Boomtown is a 60,000 person capacity music festival held on the Matterley Estate, Winchester in August and has been running since 2009. It is described by the organisers as a pop up city of wonderment, theatre, escapism and community with eleven districts filled with a fully immersive and theatrically led experience, with hundreds of actors bringing the film-like street sets to life.
Each year a new Chapter is written that develops Boomtown’s narrative and this forms the backdrop for the immersive element of the festival. You can choose for yourself how involved you would like to get in the story and maybe take part in a secret mission for the resistance, buy stocks and shares with Boomtown money and become rich for the weekend, or just ignore this side of the festival if taking part is not really your thing.
Should the words Boomtown and Kids ever be spoken in the same sentence?
If you’ve already heard of Boomtown you may be thinking what some of our friends said to us when we announced we were going with our son. ‘You’re not really taking your three year old to Boomtown are you??!!’ Or to quote Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer who was playing on the Sandcastle Stage, Kidztown on Sunday afternoon, ‘What kind of monsters bring their children to Boomtown?!’ He was of course (mostly) joking. Boomtown does have a reputation for hard partying and a large number of the guests are under 25 so might not be the first choice for many families.
We have now experienced Boomtown as a family and can honestly say that we had a wonderful time, we felt safe, our son thoroughly enjoyed himself, we met only friendly people both staff and punters and we found that Boomtown has the capacity to be what you make of it. If a debauched weekend of late night partying is what you are after you will find it at Boomtown. If a weekend keeping your three year old entertained with arts and crafts, forest school and bouncy castles is what you are after you will also find this at Boomtown. It will also cater for anything in between these two extremes! So here goes our Boomtown 2017 family review.
Arrival and camping facilities
We were really lucky that we were not held up too much on arrival at such a big festival due to there being a separate entrance for families. We experienced minor delays due to the sheer number of vehicles arriving on Thursday for the gate opening time of midday, but it wasn’t too bad at all.
We approached the entrance and were subjected to a quick search of the van and then waved on through. We found the family campervan field to be nice and flat so easy to set up and less than half full so plenty of space for any new arrivals. There was a bit of confusion about how the van should be parked because of fire regulations (good to see this was being taken seriously after a car park fire in 2016) but the stewards were friendly and helpful and we were soon set up and ready to start exploring.
At this point we were not aware of the situation that some ticket holders had faced at other gates, queuing for hours due to searches. If we had been held up like that we would not have been able to stick out the queues with our son being so young, but luckily they seemed organised at the family entrance. We spoke to a few people who had taken an awful long time to get in to the festival due to everyone arriving at gate opening time.
We also heard of families complaining that they had not been able to pitch their tents in the family camping due to it being full. There needs to be enough space for families to all camp together as some of the other camping areas are not as suitable for children due to their close proximity to stages / loud music and to festival goers who may be up all night. Annoyingly, we did see a few campervans in the family area who were clearly not families but who had either ended up there by mistake or were drawn by the fact the family campervan field is closer than the main campervan field to the festival. Hopefully the organisers are able to address these issues for next year.
Boomtown had been subjected to a serious amount of rain the week leading up to the festival and we had been quite worried that it would make enjoying things impossible, especially with a three year old in tow but we were very lucky that the torrential rain stopped on the day of our arrival. The campervan area was all grass and not muddy at all and whilst some parts of the festival were very muddy, the staff were working incredibly hard to improve these areas with tons of wood chip being laid. The sun dried out a lot of the mud and eventually we were able to ditch the wellies and wear sandals.
There were an adequate amount of toilets within the camping area and access to showers with queues not seeming to be too bad as long as you timed your visit right. Most of the toilets in the festival were composting toilets and these were kept reasonably clean despite the muddy conditions of the first couple of days.
There was always toilet roll in each cubicle and there was plenty of hand sanitiser to use so the staff must have made regular checks to top up supplies. There were enough toilets in each district of the festival and so we never had to queue for long, in fact mostly we didn’t queue at all.
A highlight for our son were the children sized composting toilets in Kidztown with miniature doors only big enough for little ones to get through, he thought they were amazing and he loved pouring the sawdust in after he had done his business!
With every Boomtown ticket sold a refundable £10 EcoBond is added to the ticket cost. The idea is that you receive the £10 back when you hand in a bag full of waste or recycling at one of the EcoBond depots. We are not sure how many people actually take advantage of this and whether most people make the effort to fill bags full of recyclable material or whether they might just be tempted to scoop a load of rubbish from a bin and claim their tenner back. It might be better if the deposit was only relevant to a bag of specific recycling.
The Boomtown website says that separate bins for recycling were available throughout the site and were fully labelled but we didn’t see any evidence of this. It is also a shame that there was no plastic cup deposit scheme at the bars, this would have been a great way to reduce waste and encourage recycling.
Kidztown activities, activities and more activities!!
The family campervan field is located next to the two districts of the festival that we ended up frequenting the most, Whistlers Green and Kidztown. Whistlers Green is described by the organisers as ‘The mind, soul and conscience of the festival’ and includes workshops, activities, saunas, hot tubs, holistic healing fields with the Windmill Stage playing Jazz, Reggae and World fusion music and the Floating Lotus venue hosting live music and selling amazing cakes.
