The Green Man Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and it has grown into a 15,000-capacity event in a stunning location in the Black Mountains. We shamefully live very close to it but have never been before.
Last year they struggled with terrible weather and having Olympic equestrian trials on the site just weeks before made for a messy, difficult festival. I have never come across a festival listen and take on board the results of having such a hard year. They made changes to be prepared and ready for bad weather and dealt with the issues people raised. This came across all weekend, so much care and love for the site from the organisers rubbed off on everyone there. I have fallen for Green Man and hope my review does it the justice it rightly deserves.
The drive to the festival is such a pretty one that you become convinced the signage is wrong! Surely a large festival can not be down these small roads… but then all of a sudden you see the top of the main tents poking out through the trees. We drove straight in, no queues and really helpful stewards pointing you into either family car parking or general parking. I wish every large festival would take on the idea of family parking it makes it so much easier, it meant we were only a 10min walk (with kit) to the site and a very easy route to get to camping.
Mr Trolley was ready to help with the loan of trolleys from the car park. He provides such a basic but helpful service. It makes life much easier. You can keep the trolleys overnight and add covers and lovely comfy cushions for children to have a nap whilst you carry on enjoying the night.
The campsite is beautiful. Lots of space to find a pitch and you are surrounded by stunning views every way you look. Lovely long grass on flat land makes for a perfect place to camp. The showers and toilets were plentiful, apart from a quick moving queue first thing in the mornings you very rarely had to wait. They were cleaned regularly and filled with toilet roll and anti-bacteria gel every time we used them. On the campsite there were a couple of bars – one kindly sold us some milk very late, a near 4 pints of milk for 50p! We slept very well and although the camping is not far from the arena it was still quiet – you could just hear the music in the distance.
We arrived on the Thursday early evening as we wanted to be able to watch Patti Smith. It says something about the quality of music on offer at Green Man that Patti Smith had chosen to play it. The site is very easy to navigate and we soon found the stage Patti Smith was performing on. She did not disappoint. Although it was very busy in the tent, the screens provided outside and the way her music carried out of the tent made you feel you were not missing being on the front row. I already felt very at home and at peace in at this festival.
Friday Morning was of course always going to be about heading straight to the kid’s area: the Little Folk Area. After going to so many festivals this summer I expected to be walking into yet another kid’s area but the Little Folk Area just felt different. One entrance in and out only, manned by stewards, means your children are incredibly safe inside and very unlikely to be able to wander off and get lost in other areas. I spoke to one of the entertainers who told me when they had set up they were asked by the lady running the area if they would mind moving everything over so the children could still see the hills just behind them. He moved it without a moment’s hesitation. The area had also looked after its performers and staff by providing them with some free drinks at the end of the day and some vouchers for food, making them feel wanted and appreciated – it meant a lot to them and they were gushing with enthusiasm about the area.
Combining all of these things, along with the views all around the area, made it feel a really special place. When first entering the area you had a bouncy castle, free to use which made for a wonderful change as normally you have to pay for these things. Next to the bouncy castle was a tent almost main stage size full of making and creating areas run by Junkfish. I have never seen such a variety of creating areas in one place. Tiger Boat Theatre Company also shared the tent with Junkfish, and there Dylan adored making a puppet bird with the help of quite possibly the most patient lady I have ever met!
Next to Junkfish and Tigerboat were The Flying Seagulls. I’m going to write a separate piece on the Seagulls because they’re just so awesome I simply do not have the space to cover everything they do in this review. I feel they are the backbone of every kids area they attend. I have seen them several times this summer but they must have also picked up on the Green Man magic as they where incredible here, you could pick up on the fact they obviously loved it. My son adores them and would happily stay and watch them and not see anything else all festival. I spoke to a man watching them who had basically borrowed his friend’s child so he and his wife could get into the kid’s area just to watch the Seagulls!
They also have an area with all sorts of instruments to play and quite frankly some of the best face painters I have ever seen. Whilst your child has there face painted you can sit back and have a massage!
In the centre of the little folk area was a lovely musical area made from natural products to encourage children to make similar instruments at home. A lovely area in the middle for creating with clay. Children of all ages (as many adults as children here) made what ever they could dream up out of clay. They could leave their creations there and come back and collect them later or take them with them. Again very patient helpful ladies helped and encouraged the children and adults!
There was a big open space full of toys, mats and entertainment for babies and younger children. It was one of the first times I had noticed dedicated toilets for baby changing only, they had just thought of everything in the kid’s area. The rain almost stayed away all weekend but it was great to hear they had arranged and made plans for plenty of sheltered space and activities if the rain had come down heavily.
It was also a refreshing change at Green Man to find out they had dedicated a separate area next door to the kid’s area for teenagers. Although anyone was welcome in it, the area was created for teenagers. ‘Somewhere’ was an exclusive multimedia adventure zone open until 10pm every night. They had film making, football, a stage to have music lessons and even perform. They had a giant hungry hippo game, and other classic board games all in giant size. There was a small stall selling very reasonably priced snacks and one of the best hot chocolates I have ever tasted.
