The Greatest Show
My first Boomtown was like a child’s first visit to the circus. Bright lights, sound, whirling colour, and with that sense of genuine excitement and adventure you feel when you have no idea what’s going to happen next.
From the moment we walked out over the wonderfully relaxed Whistlers Green to look out over the Vegas style city of Downtown I knew I was somewhere special.
Boomtown is a festival full of mini festivals, and manages to do all of these extremely well. There’s excellent live music, a buzzing late night party, theatrical adventures, large amounts of woodlands, chilled out green fields and craft workshops, and a top kids’ area.
They have simply provided one of the best all-round entertainment offers for proper festival goers. You could spend your whole festival in just one of the areas and still have a fantastic time.
Setting up and Camping
Arriving was very easy for us – as we were in the family campervan/caravan field. The stewards were excellent and showed us to the family area which we were incredibly grateful for as the regular area looked a bit crazy! The family area remained for families, and so the toilets there stayed clean. They had even added toilets for children, but the adult’s ones were so well built and clean the children didn’t mind using them anyway.
Family camping was in the best location, right next to Kidztown. However if you are camping you need to be prepared for a bit of a walk between the car park and camping.
Toilets and Showers
All toilets on the site were good quality compost ones, and they stayed clean and almost always had paper and soap. The only problem we had was the queues – they were just a bit too long for the kids so we sometimes had to ask people to let them in. They always did! There were also plenty of water taps to fill up bottles and wash hands.
The toilets in the busy areas weren’t very nice late at night but those were places you wouldn’t take the kids into anyway. The toilets in the kids’ areas and Whistlers Green stayed really clean all weekend, which was where we spent most of the time with the children.
There were hot showers in family camping which didn’t have too much of a queue as the camping was far away from the busy areas.
There’s nothing but drama at Boomtown. The stages provide incredible backdrops to the widest variety of different music you could hope for. The areas are entire worlds of completely genuinely immersive fun. So many events that say they are immersive get nowhere near.
ASK AMI – Huge Billboard as part of The Maze
Throughout the festival there is a continuing story that they call ‘The Maze’. If you approach a character and ask “Do I know you, friend” you are given some sort of clue into one of the stories.
There were many stories, quests, and secret areas – all separate but all part of the one big mystery across the weekend. Something about Bang Hai technologies creating a supercomputer called AMI, which will take everyone’s data, and we somehow had to rise up to stop it. The children became obsessed with following the clues to find out, and even asked to join the revolution.
We had nowhere near enough time to do full stories so I admit to cheating a little and blagging my way into secret areas. You can also pay Boomtown cash to bribe your way into a lot of places – which ended up our favourite method as we didn’t have time to do the quests.
The main problem for families doing quests is they tend to send you round the festival site. So with small children the distances simply become too much for them. It would be great if they could design some shorter quests for children to do – but we had excellent fun doing the little bits we managed.
People told me it was easier with the phone App, next time I go I will be sure to download that first!
Boomtown is HUGE! It’s really big. And easy to get lost. I strongly recommend printing out the map in advance.
With the wet weather causing a lot of slippery mud it became difficult for us to get around the festival with the children. I’m not sure a trolley would be great either, as the hills are steep. If you have small children I would recommend an off road style buggy.
Our children wanted to explore everything but they tired out quickly – we could only manage venturing onto the main site once a day, and for the rest of the festival we stayed in Whistlers Green and Kidztown.
The site was very well organised, with friendly stewards and staff everywhere. For such a big festival it felt extremely safe.
We took it in turns to go out late at night, which worked out well. I felt very safe even in the early hours as everywhere was well lit with plenty of stewards. One time walking home I realised someone was walking behind me and speeded up, so he called out “is this the way to the campervan field?” I think he knew but wanted to reassure me. We then chatted all the way back. I wondered if he had been given some basic tips about how to make sure lone women felt safe, and I hope more men think like this!
I have to mention this – if you have a problem with people taking drugs you probably shouldn’t go to Boomtown. It is more visible than most other festivals I have been to with the children. It was nothing hardcore and never caused us any problems, and my own view is that people drinking too much alcohol are usually the ones I need to avoid.
