‘You must be mad’ I tell myself as I buckled my three children into the car and pulled away on route to Camp Bestival. This would be our first music festival as a family, and to say we had concerns would be an understatement. My wife and I shared some concerns, the most pressing, what if we lose our youngest son, he’s only 18 months old and doesn’t walk but runs everywhere. We also had less important but conflicting concerns, my wife worried we hadn’t packed enough, I worried we’d packed too much. But with a do or die attitude we set off into the unknown to learn if it is possible to enjoy a festival with three children aged 11, 8, and 18 months.
Our chosen festival on which to embark was the award winning Camp Bestival, who encourage families with a generous line up of youthful entertainment. As we pulled into the car park we were comforted to see that the walk from the car park to the campsite wasn’t far. As we loaded the pull-along-trolley (which could be easily rented on site) my wife was keen to point out the hordes of festival goers who had packed twice as much as us.
We had arrived on Thursday, once our tent was pitched we took a stroll into the main festival arena. The festival had not officially open but there were a few things to see and do. We used this time to familiarize ourselves with the festival whilst it was reasonably quiet. We devise a plan with our two eldest children (11 and 8 years) should they get lost. We agreed that should we get separated from each other we would all make our way to an agreed memorable location to regroup. We decided upon the outlandish observatory which could be easily seen and was in a central location. At different times during the weekend I would ask my children “how would you get the the observatory from here?” this was an attempt to drum into them its location. Unfortunately our 18 month old child does not comply with such logic, so we had to take a different tact with him. The festival offer wristbands, parents write their mobile phone number on and attached to their child’s wrist. Should the child get lost their parents can be easily contacted. However this largely relies on each child wearing their wristband and not taking it off. We decided that as an extra precaution we would write our mobile phone number in pen on our son’s arm as he would not be able to remove this.
Friday morning soon came and we all woke with excitement to enjoy some live music. But first we had to prepare breakfast, festivals are expensive at the best of times let alone when there are five mouths to feed, we had to be thrifty. After our makeshift breakfast, we each packed a small bag with a few supplies including a water bottle which could be refiled on site, biscuits, crisps and a piece of fruit. Having each family member pack and carry their own bag not only lightened our load but also meant our children need not pester us for anything, they could drink and eat at their own convenience. We spent the early part of the day exploring the festival before we settled by the main stage to hear the vintage stylings of Kitty, Daisy and Lewis. Despite the trio playing an enjoyable set I found myself getting irritated. This was down to the chitchat from the audience which overwhelmed the music. Young children just can’t sit still, they constantly fidget and talk. I was left feeling we had chosen the wrong festival as this seemed to be a festival for children rather than a festival that welcome children. However later that same day we reluctantly returned to the main stage to see Public Service Broadcasting a duo who integrate old public information films with live music. The main stage now was a more enjoyable place to be, the audience were now fully engaged with the music. I later learnt that the reason for my earlier frustration could be blamed on the anticipated arrival of Horrible Histories who were due to following Kitty, Daisy and Lewis. I now relaxed and started to enjoy this family festival. The main stage proved to be be full of surprises over the weekend, none more so than Sunday afternoon when modern folk singer Beans On Toast performed songs of sex, drugs and politics to a family audience. This was my festival highlight, I admire any festival that is prepared to put a solo musician on the main stage. I also admire Camp Bestival for taking a risk and scheduling this controversial songwriter . But mostly I admire Beans On Toast’s set, his songs and witt engaging the audience. He invited children from a workshop he had hosted earlier in the festival on stage to perform with him. He also left the stage to perform two songs amongst the audience.
But festivals are not all about the main stage, when I attend a festival without my family I like to try and find new music on some of the smaller stages. I saw no reason why this should be any different when with my family. Therefore we would spend a large amount of our time walking from one stage to the next. I was truly surprised how willing my children were to do this, they just like my wife and I, were excited to see what would be at the next stage too. So as a big happy family we toured the festival with an ear to the ground trying to find something a little bit special. And boy did we strike gold! Kawa Musical Circus, a collective of multi talented musicians, dancers, and acrobats performing music and other forms of performing arts from the North of India. It was a spellbinding show which we all enjoyed together.
It is safe to say that our family festival experience was a success. We proved that although festivaling with ones family is certainly a different experience, it is no less enjoyable than when attending without children. A festival is a great way to remind oneself that we are not divided as adults and children but united as humans, enjoying the same things. All people young and old all have a mutual love for music. We as a family have promised ourselves another family festival next year. But will we revisit Camp Bestival? I have no doubt that as a first time ‘festival family’ we chose the perfect festival. Camp Bestival is attended almost exclusively by families, this gave us peace of mind knowing people would be tolerant towards our children. It offered an astonishing amount of children's entertainment which was well received but this did dilute the musical feast I crave. So next year our inquisitive minds will take us to a different festival, only then will will know for sure if Camp Bestival is truly the greatest family show on earth.