Boomtown 2019 was another whirlwind of music, colour, laughter and good family times.
I don’t usually want to hype a festival up too much in case people are disappointed. With Boomtown there are no such worries. Despite being up against some of the worst weather I’ve seen at a festival. Boomtown was an exceptional weekend full of silliness, fun and loads of great music and dancing.
Getting in and setting up
This year families were allowed on site from Wednesday (it was Thursday last year) so we jumped at the chance. We arrived around 4pm on the Wednesday and drove straight in with no queue.
The family campervan field had been moved next to family camping which was much better than last year. We were closer to Kidztown and other families. The fields had huge fences up around them with gates that were manned 24/7 by friendly stewards. We felt extremely safe camping there and it was a welcome relief from the ‘madness’ of the rest of the festival. Apart from the bass which could be heard miles away, the campsites were quiet and it was easy to get some sleep (if you wanted to!)
There is still quite a bit of a walk between parking and family camping so it worth preparing for this!
The campsite was spacious, leaving families to set up together if they had come in a group. The toilets in family camping were kept clean all weekend. Toilets in the rest of the site were hit and miss with cleanliness, but still good for a festival of this size. It was worth finding toilets away from the main stages as there was often quite a queue.
It’s impossible to talk about Boomtown this year without mentioning how challenging the weather was. Other festivals the same weekend cancelled before they even started.
The weather conditions were terrible on the Thursday and Friday. The lashing rain was bad enough. But the extremely high winds pulled out fences, poles, and even whole tents from the ground.
Boomtown managed to keep it together somehow and the organisers can only be congratulated for their efforts. At one point part of the Relic stage fell off and it had to be closed. The organisers responded quickly and moved the acts to another stage. The woods at the top of Whistlers Green also had to be closed due to the high winds.
In family camping the stewards checked everyone had somewhere to sleep. The organisers and hard-working staff are to be congratulated for keeping the festival going and keeping us updated using Twitter. Wood chip was used to cover all the main paths so the mud never became impassable.
When the sun finally came out on Saturday we all breathed huge sighs of relief. The Saturday and Sunday more than made up for the difficulty of the previous days!
Overall – some of the worst weather I’ve seen at a festival was coped with very well.
There was a huge amount to do in Kidztown. The interactive street as last year was there, with a the addition of an insect museum with live insect handling. The radio station was letting kids conduct their own interviews, something I would have done anything to have a chance to have a go at as a child!
There were roaming performers keeping everyone happy. My kids especially loved the hilarious ‘aussie’ keep fit girls getting the kids and their poor parents involved in some silly exercises.
The new stage, Raucous Rascals, was much larger than the last one with better sound. There were quality kids acts on such as Junior Jungle, Kid Carpet, Big Fish Little Fish and the Rhubarb Theatre.
One of my Boomtown highlights was Beans on Toast arriving for a secret gig. Toddlers climbed onto the stage and bounced about around him stealing the limelight, making everyone laugh. It was a wonderfully laid back gig, and lovely to see kids being allowed to join in.
He asked for children to come up on stage and learn a song. It was completely charming and gave the children the chance of a life time, to sing on the Town Stage in his main set.
We spent more time in the Rusty Workshop this year. There was a copper moulding workshop that suited our children so much that one morning we realised a couple of hours had vanished! You could use power drills, pliers and hammers to mould copper and other metals into jewellery.
The main craft tent had all sorts going on such as science workshops, slime, T shirt printing. We particularly enjoyed the mosaic making. Everything in the kids’ field was free.
There was entertainment for all ages, including a sand pit in the middle of the field. I especially loved the Lazy Lounge for toddlers and think this photo shows the feeling of Kidztown. Happy children and happy parents able to relax.
There’s an entire additional part of the woods devoted to the Woodland Tribe and it’s easy to lose hours in there. You can climb, swing, build, cook over the fire. It’s great to help the children make stuff with hammer and nails.
My daughter was even asked to help with the bird puppet in the children’s parade! For such a large festival, Kidztown and Whistler’s Green managed a proper community feel.
We spent more time in The Maze this year which meant that I didn’t spend as much time in Whistlers Green as I wanted to. The weather also made it a bit difficult on the Thursday and Friday. But Whistlers Green is the real heart of the festival – the place with a great communal campfire, workshops and activities. Speaker’s Corner had some excellent talks too. It was always a relaxed and friendly place to spend some time in.
The Lighthouse stage had dance workshops and there was a dance workshop tent. There was also a circus skills tent. I wish I had made some time to visit these. The problem at Boomtown is there is so much on that you will miss something. But this is the mark of a great festival – you want to go back!
On Wednesday and when the woods reopened on Saturday and Sunday, there were hammocks and a tyre swing for the children to play with. There was always something to do.
