You may recall my piece on ‘destination’ festivals earlier in the year, with thoughts on combining a family holiday with a festival – well we bit the bullet and did it!
We chose to have a short family break in Jersey in the Channel Islands, combining beach fun with a two day festival, Jersey Live 2012.
Jersey is a stunning place to visit. It may only be 118.2 square miles but every inch of it is lush and beautiful. We flew on to the island on the Tuesday before the festival to ensure we had our bearings and to give us time enjoy the family activities Jersey has to offer.
So far, so good.
So to the main event, Jersey Live 2012. As a non-camping festival it fitted in pretty well with our holiday, meaning we could rent an apartment for the duration of our stay and didn’t need to lug camping gear with us, a pretty favourable plan given the crazy baggage costs on low cost airlines!
The information given to us by the festival organisers stated the site opened at 12pm but things didn’t really get going for our musical tastes until later in the day, so we decided to head up a couple of hours after opening. Having decided to hire a car to get around the island for our stay (highly recommended for all visitors!) we decided to drive to the site. There was a bus service running from St Helier town centre to the festival and back, but given we had a pushchair we were unsure whether we would be able to get on it, and also did not want to be waiting around for a bus back after the festival had finished. Saying that, we saw several buses going to and from the site and it seemed like a well used and appreciated service.
We had scoped out where the Royal Jersey Showground was earlier in the week and were glad we had as there was no signage at all until you were almost on site. I don’t think until you have visited Jersey you can understand how small and rural it can be, and the tiny lanes leading up to the site in Trinity certainly could not deal with much more traffic than was on them. We found the car park, which had plenty of spaces and stewards directing cars, and from there followed the crowds of festival goers over to the site, which was no more than a 10 minute walk.
We had to attend the south side of the site to pick up our passes kindly arranged for us by Romany (from Festival Kidz) and Jersey Live. The hospitality entrance involved a fairly lengthy walk uphill along a muddy path, fine for us with a big off road pushchair but there were a couple of disabled people struggling with the access point.
The hospitality entrance brought you straight into the funfair which consisted of waltzers, dodgems, some big slides and a couple of scary looking rides to unsettle even the strongest of stomachs. Noah was fascinated by the lights, but quickly grew bored of us saying he was too little to go on any rides – there was not one thing suitable for younger children.
We quickly moved on through the food ‘village’ which was a handful of fast food outlets including standard festival fare (fish and chips, Thai, pizza, burgers, hog roast etc.). Must admit I struggled to find something vegetarian or different, and Noah ended up with chips both days, so not exactly five star dining. It was surprising as we had had so many amazing food experiences during our time in Jersey, restaurants really seem to embrace the local produce idea so it was a shame there wasn’t more of a local influence in the food outlets available. There was a very good milkshake stand on the other side of the funfair and also a pick and mix sweet stall which seemed popular with older kids. It was pretty much standard festival pricing, with a large tray of veggie curry and rice coming in at £7 and chips at £2.50.
There were a few stalls onsite selling the usual festival goods (hats, glow sticks, face paints) plus a few stands from local arts organisations. They were scattered around the main stage and seemed pretty popular with the younger crowd although nothing kid specific (my rave baby loved the glo glasses though!).
The rest of the site consisted of the main stage, a JT tent and area (JT are the main telecommunication providers on the island and sponsor the festival) with a stage for local bands, the hospitality area with a hairdressers (!), loads of outdoor and indoor seating and DJs playing, the dance arena (which we never got in to as under 12s were banned), the Full Flow Dance Tent which always seemed to be going off and then the Par 4 and Yoga Fields.
On entering the site we were encouraged to visit the Par 4 field as it was a more child orientated part of the festival with activities, face painting etc. But on entering the Par 4 field we found lots of empty areas, a couple of pieces of installation art including an impressive robot made from electrical items and a large white marquee being run by the Brighter Futures charity with not very much happening. Admittedly we were later getting onto site on the Saturday, and on our return on the Sunday there did seem to be much more life with the Rinky Dink bike, and the ‘gorilla’ enclosure was open too!
We waited for about 20 minutes for Noah to have his face painted at the Brighter Futures tent, but once he had that done there didn’t seem to be much direction from the stand staff to participate in anything else. I did see a sign stating they were offering break dancing and guitar playing workshops but didn’t see much evidence of either, nor a timings sheet telling you when to return for these.
