Great music, an excellent kids’ area and an extremely friendly vibe makes Blissfields an outstanding choice for families
Review and pictures by Naomi Jones
Our story–with our three girls, Eloise (6), Charlotte (3) and Amelie (3)
I have to admit I hadn’t heard of Blissfields when Romany (the Festival Kidz editor) told me it would be perfect for our family. The festival had established itself very quickly at a time when I was starting a family and no longer involved in the music scene but I heard it had already built a loyal following, to the point that it was the first boutique festival to sell out this year. So I was quite excited at the prospect of a small festival with good quality music and entertainment.
First let me say that Romany was right – it is exactly the right size for a family festival and with an atmosphere so friendly you will instantly feel part of a community. It is neither too big that your children will get lost or too small that there is nothing to do. The children’s area is run by Angel Gardens who I understand are one of the best organisers of children’s areas on the circuit (and our experience with them this year was exceptional) but also had the added bonus of being close enough to the stage to be able to enjoy activities with the kids while still being able to watch the bands.
We arrived on Thursday afternoon, and were immediately made to feel welcome by the steward in the car park, who first said parking was at the end of the field; then looked in our car, noticed we had many small children and redirected us to a spot nearer the gate. There was hardly any walk from the car park to the gate and no queue – and again the friendly people at the gate directed us down to the arena. We were meant to camp in Angel Gardens but there was no room there, so the stewards at the arena not only directed us up to family camping but help push the trolley! It made such a difference that all the people working there were friendly and not the usual sour ‘bouncer’ types.
We pitched up at family camping and my children instantly made friends with a group of children, and another family gave us a cider each (because ours were still in the car) and helped us to put up the tent. And again this was the kind of friendliness we experienced from other families throughout – it was a small enough festival that you kept bumping into the same faces all weekend.
We explored the festival on Thursday night, which was relatively quiet and a good time to have a look around. The children were far too excited to go to bed, so we stayed up until about midnight, while they ran around with glow sticks with their new friends. Our festival wagon got a huge amount of appreciative attention wherever we went – as there weren’t so many families there it was the only one on site – and the decorations and fairy lights made it easy for the children to find us if they wandered off.
Friday and the site was still basked in glorious sunshine – we were exceptionally lucky with the weather. We spent most of the day in Angel Gardens, lazing on the hammocks and doing painting and throwing glitter around in the children’s craft tent. The craft tent was fully stocked with paper, pens, pencils, glitter, glue and various craft supplies – sometimes there were staff in there showing the children how to make things but you could always wander in and take what you needed. They were also giving out Oliver Bears to colour in, which was a lovely idea and created a focus for the children – Charlotte and Amelie carried theirs around with them all weekend. Painting was on offer outside the craft tent as well as circus toys which kept the little ones entertained for hours. There was a giant pop up pirate and kerplunk game, and a baby changing tent with toys and a paddling pool for the tiny ones which proved popular in the heat.
I wanted to see the adult craft area and make something, so after admiring the chainsaw wood carver (he made mostly owls) Eloise and I settled down to make soapstone necklaces. Again the staff were friendly and chatty, and helped Eloise just enough so she was able to make it herself. During the carving, The Staves came on and I went down to watch them for a little while. I’ve never left Eloise on her own before but it was so safe and friendly there that she started to go off on her own and with her new friends until sometimes I didn’t see her for half an hour at a time. I believe the festival has given her a new confidence and I saw her really shine over the weekend.
We went back to the tent to get kitted up for the evening – the children in their animal onesies and me in my Supergirl costume (the festival had a film theme). Back at the main stage they were playing music from films in between the acts and the Superman theme tune came on – someone behind me shouted out “they’re playing your tune – go on!” and I felt this was my moment and zoomed around the field with my arm out like Superman, weaving in between laughing groups of people. It was just that sort of festival – friendly and fun.
The evening came and the children gathered round the fire toasting marshmallows, while Angel Sam read them a bedtime story. Here’s where the problem with locating the kids’ field so close to the main stage came into play. It was far too loud for anyone to hear anything.
I think generally the sound from the main stage was much too loud for small children to cope with – mine won’t wear ear defenders which made it a bit difficult. The kids’ field could do with being moved a bit further back. Then you could see the main stage at a distance rather than being right next to it.
At this point the children were exhausted, so my generous husband took them back to bed and let me stay up and watch the Mystery Jets (great indie pop), and then a bit of Public Service Broadcasting (mix of dance and public service announcements – bizarre but original and fun to dance to) and then I had the opportunity to go to the Premiere Party. Another great touch of the festival – all those people that had won the silly group games (such as a custard pie fight) were given tickets to an exclusive party with free drinks. They were playing film music again and I made friends with a few people in the crew (a Supergirl costume is a good icebreaker) and had a fantastic time jumping around to the likes of Ghostbusters and Little Green Bag.