The large round tea house with a fire in the middle was the friendliest place in the festival. It offered pay-what-you-can tea cooked over the fire and much needed shelter and warmth during the storm. There was nearly always someone playing the piano or strumming guitar, usually with a sing-a-long and sometimes a bit of dancing on the benches. It was a great new venue.
There’s so much music to choose from that there really is something for everyone. From laid back acoustic guitar in Whistlers Green to a massive techno rave in Area 404. The new Relic stage was a work of art, and incredible to watch even from a distance.
My favourite venue this year was Rimski’s Yard in Old Town. Full of characters, crazy artwork and interactive areas, it also had some brilliant quirky performers on all night. Hip hop, bands, DJs and street poetry all merged here.
My second favourite was Tribe of Frogs. Partly because it was a great place in rain or sun. But mainly because I love to dance in the trees, and if you grew up in the 80s and 90s then there’s nothing better than a massive floro rave in the woods.
I went to see the wonderful Grace Petrie on The Forge stage, Beans on Toast in the Town Centre and Kate Tempest at the Lighthouse stage in Whistlers Green. Apart from that I must have seen dozens of different bands, DJs and singers. Boomtown is full of music and dancing.
This year was all about The Maze for us, the giant theatrical interactive puzzle played out across the festival. I even wrote a guide for families based on our experience last year. We were all ready when The Maze opened at 1pm on the Friday with our pirate outfits on.
Walking through Old Town as pirates was a brilliant thing to do as a family. Where else can you go to a real pirate town with your kids and be pirates? The actors interacted with us more and there was so much fun to be had if play acting is your thing.
Unfortunately it was a little bit too cold this year for the children to go out without coats! But even without the costumes, it’s easy to get involved. My youngest was made to swab the deck. We found some sort of conspiracy to poison the soil. But the pirates were selling ‘organic’ soil. When this organic soil turned out to be chocolate, the kids kept trying to buy more until we ran out of Boomtown money!
The most exciting part for us was bribing our way into the secret hackers’ base and then stealing the blueprints for them. Sneaking around a secret building into a guarded room at the back and being treated like a spy was thrilling, especially for the kids.
My daughters’ favourite place was Paradise Heights where they were made into VIPs mainly in order to humiliate me (a whole crowd of us had to kneel down and beg her for the thousands of dollars she was given).
In the job centre we filled out an application form and were humiliated by the careers advisor. This is definitely a theme at Boomtown – if you don’t like being humiliated (in a jokey way), you probably won’t enjoy The Maze very much!
We applied to be brand ambassadors for a corporation and met the great Gordon Romance. My eldest ended up answering the phones on the front desk of the hotel.
We went to Ivory Towers university and had to work menial jobs and be humiliated by the professors to get our degree. As I work at a university this struck a nerve – with some accurate satire! We had to perform a song and dance number in a saloon in the Wild West. We chatted to old people in an retirement home. There were so many things to see and do in The Maze and each new door led to something exciting and unique.
The venues and artwork were awe-inspiring. The worlds that you went into felt real, with convincing characters. This year The Maze had expanded into the virtual world, with many of the places and characters in it with their own websites and Twitter accounts. There were even puzzles you could solve in advance to get you into secret areas of the festival.
Above all, it was immense fun! It’s very silly. We always came out of these experiences laughing. We didn’t get very far on the actual quest, but I didn’t really expect to. The people that finish it do nothing else and I doubt any of them were doing it with children who get hungry and tired every couple of hours!
We did it with the app this time for the first time, but I don’t think it added that much to the experience (for us) and it would be fine to just wander round and get involved.
There were a few places with queues that were too long to wait in with the kids, but as there was always somewhere else to go we just ignored those ones. I even managed to talk my way into a couple of places without queuing.
We loved every minute of The Maze and can’t wait to get back there.
There are some big political themes at Boomtown. Climate change, revolution, capitalism, war, society. I know that some people think festivals should not be the place for this. But festivals have been at the forefront of political thinking for decades, especially with green issues.
Boomtown follows this tradition with an admirable amount of commentary – both serious discussions in venues such as speakers corner, and satirically throughout the site.
After chatting for a while with someone at the Extinction Rebellion venue my daughter insisted we go to the Extinction Rebellion protest at Paradise Heights. They staged a takeover with an iconic XR pink boat and campaigners climbing over the venue. She is now talking about attending the latest protests in London. So be warned! Your children will be exposed to political ideas and you may have to answer some difficult questions afterwards…
My children have started to take an interest in art, so this year we noticed the artwork more. There is an incredible amount of art – painting, interactive sculpture, performance. The children were enthralled and inspired. We even took a life drawing class in one of the districts.
Boomtown always make a huge effort to reduce waste and they had gone all out this year. They even had a zero waste campsite and had asked Beans on Toast to write a song to encourage people to “Take your sh** home with you” (warning: contains swearing!)
