Interview with Larmer Tree Festival Director, James Shepard

larmer tree mud 2011It’s Sunday, the final day of Larmer Tree 2011

I’m tired, slightly hungover, muddy and more than a tad dishevelled… I’m thinking there are better days to meet the co-director of your favourite festival, but the opportunity to have a chat with such a busy person on their home turf doesn’t arise that often so I slap on some mascara, grab my notebook and drag myself off to the Press Garden.

When James arrives, he is so charming and warm that I soon forget about feeling like a space cadet and settle down for a quick chat about the family side of the Larmer Tree Festival, which celebrated its 21st birthday this year:

Festival Kidz – Loads of families come to Larmer Tree with their children each year.  Why do you think that is?

James – I think it’s because it is a small festival, it’s not a big site so they can’t get that lost, it’s a very beautiful garden for the kids to be in and it’s a great positive environment.  They love being here.


FK – Do you think there’s much they can learn from being here?

JS – I hope there’s a lot they can learn from being here!  About how to get on with other people… and to enjoy themselves… and to hear music they would never normally hear and hopefully it’ll influence them into appreciating music more.

FK – Do you think having kids around has a positive effect on the general atmosphere of a festival?

JS – Ah yes, I think it definitely does.  I mean we do limit under-17’s to 20% of the audience because we don’t want to become a total family-only festival!  The extended family is quite important and we’re seeing a lot of that at Larmer Tree now where it’s mum and dad, and children, and the grandparents come along too and so it’s the whole family getting together and actually spending time with each other, which is very very important I think.  

FK – So what about festival childcare services?  Would you look into getting one at Larmer Tree?

JS – No I wouldn’t.  Because it think that’s taking away from the whole thing about Larmer Tree of ‘being together’.  Just palming your babies off on some service is not what we’re about.  I don’t like the idea personally.

FK – Do you have any plans to expand?

JS – No, not really.  We certainly don’t have plans to make the festival any bigger – we think it’s working really well as it is.  Especially this year, we’ve really felt it’s come of age.  It’s 21 years this year and I’ve really had a feeling that this is the one we’ve been working towards all these years.

FK – And if you could sum up Larmer Tree in one sentence…

JS – Like nothing else!… it is a very unique event and I’m very proud to have started it… and to still be here!

With this, I notice James has a slight lump in his throat.  It’s an emotional moment and understandable too… this festival is his baby – to look out at the loyal crowd of 5,000 now, having nurtured and grown this beautiful event for 21 years, and to see all the appreciative grins despite the miserable weather, must feel a very proud achievement indeed.

More journalists are waiting to grab a few minutes with the man of the moment so I say my Thank You’s and trudge off through the drizzle, hopelessly begrudging my lack of wellies.  I find my kids dancing away with my mum to the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band from her favourite place in the world: Rajasthan.  I contemplate the happy scene with James’s words about the extended family coming together at Larmer Tree echoing in my ears…  he is so very right!

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The Larmer Tree Festival is an independent festival with a non-corporate ethos, held in July in the beautiful and unique Larmer Tree Gardens, near Salisbury, on the Wiltshire/Dorset border.  There are six stages, over 70 artists, comedy, 150 free workshops, street theatre, and spoken word plus much, much more!  It’s a real gem of a festival for all generations to come together in a shared celebration of music and art.  Tickets sell out every year so be sure to buy yours in advance.


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