After the kind of summer weather every festival-goer longs for, everyone with a ticket to the last big party of the summer was ready for one final frivolity session before the leaves start dropping. Even the long-seen clouds and intermittent heavy rain seemed unable to dampen the mood.
Although Bestival now falls under the ‘big’ festival category, it clearly hasn’t forgotten its boutique beginnings, the myriad of stages, sets, tents, fairground rides and performances are all set within several fields and are so spaced out that one can wander about what feels like many mini-festivals in one.
After a brutal 4am wakeup for a crossing on the most expensive ferry in the world, we stumbled into Bestival’s site a little bleary eyed, but the incredible décor and beautiful setting of Robin Hill country park soon shook the sleep from our eyes. The ever-present fairyland theme continued to amaze (this is not my first Besti), the visual delights almost outweigh the music for me as does the eclectic mix of people who take their chance to dress-up more than a little seriously.
Since it began in 2004, Bestival has been able to blend a perfect concoction of mainstream acts with up and coming and slightly left-field artists, and this year was no exception. I was lucky enough to get a press ticket this year and despite this, found myself struggling to name more than a handful of people skulking around the artists bar. But little did this matter; in fact I prefer the spontaneity of stumbling across unknown bands from across the musical spectrum, rather than always seeing the crowd-pulling headliners time-after-time.
The weekend got off to a wonderful start, after a short nap, our first visit was to the Replay tent to see acoustic-cutie Lewis Watson in his early evening set, his mellow tones and deliciously humble manner made his repertoire the perfect accompaniment to a cold cider and the beautiful sunset. The highlight of Friday had to be the epic FatBoy Slim, his headlining hour and a half set drew in well over half the attendees, and his classic beats certainly kick-started the hedonistic vein of the weekend.
As with most modern music festivals, there is so much more than music, and as a self-confessed culture-vulture I was keen to explore the hidden magic of Bestival: the Ambient Forest hosted excellent poetry and storytelling, the highlight being Scroobius Pip and his spoken word – perfect if your hangover just can’t stand a baseline. The cheery WI ladies offer delicious tea and cake at recession friendly prices, meaning the eclectic jewellery stands I simply couldn’t resist a purchase from were eased from guilt a little.
The Saturday night for me belonged to Simian Mobile Disco: their 3.15am set drawing in a mix of all-night ravers, hangers on and weird and wonderful creatures in their nautical attire (HMS Bestival was this year’s theme), Bestival’s dancefloor roots shone through in the Big Top tent, which was packed and heaving until the early hours.
Throw into all this mix the most wonderful selection of food this side of the Spinnacker Tower, with the finest ethically sourced dishes, as well as an assortment of vegetarian, international and quintessentially English caterers and the presence of Elton John and Chic almost seems redundant. Luckily we got them anyway.
By his own admission Elton John hasn’t played at a British music festival since 1969, his presence on this island is only because ‘he heard it was a good one’. With over forty years of musical experience behind him, he certainly knew how to draw the squashed-in, slightly damp revellers out of their day-three-weariness and celebrate the end of the summer in style. Although we were only able to stay for the beginning of the set (our boat departed that evening), his mix of eccentricity and spine-tingling classic tunes certainly made it a difficult stage to walk away from; as was Bestival and the glorious summer of 2013.
Bestival maybe older and more mature, celebrating its 10th birthday this year, but it still delivers a fabulous end of summer party and exceptional entertainment for all.