller.
Festival die-hards may be most excited by the return of Secret Garden Party on 21 – 24 July this year. Launched in 2003 as an antidote to the music-focussed festivals, SGP offered something different – immersive art installations, 2am worse-for-wear punt trips across a pitch-black lake and, one year, a fake portaloo door led into a field of sunflowers where punters could run free.
After bowing out of the festival scene permanently in 2017, they promised never to return – but the pandemic seems to have changed their fortune. “That’s nostalgia,” says Miller, commenting on SGP’s return. “After having two years off, there’s an appetite for people just wanting to have a really fun time.”
On the opposite side of the coin, Risen is a brand new festival for 2022. Taking place on 9 April and staged in venues across Hackney Wick, founders Kitty Bartlett and Alice Franklin are taking things further, not only championing new artists who were holed up due to Covid but a wholly non-male line-up of women and gender diverse people. “We have some people doing their first ever festival sets, which is really exciting,” says Bartlett. “It’s actually given us more room to be creative with the line-up, instead of just going and booking your [famous techno DJ] Blessed Madonna’s, etcetera…”
“We’ve focused on and championed our UK scene around us,” says Franklin. “International restrictions give us more of an opportunity to do that.”
The return of the world’s best festival, Glastonbury (taking place 22 – 26 June) for the first time in three years is the biggest news, but if you haven’t got tickets for that – who has? – then get in line for equally creative efforts elsewhere. Boomtown, running from 10 – 14 August, takes a more experimental, immersive approach to the punter experience than Glastonbury: expect to be dragged away from your friends by a Boomtown ‘resident’ festooned with barmy clothes and hauled behind a secret doorway to experience some weird offbeat cabaret experience. Standing by a main stage and waiting for a famous band to come on this is not.
In fact, for the first time ever – are you sensing a trend here? – Boomtown is exploiting the chance to do things differently by not announcing their music line-up until days before the event, taking the emphasis away from big acts and onto the broader experience on site.
If being accosted by actors sounds more like hell than hedonism, try Bigfoot, which had its first year last year and, remarkably, was also the first music festival to welcome campers back since before, yep, before that whole saga. “We launched with social distancing being the name of the game” says Greg Wells of Bigfoot, which this year takes place 17 – 19 June. “Now we can build Bigfoot as we envisaged. Our new site is perfect, centred around a lake and forest, and means we can entwine music, brewery festival taprooms, and food around all the camping.”
Casting his mind back to the inaugural festival last year Wells adds: “The joy and emotion was intense – we are social animals and what better way to forget lockdowns than the world’s first craft beer music festival?”
We’ll drink to that.
Fancy music festivals to book for a luxurious experience
Adam Handling, Will Devlin and Niklas Ekstedt are three of the Michelin-starred chefs cooking at Wilderness festival in Oxfordshire this year, which takes lavish banquet festing just as seriously as its music programming. Best book the dining experiences ahead of time, or face the risk of David Cameron – remember when he was pictured here? – nabbing the last seat before you.
A bit like Wilderness but up north in Lincolnshire, Lost Village has an impressive gastronomic line-up and the chefs are cooking around a lovely lake at one end of the festival site. Again, book ahead, and make sure to pop into the offbeat circus and cabaret area to feel like you’ve stepped back in time to entertainment’s past.
There’s a dog show at this beautiful Hertfordshire festival, which is particularly focussed around families. It’s the UK’s only festival with a heated swimming pool too (!) – but don’t worry, the nightlife makes just as big a splash on the line-up.