IF YOU’D gone down to the woods last weekend, you’d have been sure of a big surprise.
For, joining the squirrels, kites and furry critters in the Chilterns, south of Wallingford, were 1,000 grinning festival-goers, musicians and craftspeople – all getting down to a weekend of fun on the land. Yep, Wood!
The charm of Wood hits you before you even get there. Dumping the car in a field, you approach the site, appropriately enough, along a lovely trail through the woods.
It’s mystical and magical, and you almost expect to see Hansel and Gretel skipping along with you. And things only get better when you arrive on the intimate site – with its woodsmoke, tipis, thatched shelters and wooden, moss-roofed stage.
There can be no friendlier festival anywhere; everyone, and I mean everyone, is smiling.
Of course the music is great – how can it not, with the likes of the adrenaline-fuelled fiddle and squeezebox masters Spiers & Boden; heartbreaking singer songwriter Karine Polwart, and the heartwarming Danny the Champ - but that is only part of it.
While many events are just outdoor gigs, Wood, a spin-off of the larger Truck Festival, which takes place in Steventon in July, is a proper festival – more reminiscent of the ‘hippy convoy’ free festivals of the 80s and 90s than the corporate creations that pass for festies now.
Woodcarvers hack away, while beaming party people dance, sing and take part in workshops – learning how to knit, crochet and make funky little purses out of drinks cartons.
Sticking to a strict ‘green’ ethos, the site is powered by a combination of solar and bicycle power (yes, the third stage has a bank of bikes, with energetic volunteers taking it in turn to generate juice). And the music reflects the eco-vibe, with the emphasis on acoustica, singer-songwriting fare, and folk-rock – but also enlivened by indie rock (Britpoppers Dodgy, and sublime soundscape merchants Jonquil) and world rhythms (Witney/ Senegal’s Jali Fili Cisshoko and gypsy fiddle players Tandara Mandara).
All in all then, it was a joyous weekend – and the perfect way to gently ease yourself into the festival season. But there was a serious lesson to be learnt from what brothers Joe and Robin Bennett (and sister Katie) have achieved here. Festival going has become an indulgence, and to anyone who cares about the environment, the big events represents a full-on assault on the land - as well as drinking up huge amounts of energy and turning rural roads into polluted, congested jams more reminscent of city centres at rush hour. They are also over-priced, wasteful, smelly and, I'm sorry to say, tacky consumerist circuses, where the only pleasure to be had - otherthan getting slaughtered on overpriced booze, is to tick off bands from a mental shopping list. Wood is different. It has broken the mould. The Bennets have shown that festivals can be small, sustainable, green, friendly, cheap and fun - and still offer world-class music. For that, chaps, we salute you!