ONCE upon a time, in a distant field, a group of like-minded music-lovers hit upon the idea of heading out into the countryside, sleeping under the stars, listening to each other’s tunes, and unwinding in the arms of mother nature.
And thus, the first music festival was born – and has never been more popular, with hundreds of thousands of us traipsing out into the sticks for a short fix of al fresco entertainment.
But things aren’t what they used to be. Charging extortionate prices, most festies today are crowded industrialised corporate affairs run by large companies, ringed with fencing, policed and licensed to the hilt, boasting over-hyped mass market line-ups and aimed solidly at making cash. Sigh! As much as we love a good party, don’t you sometimes just hanker for those mythical days of wholesome no-frills uncorporate rural partying?
Well, guess what… as you might have gathered by now, you can. And right here on your doorstep, courtesy of Oxfordshire’s most wholesome festival.
The bash is called Wood. And that pretty much sums it up.
A coming together of about 1,000 musicians, dancers, party-goers, artists and assorted free spirits, it graces a lovely site usually inhabited only by sheep, hedgehogs and the odd weasel, at Braziers Park, on the fringe of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, close to Wallingford.
Set up by the same crew behind the annual Truck Festival, a few miles away in Steventon, Wood, which takes place from May 15-17, is unique among festivals in that it aims to be entirely carbon neutral.
That means it is sustainable, environmentally-friendly and creates most of its own energy.
The whole thing, now in its second year, is run by multi-instrumentalist, environmentalist and arch-woodsman Joe Bennett, with his brother, fellow artist Robin, both pictured.
“Wood is a festival for the future,” Joe says. “It is inclusive of all ages and tastes and aims to have next-to-no carbon footprint.”
So the stage is purpose-built of wood, and everything is locally and ethically sourced.
The main stage is solar powered, the food and drink is local and organic, the showers are heated by a wood-burning stove, bio-diesel is used wherever possible, and people relieve themselves in composting toilets. Oh, and like the name suggests, pretty much everything is made of wood.
Joe adds: “We have a bicycle-powered tent, which is also used for showing films and for a late night disco.”
Bike power? But what if no one can be bothered to pedal?
“You’d be surprised,” he goes on. “There’s never a shortage of volunteers. Between eight and 10 people can power the whole thing – or three or four highly-toned athletes.
“And people seem to have a lot of energy – especially for the disco. There’s nothing like a bit of upbeat music to keep you going!”
And if that’s not enough cycling for you, Joe and Robin are challenging festival-goers to join an organised ride to Wood from Oxford. “It’s a great ride,” he adds. “And anyone getting here on the ride gets a free pint when they arrive.”
Of course, it’s the music that’s the major draw. And this year’s line-up is a delight to anyone who loves their tunes acoustic and low-fi. Highlights include folk-rock duo Spiers & Boden, Brakes, Danny the Champion of the World, Karine Polwart, Stornoway and Jonquil.
There are also a few surprises – such as Meic Stevens – a hugely important, though enigmatic, musician, described as the Welsh Bob Dylan, who was a massive formative influence on the likes of Super Furry Animals.
“The music is more acoustically-minded than Truck,” says Joe. “We have about 35 acts, with everything from well-known bands like Dodgy and Brake, to local Morris dancers, and even a very talented 11 year-old boy.”
“It’s a great festival. There’s an awful lot of fun and a wonderful atmosphere. We are not doing stuff for the sake of it. It is very personal and completely un-corporate. We really believe in it. If not we wouldn’t be doing it.
“It’s festival going as it used to be!”