Personally I want to have open conversations with my children about everything. There are three reasons people overdose – they are trying to harm themselves, they were given the wrong dosage, or they took the wrong amount by mistake. The first reason needs to be treated but the other two can quite easily be prevented.
That is why they have a drugs testing service at the festival – a courageous move I thought, and one to be commended. You can tell your teenage children what not to do, but you can’t be with them all the time. Beefing up stewarding generally ruins the relaxed and friendly vibe of a festival. And more stewarding doesn’t stop it happening, just makes people more secretive and less likely to get help if they need it.
I appreciate that this is a personal decision, and understand you might not want your young children to see these things. If this is you then I advise you not to bring them, or at least keep them in the Whistlers Green and Kidztown areas.
The food was fantastic and there was so much choice that even my fussy children were happy! Pizza, fish and chips, baked potatoes and mac and cheese were top choices for the kids. For me, I was in foodie heaven and tried quite a few different things – crispy duck wraps, gorgeous curries, and my favourite pakoras from the Pakora Pod.
Meals were usually around £8-£10 and there were no children’s portions, so it did turn out a bit costly for all of us to eat out but it was good not to have to cook!
Whistlers Green and Kidztown
These are the two areas we spent the most time in. They are set up on the top of the hill, right next to family camping. The way it’s positioned means it’s safely away from the busy part of the festival and so it still managed a ‘small-festival’ feel.
Kidztown had so many different activities in quite a small space – I was impressed by how entertained it kept my children, and everything there was free. The children had their own stage, and there was even interactive theatre in a mini street.
They could visit the post office and get a passbook to fill up with stamps. Then in order to get a stamp, you had to go to the Piggy Bank and get money from the Piggy Bankers. Except the Piggy Bankers didn’t want to give you any money, and made you beg for it and then literally jump through hoops (hula hoops). Or do a dance, or generally be humiliated. It was a lot of fun.
The kids’ field even had their own radio station, and we heard rumours that some of the big stars had been interviewed there! There were free inflatables, swing boats, circus workshops, a whole science tent of activities and a place with bits of planks and metal to hammer together.
There was a sense of the festival’s artistic expression through all the kids’ activities too. Gunpowder Gertie recruited the children as crew on her ship, making them laugh and dance (and humiliating their parents) before firing her huge ‘art cannon’ at the children’s paintings. Granny Karaoke seemed to be grannies doing karaoke in a van, but I couldn’t get near it as the children were gathered round. Clapper Box cinema was a great place to spend a rainy afternoon (and we did). One child had to perform a film using objects as puppets to the other child who received the soundtrack and commentary on headphones, to very funny effect.
The weather this year was very rainy, so we were grateful for all the undercover activities. This still didn’t stop my eldest end up on the inflatables covered with shaving foam! Boomtown really was a place kids could be as silly or as sensible as they wanted to. It allowed them to explore their own boundaries.
For food there was a little café selling toasties, but best of all the wonderful Pizza and Puppets, doing pizza making workshops and giving cute puppet shows (and selling great pizza).
Woodland Tribe had a space in the woods where they were building some amazing structures. The children spent quite a while in there, they even built their own swing!
Whistlers Green was well placed right next to Kidztown, as the laid back green-field atmosphere with crafts and workshops was very child friendly. The Windmill Stage there had some great bands. They also had an area with trees, and a tyre swing. There was a tent full of chess sets which the children loved. I enjoyed walking around the community tents – it was good to see the festival support local projects. I particularly enjoyed the Resistance Exhibition, photos of 30 years of protests.
Whistler’s Green was also a great place to watch sunset over the site before wandering back to family camping through the woods.
It was difficult to drag the kids away from Kidztown but I was desperate to see the rest of the festival so promised them ice cream. But from the moment they saw Oldtown they were lost to it. We first went into Copper County, the ‘wild west’ part of Boomtown, and they immediately became embroiled in a plot involving a bank robbery. They were given tasks to do and rewarded with Boomtown money.
We were told to come back at a certain time, when they were going to blow up the bank. When the heist started happening and the sheriff shot someone and left him injured. My littlest was so involved, that when another man went to steal the injured man’s wallet my littlest ran on stage to stand in front of him. She shouted “leave him alone!” This coming from a shy child was a proud moment for me. That whole evening she was telling me about how she planned to stand up to the sheriff the next day.