The campaign resulted in a 70% reduction on tents left this year and is to be commended.
The cups were compostable and a huge effort had been made for recycling. It was sad to see so many people leave their rubbish on the ground – much more than the other festivals we have been to. Festival attendees need to make the effort to clear up too!
As we were out of Kidztown much more this year, we had to deal with the rides. At an eye-watering £5 per person, (£3 for one turn on the helter skelter slide!) for larger families it could be a huge expense. My advice is to budget for it, and let the kids know in advance how many rides they can do.
However there’s so much on offer at Boomtown it’s much easier to get them away from the rides than at other festivals.
Food and Drink
The food options were wonderful at Boomtown.
There was a huge variety of food. It was all around £8 for a burger and £10 for a main course, but there was so much choice and you could find cheaper places. For example some pizza places were charging £7 for a Margherita, 50p for each topping, whereas some were charging £9 for a Margherita, £13 with toppings!
My eldest daughter loves macaroni cheese, and although it wasn’t on the menu we asked if they would do a child portion. They were happy to give us a plain mac & cheese for £4 (normally £8) or one with bacon for £5 (adult £9). It’s always worth asking although some stalls couldn’t offer a smaller portion.
I had a beautiful goat curry with rice and peas (£10), a fried chicken wrap (£8), excellent red Thai chicken curry (£10), duck wrap (£8) and a lovely pizza (£8) from Pizza and Puppets in Kidztown. The Kidztown café did a lovely toastie for £2.50 which was the best bargain on the site.
The drinks offering was more limited, especially if you were a beer drinker. The bars were selling cans of red stripe (£5) or draught red stripe (£5.50 a pint). This is the first festival I’ve been to this year with no choice of draught lager, and very little else on draught. Similar with cider the choice was usually Strongbow or Dark Fruit Strongbow. There were a couple of bars selling other ciders but most didn’t.
Those of us who are only having a couple of drinks want something a bit nicer. There was the choice of Malthouse lager, which was good, but at £5 for 330ml can again just too expensive. The good thing about all this was what with the long queues as well, it meant I didn’t drink that much at Boomtown! So it was good for my health.
They were also doing frozen cocktails which looked good but I did have to keep telling the kids they were not slushies! A non-alcohol version would be a great idea (please do this Boomtown organisers!)
I have to mention the Oxfam shop as it was a brilliant find for us right at the beginning of the festival. Now the girls are older they LOVE to shop. There are excellent shops at Boomtown but it can get a little costly.
The Oxfam shop were selling genuinely affordable festival clothes. They even had rails of vintage stuff that were categorised in Maze themes, such as Copper County! My girls had fun trying out all the faux fur.
But the best thing was the £3 hat box that was like a large lucky dip for hats. All three of them managed to find woolly hats they liked, which with my children is a virtual impossibility. Thank you to the lovely and patient staff who let my children try every single one of them on.
Boomtown is very much a festival of several festivals. Up in Whistler’s Green there’s the old style feel of the Glastonbury festivals gone by. In Old Town and Paradise Heights there’s the immense artworks and a carnival atmosphere. Downtown and Area 404 are full of venues pumping out everything from heavy metal to drum and bass. There are many venues, from tiny tents to huge stages with massive visuals.
As our children were a bit older they wanted to stay up later, and we were fine until 11pm in the woods and Old Town. There was a lot going on and it was all interesting to them. The majority of people we met were incredibly friendly and great with the kids.
Unfortunately with the addition of some large techno stages this year there did seem to be an influx of unpleasant characters. The good news was that they stayed around those stages. As my children do not like techno it wasn’t hard to keep them away so we stayed in Oldtown in the evenings. Places like the Psy Forest, while busy, were still fun and full of interesting art and things to climb on.
Downtown during the day was still fine for us, although we do live in central London so are used to crowded streets! However I understand that Boomtown is not everyone’s cup of tea, and it is a big and busy festival with all the problems that may cause.
One night I went out on my own until 4am. I met many people and danced to all different types of music, including pirate shanties around 3am. The festival was full of colour and music, and strange little experiences like ending up in a room trying to win a shot as a bet by hitting different buttons.
I walked back towards Whistlers Green and sat for a while watching the screens and lights and listening to the music. It’s a truly magical place to be. Then as I walked home at 4am I saw a whole tent full of people sitting down watching the original Jungle Book.
I don’t know of any other festivals that provides this level of varied entertainment, apart from Glastonbury. And Boomtown is much easier to get tickets for! It really is one of the best festivals you will find anywhere.
Will we go back?
This isn’t a question I’m allowed to ask in my house as my children are already planning costumes for next year!
I think the current plan is to dress up in suits for paradise heights, but then as pirates for Old Town…
Can I interest you in some second hand top soil?