Black Deer has been awarded several ‘best new festival’ accolades and it’s easy to see why. We had no idea what to expect and deliberately didn’t tune in much to the pre-event festival hype as we were excited to rekindle those ‘first time festival vibes’ with the kids.
Much more than a celebration of Americana, Black Deer is a premium weekend of exceptional quality for the discerning festival goer. We couldn’t fault the excellent organisation, the clean, family friendly vibe and facilities, and the pure enjoyment of folk of all ages uniting for an event 3 years in the making.
These were outstanding all round. We don’t think we saw a piece of litter all weekend and never waited more than a minute for a toilet, always finding them exceptionally clean and stocked. This may seem such a small thing but when you have kids, it makes a big difference!
Black Deer is set in the beautiful Eridge Park deer park. The campsite was such a pleasant, spacious place to stay with easy access into the festival and plenty of space for kids to play. This was true of the space inside the festival, even with the almost 20,000 guests, it never felt crowded in the open spaces.
We arrived on Friday after school and even though the site had been opened to early campers from Thursday, we easily found a spot in the campervan field close to the entry gates and a 5 minute walk into the festival site. Toilets and excellent hot showers were available close by and a well stocked coffee stand in the camp site.
The festival welfare tent and lost kids was situated by the main day gate entrance. We did see some queues of guests arriving at the peak time of mid day (day tickets are available at Black Deer with regular shuttle bus public transport services) and also queues at some food vendors at meal times. There were so many food options on offer you could have opted to eat and drink when less busy or at different vendors. More on food and drink below.
Around half the kids’ activities on offer were by pre-booked slots so you needed to head to the Little Folks HQ in the morning to get involved. Some were free with tickets like the art sessions while others like the skate school, tree climbing, zip wire, climbing wall and spray-paint art charged a fee.
Tic Tac Skate School and RU Slack were huge hits with our kids with those running the activities friendly and fun right through to the end of the day on Sunday. We spent many visits back at the slack-lines mastering the tightrope handstand and the wobble board balance and having this free activity right in the middle of the festival meant the kids always had a meeting point. Tom from the skate school was just great with the kids of all ages too.
Festival Kidz favourites The Woodland Tribe built a huge wagon circle over the weekend with the kids – just one of the drop in sessions on offer (£3 all weekend). These guys are always brilliant with kids of all ages allowing for plenty of free play and imagination. Thanks for getting us involved Bella!
Other drop-in activities included a fancy dress tent (cowboys of course) with a table football game and crafts, table tennis, lawn games, tree swings and the silent disco (7-9pm). This was really enjoyed as we’d been turned away from the ‘adult only’ silent disco the night before. The downside was all 3 channels played kid-friendly chart music so perhaps at least 1 option for the parents or kids with more grown-up tastes would be great.
A changing tent for tiny ones and a little privacy was on offer and an axe throwing alley for big kids (over 10’s) was situated near an array of shopping stalls and Haley’s bar. It’s worth noting that kids are not officially permitted in and out of the arena without an adult for safety. The site was emptied at night and gates opened again at around 10am so there was no rush to start early but if you are tent camping with little ones who get up with the sunrise it’s an idea to think about how you’ll keep them busy first thing.
The whole Little Folk area is situated among some beautiful old trees in the deer park so offered plenty of shade and a couple of tree swings with deck chairs and a free-play piano. Always popular, juggling master Dan The Hat entertained kids a couple of times a day with his pineapple catching tricks.
Money, Food & Drink
The festival rules do not allow guests to bring food and drink into the arena so if you are on a family budget factor this into your camping shopping list and daily plans. It is possible to cook back at camp if you manage hungry bellies and meal times. Don’t miss the amazing selection of food on offer. Expect to pay around £10 a meal per person. Bar prices were reasonable at £6.50 a pint (£2 cup deposit) although we felt soft drink options were expensive so opted mostly for water from the plentiful and well signposted taps across the site. Thank you Black Deer for including water taps by all of your toilets instead of chemical sanitisers in plastic bottles!
Black Deer is a cashless festival. You need to register and top up your wristband with credit. This doesn’t work that well for us as a family as we prefer to give the kids their own pocket money for some independence and to learn budgeting with real money. Maybe we are just old fashioned. It is possible to top up the kids’ wristbands too via the top up points around the festival or on your phone so we made it work but it was an added thing to do. They mostly used their credit for ice cream (£2.50 kids) and Lickalix ice lollies (£3)!
In addition to the extra kids’ activity options there were plenty of shopping experiences to be had at Black Deer. All the Americana paraphernalia you can think of, from cigar box guitars and cowboy boots to hats and Harley Davidson and Black Deer merchandise. We really enjoyed browsing the vintage boho clothes and jewellery stalls.
There were other optional extras for those on a higher budget including some beautiful glamping options in the vast boutique camping area and access to the VIP Jackson’s Social Club (over 18’s only).
Music & Entertainment
Most of the music we enjoyed was on the main stage at Black Deer. The Ridge venue was a huge Big Top with some great acts we would have loved to see but the set up meant it wasn’t easy to watch from afar. We squeezed into the popular Roadhouse venue for half of the brilliant Eddy Smith & the 507’s and even got the kids jumping about in there.
Weekend big highlights were Imelda May, the London African Gospel Choir and local lads The Nobel Jacks. ‘Songwriter Sessions’ offered storytelling and intimate acoustic performances from some seriously good musicians, plus the Superjam Stage showcasing unsigned performers.
Our favourite place to visit was The Magic Teapot where we huddled down for a good sing-song on Saturday evening when rain and thunder arrived. Sadly, the festival had to close down a little early due to a lightning strike threat but the organisers managed to evacuate the site and avoided any potential danger.
Food is a big part of the event and The Live Fire area was popular with the hot dog and chili eating competition drawing huge crowds. Cooking over fire is obviously a communal affair with plenty of apron and cap-wearing chefs on hand to demo their ‘masterclass’ skills and the latest in BBQ technology on display.
Visit Arkansas brought an additional authentic Americana experience to Black Deer with some of the best Arkansas artists direct from The Natural State via their own festival veranda. Also dotted around the festival were plenty of classic vehicles adding to the vibe. We all loved immersing ourselves in this celebration of the Americana culture and had a great family weekend.