We had so much fun in Oldtown – it quickly became our favourite part of the festival.
I managed to talk (and bribe) us into one of the secret rooms which turned out to be a demon barber – who gave me a moustache and took our photo (Pie n Tash by the Clik Clik collective).
We also ended up at the police station at one point getting interrogated by a police inspector. I expected my little girls to start crying as soon as she shouted at them, but they didn’t – they held up! They were so involved with the story they had forgotten to be scared.
There were so many of these games and interactions, and the whole family loved them. I enjoyed my time on these crazy ‘treasure hunts’ with the children more than anything else we’ve done together this year. It’s because of ‘The Maze’ that my children have all announced “Boomtown is my favourite festival.”
Ear defenders are essential for Downtown!
That first time you go down the steps into Downtown it’s like descending into a crazy circus pit. Walking through streets of colour, incredible artwork, music and theatrical events happening around you.
We took the children in the afternoon and then I came back on my own to see the craziness late at night. There was a 7pm curfew for children in Downtown which seemed sensible to me! We didn’t need it because at 7pm all the interactive stuff ends anyway and it became too busy and noisy for our kids.
Downtown was a place to fill children’s imaginations. They attended a mock-religious service and were initiated as believers. They helped some cyber punks recycle aluminium cans into artwork. There were interactive installations everywhere and it was all mostly child friendly. The actors let us know if anything wasn’t suitable so we didn’t go in!
(A caveat here – there are adult images and nudity in Downtown, easy to steer away from but there nevertheless)
There were a few fairground rides and the children wanted to go on them all at first, so we agreed to one at £3 each. Fortunately there were plenty of other things happening to distract them with!
There’s just so much music at Boomtown, and every different kind you can imagine. The stages ranged from a tiny ‘busking’ size to towering skyscrapers of lights and screens. There were ‘secret’ inside venues all over the place, and lights and walkways through the woods.
Gorillaz headlined at the Lion’s Den stage on the Friday night. They were incredible but I had hoped that my children could watch them as they were huge Gorillaz fans. Despite the field being huge it packed out so much that there was nowhere for them to sit, and standing up it became a bit too crowded.
Still to attempt to bring children out in the evening at a large festival was a little optimisitic! I had a great time dancing to them on my own.
However apart from that all the music was fairly easily accessible, and there was incredible talent playing across all the different stages. I managed to catch Electric Swing Circus, Captain SKA and best of all Beans on Toast playing the Mine stage in Copper Town. He played one of his best gigs, to a very happy crowd in a rare moment of sunshine, and was one of my festival highlights this year.
I danced to a huge variety of music and it went on all night. There was proper psy-trance fluoro-rave in the forest. I danced to techno in front of huge screens and light projections. I danced to jungle in a tiny metal box full of serial killers. I danced to folk music in the rain. If you love music and dancing – you will find what you love here.
The site is still full of crazy theatrical fun at night. Everywhere you turn there’s something weird going on, or a tiny dancefloor in a secret room, or a bizarre game to play. And of course the beating pulse, towering structure and booming drum and bass that was Sector 6… For me that was too much so I watched the younger generation enjoying themselves from afar!
Best of all was Disney Rascal, playing the Kidztown Sandcastle stage. A large crowd of people gathered to dance in the rain at 11am – and I noticed that most of these were non parents! A large crowd of regular Boomtowners had decided to walk up to Kidztown just to dance to reggae versions of disney songs. This is something that simply wouldn’t happen in most other festivals, and what makes Boomtown so special.
In a nutshell
Our family fell in love with Boomtown and everything about it.
I would say this festival is only for the adventurous, artistic, most open minded of parents… but to me it felt perfectly safe and family friendly. As long as you keep them away from Downtown and Sector 6 at night!
I would like to thank the organisers for the amount of work, creativity, love and care that has gone into this weekend of entertainment.
We’ll definitely be back!
To get an idea for yourself of what it’s like, watch the incredible video of Boomtown 2018!
For more information on how to tackle Boomtown as a family, see our factsheet.
Tickets for Boomtown sell out, so make sure you check for early bird tickets at the Boomtown website!