Gone are the days when festivals were only for the hardiest of music lovers – those willing to endure soggy chips, reeking Portaloos and their tent sailing away on a sea of mud. Nowadays you’re more likely to snack on a wild venison burger washed down with organic cider, and bed down in a yurt.
In her new book, 6Music DJ Edith Bowman devotes each chapter to a favourite. She’s no fair-weather festival-goer – “I grew up in Scotland! I’m used to swimming in the North Sea in summer and thinking it’s tropical” – but admits she’s a “glamper” these days. “I haven’t camped in a tent for ages because there are so many glamping options now. Yurts, teepees, camper vans, gypsy caravans…”
This summer, you’ll find comedians, poets, magicians and cabaret artists as well as bands entertaining the crowds, and many festivals are family friendly. Bowman’s six-year-old son Rudy has already been to Glastonbury four times.
So what’s her golden rule for novices? “Pace yourself. I’ve made the error of going through the running order with a highlighter pen. You get more out of it by stepping into the unknown – by letting the festival guide you.”
Her other top tips: stock up on wet wipes, wear layers, and pack a hot water bottle – “There’s nothing like a home comfort in the middle of a field.”
“Latitude was one of the first festivals to offer comedy, film, literature, theatre and dance as well as music. The guy who started it, Melvin Benn, is very honest about the fact that he set it up for selfish reasons: he wanted to go to a festival that catered for his interests. It’s lovely to be able to take a break from the bands and just wander around letting your ears guide you – and perhaps stumbling upon an amazing performance of poetry, or a screenwriter discussing their new film. “The site is beautiful – the backdrop to the Lake Stage is water. I remember last year getting a little boat across part of the site to see a singer called Kwabs playing on a little stage in the woods. One year they had a performance of Swan Lake on a stage on the lake and so many people went to watch it the bridge almost broke!”
“Green Man has the ethos of early Glastonbury with one important difference: the food and drink is amazing. There’s a beer festival within the main festival, with a ridiculous number of ales on offer. And local produce is really championed. In fact, the whole thing is about celebrating the area and they really encourage locals to get involved. The music tends towards the indie so this year’s headliners are Super Furry Animals, St Vincent and Hot Chip. It’s got a great family vibe as well.”
“Festival Number 6 is a newcomer on the scene – this year’s will be the fourth. It boasts the most surreal, brilliant setting: an Italianate village in Wales, probably best known as The Village in the 60s TV series The Prisoner. I’d describe the line-up as like a 6Music playlist: from Grace Jones to DJs to poet-turned-rapper Kate Tempest, and not forgetting Welsh-language bands and of course a male voice choir! Then there’s poetry, street theatre, talks in the town hall, a champagne and oyster bar in the gardens… It’s Latitude, but more boutique. It’s especially good for glampers because you can stay in hotels or cottages in the town.”
“Bestival feels like you’re at a larger-than-life house party thrown by DJ and record producer Rob da Bank, who co-founded the festival. The location is fantastic: it’s in this massive adventure park so it has all these weird and wonderful areas with climbing frames and toboggan rides. It’s kind of like going to a huge Mardi Gras carnival because there’s a different theme every year. I took Rudy for the first time last year when the theme was Desert Island Disco, so we both wore glitter capes with our names on them. Behind the main stage they had the biggest glitter ball in the world as an art installation. A gang of us are going to Camp Bestival this year, which is Bestival’s little sister – it’s in Dorset and specifically for families.”
Best for friendly hippies… and mud: Glastonbury (Somerset) “I could have written a whole book on Glastonbury! It’s a festival like no other. It’s enormous, for a start. It’s impossible to scratch the surface even after a whole weekend of exploring. I’m not really a spiritual person but there’s something about the place – some otherworldly draw. “And it’s got so much history. People are incredibly friendly there as well. For an event that’s so enormous, to still feel really personal is an amazing achievement. “The first year I went was one of the famously muddy ones: you had people in canoes floating by. My now husband [Tom Smith, the lead singer of Editors] and I had left it to our friends to set up our tent because I was working and Tom was playing. “Our friends forgot one small but crucial piece: the cap that seals the top. So we woke to find half a metre of water about to rush into our sleeping bags. ‘Don’t move! Don’t move!’ As if it were a tarantula. The mud is part of the experience. Everyone – pardon the pun – just mucks in.”
To order Edith Bowman’s Great British Music Festivals for £14.99 (RRP £16.99) including p&p, call RT Bookshop on 01326 555752 or order here.