Boomtown 2016 Review

A festival of EPIC proportions!

BoomTown will blow your mind and transport you back to the magical make-believe world of childhood.

Boomtown festival night

The theme of total chaos starts before you even enter the sprawling world of BoomTown. None of the staff has a clue what is going on or where anything is. Nobody has a map, and the elusive ‘family camping’ seems somewhat of an inside joke when you ask for directions. A slightly worrying start with two little ones in tow…

Many of the staff we came across on the way into BoomTown looked like they’d already done a full weekend of heavy partying. The organisation of getting people on site was pretty painful. We passed cars being torn apart by police on the main road and hours and hours of backed up traffic. All part of the city’s immersive theatre experience it seems!

If you can make it on site, manage to get wristbands, and find somewhere to camp before losing the plot, you have passed the test. You are officially a BoomTowner and may begin this wondrous journey of non-stop madness.

And so it begins…

BoomTown 2016 Family

We had to jump several bizarrely shaped hoops to find a spot to park our van. Eventually we ended up on the edge of KidzTown right next to accessible camping UpTown. We’d arrived on site after several hours of traffic at around 6pm on Thursday and were told that family camping was full. This seemed strange as of the 60,000 guests I’d say less than 1,000 are kids.  BoomTown is huge and split up into districts laid out like a small city. It’s almost impossible to sum the festival up as the areas are so totally different.

As usual, we’d done some research and asked friends about their experience of this ever growing metropolis with kids. Many had warned us off even considering BoomTown with little ones. But thanks to a few who gave us tips on where to camp and when to avoid what we felt prepared. Like most festivals, BoomTown has many sides to it. Although we’d heard reports of large numbers of teenagers smashed on drugs, this was not our experience at all.

According to the kids ‘Boomtown is the best festival in the world!’

Boomtown

DownTown

The BoomTown website states that under 16’s are not allowed DownTown after 7pm. We’ll, we like to break the rules, and you know when someone tells you not to do something, all you want to do is find out why. We set up camp and headed straight out with the kids to see what all the fuss is about.

The view from Whistler Green and KidzTown across the site and the thumping bass is something else. Even from way up here you see the sheer effort and dedication that the build team put in. We’ve been to lots of large events but this is a site to behold.

Bang Hai Palace lit up in all its glory and lights as far as the eye can see. The kids were so excited and I had festival butterflies like hadn’t felt in years. We literally skipped down the steep steps to discover more.

Boomtown 2016 Banghai Palace

DownTown districts are Barrio Loco, Sector 6, ChinaTown and the red light District 5 with its interesting window shopping, robot pole dancers, and the darker side of the festival. Much of the entertainment here is not family friendly but to be quite honest, the main reason I’d avoid it with kids (and as an adult), is that it is just so busy.

Reminiscent of the Glastonbury years before the proper fence went up. Thousands of people shuffle around the mind blowing sets and thumping stages at BoomTown. The kids were pretty overwhelmed with it all. They seemed more concerned about the people sleeping in tents so close to all the noise. ‘But how will they get any sleep?’ Hmmm….

boomtown district 5
We checked out DownTown early one morning while everyone was sleeping

We saw some incredible areas on Thursday evening. Although didn’t venture far into the stages as the kids were tired and I was aware that we were the only family we’d seen since arriving. They’d seen enough so we climbed the big hill back to bed.

Later on in the weekend, I met a parent who had actually been asked to leave downtown with her kids at night. It’s good to see that the rules are policed to some extent by security. The DownTown areas are really impressive but no fun for little people at night. There is so much more to BoomTown than teenage ravers and loud music.

Boomtown 2016 Trenchtown
The mighty Lions Den – TrenchTown

UpTown

UpTown is the place to be and our favourite areas of the festival had to be The Old Town, The Wild West, and Mayfair. Just like stepping onto a film set, this is a totally theatrical spectacle with strange goings on behind every door. We’ve never experienced such creativity at a festival. You really can’t help but jump right in and become part of it.

We really didn’t know where to start with our highlights from BoomTown and don’t want to spoil this inspiring journey of discovery for you if you’re thinking of attending. Here are just a few of the things we got up to when we knocked on doors and peered through windows.

Trialled in the Wild West – the kids put their dad on trial in the lawless hall of justice and he was found guilty of crimes against glitter monkeys and tidying the camper. He ended up in the stocks covered in custard pies and soaking wet.

