As it reaches its 20th anniversary, Tim Hughes previews this year’s Truck Festival – an event which promises to be the biggest and best in its history

THE stage is set, the bar is stocked and hundred of artists are ready to rock up and play at Oxfordshire's best-loved festival of new music.

After a year of planning, Truck Festival throws open its gates tomorrow as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Music-lovers heading to the usually bucolic rolling acres of Hill Farm, Steventon, will be treated to its biggest and best line-up yet, with headline sets by Glaswegian art-rock act Franz Ferdinand tomorrow night, rock & roll bad boy Peter Doherty and The Libertines on Saturday and platinum-selling west London garage-rockers The Vaccines on Sunday.

Other notable names include the actor Idris Elba showing off his DJ skills, The Wombats, Slaves, Maximo Park, Nothing But Thieves, Hot 8 Brass Band, Twin Atlantic, Loyle Carner, Jagwar Ma, Red Faces, and Reading's Sundara Karma.

Also making an appearance on a ridiculously eclectic bill are Deaf Havana, Hinds, The Moonlandingz, Pulled Apart by Horses, Jamie Lenman, The Big Moon, Honey Blood, Zak Abel, Pumarosa, Arcane Roots, Dream Wife and The Dreaming Spires – the band set up by Truck Festival founders Robin and Joe Bennett, who founded the festival in 1998.

"This is by far the best line-up by far and this is going to be the biggest and best Truck ever," says festival director Matt Harrap.

"I'm very excited. This line-up ticks most boxes. It's unbelievable, and it shows how much the festival is being taken seriously. I'm pretty stoked."

Tomorrow's set by Idris Elba is perhaps the most interesting booking.

The star of gritty TV shows The Wire and Luther, is also known for his parts in movies American Gangster, Thor, Prometheus, Pacific Rim and Star Trek Beyond, while his voice will be familiar to anyone who has seen Zootopia, The Jungle Book or Finding Dory. Yet the Hackney-born, Golden Globe-winning actor is also a respectable hip-hop and soul artist, DJing under the names DJ Big Driis.

The festival has long since sold out.

Matt says: “Truck Festival has grown from strength to strength since 1998 and, going into our 20th year, we were delighted to have sold out so early.

"It’s testament to this truly fantastic festival and our loyal supporters who have been so important to us through the years. We can’t wait for it to begin now. We’re looking forward to giving our guests the weekend of their lives.”

Truck Festival was founded by brothers Robin and Joe Bennett, from Steventon, initially as a birthday celebration for Robin.

They built it up from a gathering of friends with a handful of local bands to a national player, staging artists of the calibre of Supergrass, Foals, Mercury Rev, The Mystery Jets, The Charlatans, The Lemonheads, Biffy Clyro and Radiohead's Philip Selway.

The brothers handed over control of the festival to Matt and the team for the 2012 event after running into financial difficulties, they remain involved, Robin programming The Saloon stage and Joe curating the Veterans and Virgins stage.

The pair also run Truck’s environmentally-friendly sister event Wood Festival.

“It is great that Truck’s still going and has kept growing,” says Robin, who is looking forward to returning to the main stage with Joe for a Dreaming Spires set on Sunday afternoon.

“There are so many more people now but the core audience is still the same – late teens and early-20s. The guys running it now have kept it fresh, which is great. But there are still plenty of the original Truckers at our stages and, along with the big headliners, lots of Oxford bands. It’s the best of all worlds.

"It still means a lot to a lot of people."

One of the busiest people will be farmer Alan Binning, who keeps 300 head of beef cattle on the farm, but who has spent weeks making it festival-ready.

"Life is full of challenges, but we are ready," he says. "The festival has been held on the farm for 20 years and we have got used to knowing what's expected by the organisers.

"It's an opportunity to be able to allow people who wouldn't normally be able to spend a weekend on a farm to do that – and to see (and smell!) some of the cattle.

"It started out as a gig for a few mates to celebrate Robin's birthday, but while it has developed from there, it retains much of its original atmosphere, and is much less commercial than most festivals."

As well as hosting the festival, Mr Binning, 78, spends the weekend cooking chips and burgers with fellow members of Didcot Rotary Club – just one of a number of good causes who raise money at Truck.

"The main reason for holding the event is lots of money is raised by charity food outlets," he says.

"We give a good variety of food at good value, along with other people, like the church who are selling smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, and ice cream. We are all geared up for it and get a tremendous feelgood factor.

"Though there is a sense of relief when I see the last person leave at the end."

Branching out from its rocking roots, Truck even hosts a performance by The Oxford Symphony Orchestra.

"We are Oxford's leading non-professional orchestra specialising in large-scale masterpieces some of which are rarely, if ever, heard in Oxford," says the orchestra's Grace Lane.

"As a new venture we are excited to be performing at this year's Truck Festival – especially as its the first time a symphony orchestra has been asked to play at the festival."

Matt says he is looking forward to seeing as many bands as possible, though admits it will be a busy weekend.

"The festival's popularity shows the hunger for good music in Oxfordshire," he says. "Truck festival is still very cool. It's ridiculously small, compared to most – but it is competitive, does things well and is a nice experience for all.

"It is still at heart a purists' festival and takes pride pushing new artists – of whom there are many."