In The Woods – my new favourite music festival

September 20, 2012

Maybe I’m mature and full of wisdom, or maybe I’m just grouchy and getting on a bit. Either way, the idea of a big music festival – the wonderful Glastonbury excepted – fills me with plenty of dread these days. The schlepping miles between tent and stages; the vast queues for every single food stand; the four-day marathon nature of it; the struggle to get home at the end. All those things offset the joys of a music festival, and increasingly I find my emotional balance tipping towards a negative verdict.

In The Woods is different, though. In The Woods is a paradise. In The Woods is my new favourite festival.

The details are this: it lasts for one single day, normally the first Saturday in September, with the music starting at around 3pm and finishing at 11pm, at which point the silent disco starts, and a huge pyre starts atmospherically burning. The setting is a rural corner of Kent, about an hour’s drive from London. You camp, close to your car, in a small field; the two stages are just inside a copse, with the main stage set in a natural, quarry-like bowl. It’s a beautiful location, and prettier still at night when glowing, coloured lights illuminate walkways and stages. Elsewhere you find art installations, a hog roast, a silent cinema, the requisite hippie tea tent… Only 750 lucky sods get to attend, and those attendees seem uniformly friendly and full of vim. There’s still plenty of mischief though, in the shape of hasty couplings, over-inebriation and pranks galore; this is not, happily, the over-sedate crowd found at certain family festivals. 

The music’s terrific, too, comprising upcoming bands and singers with bundles of talent. What’s most impressive to me is the variety: somehow, a festival with only 15 or so acts packs in folk, funk, rock, reggae (sort of) and all manner of other things into one long, dreamy Saturday afternoon and two stages. It’s good to see. Despite scarcely making a pound from it once travel costs are considered, bands regularly return in a sure sign of festival goodness. One annual act is Laurel Collective: permanent players for the good reason that this is their festival, one that they’ve organised for seven years now. They don’t just play: they work the breakfast stand, assist with security as everyone arrives, help out fine-tuning the stages, and so on and so on. They go to an incredible effort.

To get to In The Woods, you need to join the mailing list, and then book very quickly when tickets are released, usually in May. Lots of people return every year, so the 750 places disappear in a hurry.

As for exactly where it is.. well that would be telling. This is a secret festival, after all…

(Richard Mellor)