I had a short while to check out the Hidden Hedge which was an Area 51 themed fenced off atmospheric glade of bouncy techno and alternative dance – all surrounded by cyber punk art installations such as a bus sized scorpion and a winged helicopter. This was an adult part of the festival that was chilled out and family friendly in the daytime and not so much at night, but definitely worth a visit if you get some time to yourself.
Saturday morning saw the hottest day of the festival. We were forced out of bed early and I filled the water pistols (always worth packing if the forecast is sunny). We spent the day down in the shady bit of the festival again. I’ve been to festivals without any shade – when it’s hot it can be terrible with small children so we were thankful there were so many trees on site. Angel Gardens had moved the circus toys into the shade under the trees – which shows how thoughtful their organisation was. Watching the main stage we enjoyed Chloe Howl, Sam Smith and the Silver Beatles – all excellent. I had a bit of a dance to the Silver Beatles and it was obvious the crowd enjoyed the recognisable tunes on a lovely sunny day. Eloise wanted a go on the potter’s wheel and we were thrilled that she was able to make her own pot, which turned out looking very professional thanks to the help of the lovely people at The Portable Pottery Company.
Later on, while playing Pop Up Pirate, the Dub Pistols came on – one of the highlights of the festival for me as I hadn’t heard their brilliant mix of reggae, dub and hip hop before, and impossible not to dance to.
I managed to catch the first half of Beans on Toast in the Acoustic Tent (another venue that was unfortunately suffering slightly from the volume of the main stage – organisers please fix this!). I loved him instantly – his funny folk songs on life were perfect for the occasion. Then another stop back at the tent to make dinner and change (a bee costume for me this time and fairy dresses for the children) and back to the arena to watch the fire show in the kids’ field. Eloise by this point seemed to be in charge – someone had given her a yellow marshal’s jacket and she was keeping people out of the fire show area. She took this responsibility very seriously and I realised I had barely seen her all day as she had spent so much time with her new friends.
We watched people twirling flaming hula hoops and poi to the sound of Bastille playing behind us, and it was truly magical. I ran to catch the last of their set and ended my Blissfields experience jumping to their hit song Pompeii, before heading back to put the children to bed.
It was a perfect end to a wonderful weekend of sunshine, great music, new friends, much relaxing and lots of strawberry cider.
The Practical Stuff
Food and Drink
There was a good variety of quality food. The child friendly options (for the non-adventurous children like mine) were English breakfasts from the camel café in family camping, beautiful wood fired pizzas, and pasta from the Kindred café in Angel Gardens. For the adults they had the usual range of lovely festival food.
Special mention has to go to The Whole Cheese. They provided picnic boxes of a selection of local cheeses, crackers, chutney and pickled onions. I hope they are at every festival I go to as it’s such a good idea.
The addition of a proper bar from the Wychwood Brewery was valuable to parents who want a good beer and not just something to get drunk on. They had a range of real ales and my favourite, strawberry cider, which made me very happy!
In the arena, Angel Gardens had two toilets which were reserved for children, looked after and always kept clean and stocked with soap. This was such a fantastic idea and once we were inside the festival made our time there so much easier – this is another idea I hope that other festivals take up!
However, there were no toilets in family camping, which was the only real negative part of our weekend. To me this made it very difficult with three small children, and many families I spoke to expressed their disappointment.
Close to the family camping was the ‘posh wash’. With hot showers and clean toilets which cost £10 for the weekend, well worth the investment. However the passes sold out almost immediately leaving many families with a large problem. We managed to get our hands on these but still found ourselves having to empty the potty behind the tent. The nearest toilets were right by the arena, surrounded by drunk people and (I’m quoting someone as I never ventured there myself) ‘absolutely disgusting’!
I am pleased to tell you that after contacting the organisers they have already responded with the following:
“It’s amazing that so many families joined us this year and hope that on the whole it was an enjoyable experience for mums and dads, as well as little ones, however do understand that dedicated toilets in the family camping area are something we need to install next year, and are happy to say that we’ve already had a conversation about this and will be doing so in 2014.”
So if you found it to be a problem this year don’t let this put you off, they are already planning on how to resolve it. If you have any other feedback for the organisers, please do write in and let us know and we can pass it on for you.
For more photos, check out our Facebook album here: Blissfields 2013