Capturing wild animals, cream cakes, and taxidermy – my youngest helped poachers capture a rare wild beast and cage it for Mayfair’s finest boutique fur coat shop. The beast escaped and the taxidermist got very cross. Try as we did to enter the patisserie for cake, the French floozy outside couldn’t stand kids and was almost sick when she saw them, which our ten-year-old though was hilarious. We reported her to the BoomTown news desk and made the front page of the daily rag.

Pirate ship high wire, gun powder, smugglers, body parts and fireworks – The Old Town exploded when we were caught up in a pirate battle of epic proportions and a talking head tried to barter with us for our spare body parts.

Beating the banker and almost joining the revolution at the job centre – the kids earned BoomTown money performing silly tricks for Mayfair’s finest then we deposited it in the bank before visiting the Job Centre. Deemed unemployable and officially branded dole scum we tried our luck with the rich and famous again. Somehow the clerk at the bank mistook the kids for royalty, so after a few blue blood tests they were invited to meet the bank manager. Suddenly BoomTown military stormed the bank looking for the elusive resistance and all hell broke out. Bonkers!

Fortune tellers, VIP wishes, grandma’s living room, terrifying magicians and a real mouse house – every door really does hold excitement and theatre and I have already said too much. I will leave the pictures to talk for themselves.

Whistler Green

If you want to escape the non-stop madness then Whistler Green offers a peaceful festival within a festival. It’s easy to forget you are at BoomTown when you climb the hill to this calm corner of the festival and indulge in a visit to Coyote Moon or take an hour out for yoga or a workshop. Matterley Estate is a beautiful location and the hills provide some stunning views and woodland, but also a fair amount of uneven ground. This was our first year pushchair free so Whistler Green, which is located right next to KidzTown and family camping, provided a great place for a break when needed.

boomtown whistler green

The craft areas and workshops within Whistler Green are wonderful. There were plenty of have-a-go activities for a few pounds and several traditional craftspeople set up demonstrating their trades.

The kids tried some brilliant aerial circus and took time out making shrunken heads. Yoga workshops and therapists are available in the healing garden to totally relax. You can even enjoy traditional pony rides around Whistler Green.
bomtown whistler green

There is one big stage ‘The Windmill’ at Whistler Green where we enjoyed several bands from the shade of some huge trees while the kids played on the art installations.

We woke to an early morning workout with Mr Motivator himself who was genuinely moved by the responsive crowd. My only criticism of the whole festival was that this stage ended early which is probably because of noise and family camping. No big deal, just meant we walked further to enjoy later music.

It wasn’t until we got home and read through the extensive programme a bit more that we discovered there were two other hidden music stages. The Floating Lotus and the Lizard Stage in Whistler Green both listed live music later in to the night. So much to see and do – it’s so easy to miss entire areas at BoomTown.

KidzTown

Our kids loved every part of BoomTown. They aren’t fazed by big crowds and noise so we explored heaps and walked miles over the weekend. There really is so much to see and do, so we only spent an hour or two in KidzTown each morning. Even this small corner of the festival has heaps of thought and creativity put in to it. A mini BoomTown for beginners. The kids wasted no time knocking on doors, visiting the post office and try their luck at the bank. They earned BoomTown money from the rich pig banker, then spending it on glitter tattoos and henna in the tattoo parlour.

KidzTown has its own stage with performers, a circus, a covered sandpit, puppet shows, craft, workshops, curiosity corners AND a huge bouncy obstacle course where the kids are drenched in water. Considering there aren’t actually that many kids at BoomTown we were amazed at the thought that had gone in.

Special thanks to Pizza and Puppets for letting the kids make their own pizzas at the free workshop. Also to the brilliant acrobat who let Daisy on stage to take part in the gymnastic demo. Lots of fun. Also, the incredible patience of the APE project instructor who helped the kids climb to the top of a huge tree in the Forest School. Encouraging them to face their fears and jump from the top. ‘It felt like I was flying!’ – Daisy aged 10

Boomtique and the rest

Like many festivals there are glamping and other boutique options available including posh toilets and showers, hot tubs and everything you’d expect if you want to spend the extra money. We sneaked in to take a peek at uptown Boomtique and how the other half live and found lots of teenagers preening themselves and taking festival selfies.

