Bizarre [bih-zahr] /bɪˈzɑr/ – very strange or unusual.
And Blissfields 2017 pulled out all the stops to create a perfectly bizarre and fun family festival this year.
We visited Blissfields as a family in 2015 for the first time and fell in love with this fantastic little treasure. After discovering the theme for 2017 was BIZARRE we were all pretty excited to explore what the brilliant Blissfields team had in store.
The location of Vicarage Farm in Hampshire is a perfect site for an easy family festival just off the M3. The land is lovely and flat so there are no issues with hills and buggies and there are plenty of ancient trees providing shade and a beautiful backdrop. The organisation is excellent and when we arrived on Friday afternoon we were quickly shown where to park and what to do by helpful happy staff. We were even offered electric hook-up as an option for our camper van. You don’t get that at many festivals.
Early Entry & Camping
Although Blissfields offer a letter of excuse for school aged children we didn’t risk taking advantage of the Thursday night camping this year. The fear of a school fine from our local authority who are always keen to make an extra buck was too high with two kids. Blissfields runs from Thursday night through to Sunday morning offering a day of recovery and slow packing up on Sunday. We arrived after school on Friday and had to hit the road by 11am on Sunday to be somewhere but still managed to pack heaps in. As we left on Sunday we noticed a pretty messy campsite beyond the campervan field. There are a high number of teenagers at Blissfields and this seems to be a side-effect of the throw-away culture of a lot of our youth. Such a shame considering the main festival site is kept spotless by dedicated little picking crew. Come of kids!
Blissfields offer boutique camping options and also an optional ‘Posh Wash’ wristband for £10. The facilities across the site are excellent which makes a difference with kids. There were no long queues and plenty of water taps everywhere with the bars offering ice if you asked. We had a particularly hot one this year so ice from the bar and the shade from the large trees were a bonus.
For a small festival Blissfields packs in a ridiculous amount of fun. I just love that the festival doesn’t try to take itself too seriously. It’s a real mix of all aged guests so the entertainment works hard to cater for all. The main stage and The Larch are home to the bands over the weekend while DJ’s pump out tunes from the Blisscotheque bus and the brilliant beach area of The Bay. By far our favourite spot for the weekend, The Bay is a little spot of Ibiza beach life right in the middle of an English festival. The DJ’s play from the lifeguard station while grown-ups boogie and kids play in the sand or climb on the boat. Perfect all round family fun – who needs a kids field when there is a beach?!
The AIF award-winning Hidden Hedge is the ever popular late night venue at Blissfields and presented plenty of freakish and fantastic entertainment after dark. We missed Thursday nights ‘Stranger Things’ presented by DJ Yoda but I caught some top D&B on Saturday with a side show of freakish aerial and circus. The kids had a wander around Area 51 early on in the evening and loved all the strange installations including mutant creatures and a torture chair. There was even the entire front end of an aeroplane housing the Mile High VDJ Cockpit where I stood mesmerised by the haunting tones of Casey Pearl with Seb Marx.
Our eldest daughter Daisy is 11 and Blissfields provided a music revelation for her this year. She’s lucky enough to have been to many festivals over the years but has never really immersed herself in music in way her parents do. Blissfields caters for tastes of all ages and who would have believed Daisy’s revelation came in the form of ‘Grime’ from a young lady called Lady Leshurr. We had no idea what she was singing about but picked up the words to ‘crispy bacon’ pretty quickly and Daisy loved it. She made a new friend over the weekend and because Blissfields is small she managed to find her each day so they could hang out together. It’s the perfect festival for tweens as they can easily wander off on their own without the worry of getting lost. They may even discover their musical passion!
Highlights for us oldies, The Dub Pistols who played a sweltering hot set and despite the heat tore the roof off Blissfields again on Saturday afternoon. Also getting the crowd jumping and sweating on Saturday was One Step Too Late with Ska classics and heaps of energy. The main stage is lined with a row of large trees which provided desperately needed shade all day meaning we didn’t need to miss music for fear of the kids melting.
A Blissfields tradition comes in the form of the genius Beans on Toast opening Saturday with his thoughtful and poetic words. A modern-day Bob Dylan, I could listen to this guy all day. Thanks for all the happy times Beans. After his main stage gig he moved to The Larch and presented an afternoon of guests appearances from friends. We didn’t manage to spend too much time in The Larch but it went on well into the early hours with a silent disco.
Beyond the trees which line one side of the main stage is the craft area where kids can wander within sight while you relax and take in the bands. This couldn’t be more perfect as there is plenty to keep them busy exploring this beautifully decorated area. Lots of quirky seating, games, and curiosities as well as traditional crafts and our favourite stone carving stall with their crazy hypnotising wheel.
Sadly, this year the festival introduced a fun fair to the far side of the stage. Those that read regular FestivalKidz reviews know that, as parents, we’re not big fans of fun fairs, but at least at Blissfields they weren’t accompanied by sound clashing music. Most of the rides were tucked in one corner of the festival at least, making them easily avoidable with kids. We caved to pester power for the traditional Big Wheel and Helter Skelter. £12 for Big Wheel (family of 4).
Another weird addition for me was the Old Mout sponsored area. Note to any festival organisers or brands. Don’t put two very pretty chair swings in the middle of a festival and then ban the kids. It’s a little unfair. Not only were they punting out titchy cans of cider for £4 a go, they didn’t allow under 18’s in this strange fenced off area at a ‘family festival. Now that really is BIZARRE!
These are two very minor hitches though. Blissfields really is fantastic, and we understand the need to pay the bills, but you were already pretty perfect. Don’t go changing, and all that…
New for 2017 was the chance to ride on a hot air balloon. We were super excited about this and queued up for an hour on Sunday morning in the blazing sun only to be told it was full. Perhaps a little head count of the long queue of people and a ‘no more space’ sign would have helped weary families. No matter. Although we missed out it was wonderful watching the balloon go up and down and I hear a couple even got engaged during their trip. Congratulations!
Our favourite part of the festival was the silliness to be found in the Home of the Unknown and The Backyard. We arrived on Friday so some pretty violent but funny sock wrestling followed by the hilarious Disco Bingo – we were terrible!
Blissfields is child-friendly throughout, but little ones gather where the angels sing and the candy floss flies. The kids’ field offers the usual array of fun for little ones but it’s the crew that makes it special. My kids loved the pizza making and space hopper racing but for some reason, I couldn’t convince them to join in with the giant paint fight. I thought I’d missed out but when I was out for a late night dance on Saturday at The Bay I was delighted to catch an impromptu adult version to some pretty wicked tunes.
We can’t recommend Blissfields enough for families. It’s such an easy festival with little ones and there’s plenty to do for older kids too. They are taking a break in 2018 but we hope to be back in 2019 with another brilliant Blissfields review.