There was a very chilled atmosphere and it complemented its neighbouring district, Kidztown perfectly as they are both on the less hectic end of the festival spectrum. Kidztown is an area dedicated to entertaining children and their families and it is fantastic. It is not huge, which probably reflects the amount of families that attend Boomtown, but it is well organised and has so many things for kids to do. Our son Reuben absolutely loved it and would have been quite happy spending his entire weekend there, in fact he mostly did apart from when we forced him to leave so we could explore some of the rest of the festival!
Reuben took part in so many activities in Kidztown, nearly all of which were provided free of charge including a clay workshop, pizza making workshop, carnival hat and t-shirt decorating, science experiments in the science tent, getting a tattoo in the glitter tattoo parlour, riding on BMX with daddy, going on the bouncy castle and boat swings, soft play area and drumming workshop in the lazy lounge, playing with the bicycle music installation, holding reptiles in the petting zoo, taking part in the piggy bank passport challenge (role play to earn Kiddy cash to spend in Kidztown), Forest School activities including making a dragonfly, climbing on the scramble net and completing a nature scavenger hunt.
We also watched a circus performance from the children who had been learning circus skills in the Panic Circus Big Top and Reuben did some woodwork in The Rusty Workshop.
Considering there aren’t thousands of kids at Boomtown like at may other festivals the kids area has an awful lot packed in to this part of the festival. We really enjoyed catching some music on the Sandcastle stage while Ruben was entertained by everything else going on. Highlights were Mr B, Beans On Toast and the hilarious Junior Jungle.
Navigating the hills
Because all the kids’ activities were in one area which was also close to where our campervan was parked we didn’t feel that navigating all these different activities was too tiring. A lot of the site is hilly and although this means there are some great views, we found it quite tiring moving around the different districts whilst carrying a three year old and all the related paraphernalia he needs. It was great knowing that we could stay in one area if we wanted to, fully entertain our son and not have to walk up too many hills that often!
We chose not to take our pushchair with us because we knew the site would be muddy after all the rain, but we did see some families with pushchairs or wagons and they seemed to be managing ok. We did take a backpack sling though and this was invaluable for transporting Reuben when the walking got a bit too much for his little legs.
A great addition this year was a shuttle service that families and those with accessibility issues could flag down for a lift from Whistlers Green to Old Town and back. This meant that we could catch a reasonably late act at the mighty Lion’s Den in Trench Town and get back up to Kidstown easily for bed.
Boomtown has over 25 main stages and an additional 80 street venues to discover with music ranging from reggae, ska, folk, punk, drum and bass, trance, hip hop, gypsy, electro swing, garage, grime, bluegrass, jungle and techno.
We saw some big name acts play, Cypress Hill, The Specials, Frank Turner, Toots and the Maytals, MIA and Damian Marley but the majority of artists that play are non-commercial, independent acts. There are so many districts, each catering to different musical styles you are bound to find something to suit your tastes.
My personal music highlight had to be seeing the amazing Wonk Unit play in Chinatown at the Devil Kicks Dancehall which hosted some superb punk bands across the weekend. Highlight for my partner Rob was seeing one of his all time favourite hip hop bands, Cypress Hill in Trenchtown.
There were a handful of food stalls in Whistlers Green and Kidztown had a very nice stone baked pizza stall (with cheaper pizzas than other stalls in the festival) and a cafe selling cakes and toasted sandwiches etc. The rest of the festival had plenty of food options available covering pretty much every types of cuisine you could think of. Most were of decent quality and prices that you would expect from a festival, a main meal costing anywhere from £5 to £10.
On Sunday all the kids took part in a totally spectacular parade starting in Kidztown. This is a really special event and as we walked down the hill to Old Town with the dancers and characters lots of people cheered and joined the procession. All the kids really loved this and you could see there had been a huge amount of effort put in to the costumes, floats and decoration.
Boomtown is a feast for all your senses and at times it was slightly overwhelming for our three and a half year old who didn’t know where to look. Whilst Whistlers Green and Kidztown never felt overcrowded there was a much more raucous atmosphere in other areas and we sometimes needed to escape the madness by taking a quieter route around the site.
We would love to take Reuben to the festival again when he is a bit older as he could get involved in the immersive element. Friends who also attended this year with their children (aged 7 and 11) found that they were at a perfect age to enjoy role playing with some of the crazy character actors they came across. You just never know what you’ll find through the next door!
It’s really worthwhile going with friends as you then have people to enjoy the evening entertainment with. We split babysitting duties so the other person could have a decent night out, it would be such a shame to go to Boomtown and not get involved in a bit of late night partying!
The festival takes on a very different atmosphere once the sun goes down and it is good to experience this after a day spent making clay teapot houses and chaperoning the little one on his umpteenth time on the bouncy castle. Mums and Dads deserve a bit of me time too!!!
We were pleasantly surprised by how easy the whole weekend felt. We were entertained by some amazing actors, were spoilt for choice in Kidztown on activities for Reuben to take part in, were wowed by the amount of work and creativity that goes in to the backdrops and sets for the different districts and also saw some very good music.
The atmosphere was great, there was a real buzz in the air but it never felt too crazy. So many of our friends had given ‘the look’ when we said we were taking Reuben to Boomtown but we can wholeheartedly say ‘don’t knock it until you have tried it!’ We went, we enjoyed every minute and we will be back as a family in the near future.
Thanks Boomtown organisers and crew for working so hard to make this amazing City come to life for the weekend.
Steph, Rob and Reuben