On the whole, the toilets were good, easy to find, and what you’d expect at a festival of this size. As there are very few kids at BoomTown we rather cheekily managed to queue jump any toilet waits. I was pleased to see compost toilets across a lot of the site. It’s a messy business but someone’s got to deal with it and the various compost loo initiatives from Natural Events, Give Love and Toilet Twinning show real thought that other festivals lack.

The organisers are making considerable effort to limit and manage waste and have several initiatives in place but there is still work to be done in terms of overall eco-friendliness. I’d love to see simple things like recycling bonds and a cup deposit scheme at the bars in place in the future.

We found water points reasonably close whenever we needed one, which helped with the hot and dusty days and overheating kids. There is no doubt that this festival is busy which can be exhausting with kids so you need to go out prepared each day. There’s no nipping back to camp for a forgotten item. The hill is a killer and I take my hat off humbly to the few people we saw in wheelchairs.

bBoomtown 2016

The prices at BoomTown are kept reasonable as the festival is independent with no big sponsorship or branded stalls. A pint was £4.80 and average meal £7-8 with plenty of options.

We rarely got pestered by the kids for money as there was so much for them to discover. Other than overpriced ice cream vans we found everything reasonable. There’s also some great shopping to be done if that’s your thing.

There were a few huge and terrifying funfair rides across the site obviously aimed at brave adults. Also, a big wheel in the WildWest with great views. All the crew and traders we met were really friendly and once you are in the festival there are no annoying bag searches. We were free to take our own food and drink in for the kids so could save money where needed.

Music

With so much going on it’s easy to miss the fantastic line-up across over 100 venues. We deliberately didn’t look at who was on when and just meandered around all day discovering amazing new entertainment. The variety of music and new talent here is astonishing. You can go from gypsy folk to techno, pirate punk to big brass bands just by turning a corner.

For us, this event was about so much more than watching bands. Everyone experiences a festival is such a different way. We were so immersed in the theatre we could well have seen no music all weekend and still had a fantastic time.

Personal music highlight of the weekend was watching the sun go down over the old mines in The Wild West on Sunday. Dancing to the Dublin queen of rockabilly, Imelda May. What a show! What a perfect setting.

Imelda May

Late nights, drugs and teens

I rave on enough about how spectacular BoomTown is and the effort put into it. It really is like stepping onto a film set and becoming a difference character each day. Perhaps I’m just getting old, but we wondering how people found time to get wasted with so much awesome stuff to do.

Yes there are a lot of teenagers at Boomtown. Yes there is plenty of thumping music, and yes there is an edge. But everyone we came across was having fun, and we certainly didn’t find anyone I wanted to avoid with the kids.

Having said that, we avoided the DownTown areas after dark as advised. All weekend we only came across one casualty face down in the sand in the whimsical Psy Forest. Seemed he had overdone the rum and sun for breakfast. He was promptly checked by security then helped to a more peaceful resting place by his wobbly friends.

boomtown psy forest

We stuck to the quitter areas in the evenings. One of the best places to watch live music was the top of the hill at The Lion’s Den in Trenchtown – an incredible stage with dub and reggae. The fear of losing the kids was enough to keep them close by, but sitting well back gave space and a good view.

Is BoomTown good for teenagers?

Having been on both sides of the fence this is tricky. As a teenager, I would have absolutely loved BoomTown. I was around this age when I first discovered the magic of Glastonbury, which was a similar size back then.

There is no doubt that it’s a mind-blowing event, but there are a lot of risks open to kids this young. Boomtown organisers are making efforts to address this. Teens are now only allowed on site with a responsible adult. Which is basically anyone over 21.

As a parent, I’d probably try and discourage my own teenagers from BoomTown. I’d suggest they start with smaller, more manageable festivals first. Or at least take me with them if I was allowed!

It’s big, it’s intense, and it’s totally bonkers.

boomtown

Is BoomTown good for families?

We’ve already got it in the diary for next year!

Not for the faint hearted. But, if you’re an up for it family and like the crazy side of festivals, I’d say GO FOR IT!

Tickets go on sale 1st November.

Viva the revolution!!

By Sarah @afieldsomewhere and family. Read what 10-year-old Daisy thought of BoomTown here in her BoomTown review.

What did other families think?

We’d love your comments if you have been to BoomTown with your family before. Add your BoomTown review below.

Find out more on our BoomTown factsheet


6 thoughts on “Boomtown 2016 Review

  1. Looking at taking my 7 year old this year as she has demanded a festival and is furious I missed out on Glasto tickets again.

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