The main stage (Mountain Stage) is brilliantly located, at the bottom of a hill, you can sit on the bank and watch the bands and enjoy looking at one of the most beautiful backdrops I have ever seen behind a stage. Midday Friday the bands started. First up was Haiku Salut – this band had won the Green Man rising competition for undiscovered artists and you could understand why. They did justice to opening the festival and the crowd quite rightly loved them. Next up for us was Moon Duo playing on the far out tent. They are a band from San Francisco. Mr. Lane is very into them and positioned himself on the stage barrier to enjoy their drone/spacey sound, just another example of the excellent line up offered by the festival over the weekend. Dylan and I left just before the end of their performance as we wanted to go and meet the Green Man himself.
The Green Man was a structure made of wood, straw, and plants. You could walk up him and over him to the other side. Inside and hanging all over were green gift cards. You wrote a wish on a card and left it hanging on him. This was an incredible moving moment for me. To see such a variety of wishes from ‘please don’t rain this weekend’ to ‘please give me a baby brother’ to ‘please help my nephew get over the chemo’. The Green Man gets set on fire on the Sunday night with a huge firework display. I have not felt so touched by any area of a festival in many years. Just behind the green man was the Nature Nurture area. A very peaceful place with a wide range of treatments and workshops on offer. We did not sample any of them but I loved the area, a very quiet and calming place.
We all met up to go and watch Edwyn Collins and have something to eat. All the food we tried was served up at very acceptable prices. A wide choice and everyone I asked were more than happy to do smaller portions at reduced prices for children. Edwyn was fantastic and for us a perfect way to finish the evening we headed back to the tent very slowly and after putting Dylan to bed we sat up and listened to the distant notes of Midlake, very beautiful they sounded.
Saturday morning after a quick visit to the Little Folk area we took ourselves off to Einstein Gardens. It is difficult to explain this area, on a sustainably powered stage you could listen to music, comedy and watch theatre performances. This year theme was ‘heroes’ so it was all about superheroes, cult heroes and even the animal variety.
Lots of lovely stalls surrounded the area. Everything from banjo lessons, book shops, science workshops, creating workshops and Dylan’s personal favourite: the British Ecological Society. He loved the mushroom game and the poo game! Einstein Gardens is another area of the festival that you could really stay at all day and not want or need to see anything else. Saturday afternoon was pirate Saturday in Little folk so kitted out in his best pirate outfit Dylan got stuck into pirate stories and games with the Flying Seagulls.
After a couple of the best crumpets you have ever tasted from the Strumpets with Crumpets (a big favorite with Dylan and Mr Lane!) we went to listen to John Cale. I really wanted to watch The Horrors and I have to be honest I felt it seemed their hearts were not really in it. I enjoyed watching them but just felt something was missing. The crowd around me seemed pretty unimpressed also. After The Horrors we headed to the Walled Garden Stage. Literally in a walled garden, it is a small but wonderfully formed area with a bar and a few places to eat. Yet another perfect area we all loved. This evening the Alla Las headlined, another favourite of Mr. Lane – a Californian band with a melodic and Surfer type sound.
We so very much did not want to, but sadly we could not stay Sunday night to camp. Thankfully we could spend the day on site though so Sunday morning was spent packing up and doing the trip to the car with very heavy hearts. When all packed up we headed straight back into the arena. We stopped at a camping shop run by a local camping shop Crickhowell Camping. It was great to see after going to so many festivals where the camping kit is hiked up in price these guys had kept the stock at very reasonably prices. I understand sellers have to make something but some of the prices we have seen this summer at festivals have been shocking, a big thumbs up to Green Man for using local suppliers and keeping the prices down.
We went for lunch in an area just outside the walled garden called The Courtyard, a great area to meet up with friends and sit at one of the many picnic tables provided with one of the 50 different types of meal and something to eat. We enjoyed a big bowl of stew and to my shock Dylan even tried some of the spicy chicken served up in it.
Just round the corner from the courtyard was the Mushroom Man Ralph. He handmade mushrooms on his lathe then decorated them. You could have them personalized making excellent souvenirs at only £2.50 each. Dylan adored Ralph and I do believe the feeling was mutual. I wish there was a Ralph at every festival!
A very important meeting had been arranged at 2.30pm at the Little Folk Area. A parade had been organized by the Flying Seagulls and the organizer of the little folk area. It was to be all the children with any musical instruments or anything else that had made over the weekend on a parade from the little folk area from the main stage to finish at the stage in the Einstein Gardens. We had been asked to meet at 2.30 ready for the parade to start at 3. Bash, the leader of the seagulls was in his element organizing utter marvellous mayhem. We walked proudly with wigs, red noses, musical instruments, puppets and all manor of madness. It was a really wonderful thing to be part of. A massive thanks to the organizer and the seagulls for making it happen.
The Green Man Festival was finished off with the ceremony of the burning and the fireworks, we sadly missed out on this part but so thankful we made it this year to what for me was a massive highlight of this summer.
Green Man, I have fallen in love with you, just as my son has!
I beg of the organizers not to change a thing on the back of this year’s obvious success please, please do not make it any bigger, just do not change a thing. In fact maybe I should say it was terrible so I can keep all those wonderful empty spaces and magical moments to myself!
Please see our Green Man 2013 Photo Album on Facebook for many more photos of this incredibly special festival – maybe you’ll even spot yourself?! x