The best part of this area in my opinion was the human jukebox – a live band inside a replica jukebox playing songs selected by the audience. Unfortunately for us, it seemed lots of other adults at the festival agreed and it was swamped so the kids couldn’t get near it!
The main issue with this area was that it was stuck right at the back of the festival site behind the dance arena and the main bar meaning it was quite difficult to get to, particularly when there was a band change on the main stage as everybody swamped to the bar. As it’s a showground there were proper concrete pathways around parts of the site but once off these it was difficult with the push chair and the number of people swarming around meant that we weren’t confident to let Noah run free, so to speak. It did feel like the Par 4 field was a bit of an afterthought.
Our other big concern on the Saturday was the general atmosphere of the festival. It felt like a Club 18-30s holiday camp, with lots of boozed up teenagers running riot. And by teenagers I don’t mean underage – I can only commend the work of staff in tackling under age drinking on site. All over 18s had to provide ID at designated check points at which time you were given a band allowing you to be served at the bars.
Maybe it was the younger line up on the Saturday (Devlin, Rizzle Kicks, Professor Green and Chase and Status) or maybe its just a general outpouring of excitement that you get when it’s the biggest thing on the musical calendar where you live, but it did feel quite raucous at times and we left before Chase and Status, feeling the atmosphere became even less family friendly once the darkness settled in and the St Helier cider took its toll on the festival goers.
We were so unsettled by the Saturday evening that we debated whether to return on the Sunday, however, as an old indie girl at heart I didn’t want to pass up on the opportunity to see Noel Gallagher and Primal Scream so we decided to give it a try. I must admit, waking up in a nice warm bed at a sensible time after a great night’s sleep really sold the no-camping aspect of this festival to me! Mr S and I did lament over the lack of camp fire bacon (we had locally bought fresh Pain au Chocolat instead 🙂 ) and not having a 10am festival beer in your tent but the nostalgic feelings soon passed when we could get into a nice warm shower that hadn’t been used by 3000 other campers that morning.
The weather was a bit dreary and rain had been promised so I was glad I had brought wellies for us all, as the sheer number of people on the small site had made the ground quite boggy even without rain. It did mean using up precious packing allowance though, tough when you are a serial over packer like me! Trying to decide what to pack for a festival holiday in less clement parts of the world is definitely a downside to destination festivals!
Suited and booted we headed once more to the leafy parish of Trinity and were struck by the marked change in festival goer from the day before. It was a much more mixed crowd and it all just seemed a bit more relaxed than Saturday.
We decided to try out the food in hospitality, which was by local restaurateur and celeb chef Danny Moisan. At £10 a pop it was pricey but so good, it was a shame it was only available to hospitality ticket holders and not in the main site. Hospitality also had great, proper toilets which were a godsend – I am used to roughing it in some pretty grotty toilets but the queues for the main arena toilets were crazy on the Saturday and a newly toilet-trained toddler does not like to wait! I did see some toilets on site which you paid 50p for which were cleaned regularly, although I didn’t see any with a baby change area, even in hospitality.
Must admit, I was totally sold on the idea of paying a bit extra for hospitality tickets. They weren’t that much more than regular tickets but gave you better food, better toilets and a massive undercover chillout area which we spent some time in watching David Holmes on the Sunday. There were lots of families who obviously thought the same as there were lots of children in there; it gave the kids a bit of secure space to run around in while still being able to be part of the main stage action. There was even a little viewing platform which gave a great view of the main stage (although I never had an obscured view on the main stage all weekend, even standing further back in the main arena with the pushchair) and we had a great family groove to the American band Friends on the Sunday.
Overall, we had a great time at Jersey Live, especially on the Sunday. We were approached by so many people over the weekend saying how good it was to see a younger child there and so many parents saying they wanted to bring their kids next year which shows me there is a real need and a real want for a more defined, organised children’s area. The positioning of the Par 4 area needs to rethought if the organisers do want to bring in a more family friendly vibe as being stuck in a back field behind a bar is not really suitable!
The biggest bugbear for me was not being able to access the dance arena – I understand there have been issues with safety in there in previous years, but maybe the organisers could look at doing something more child friendly in there earlier in the day (it’s undercover in a large building so ideal for family friendly activities), maybe a ‘baby rave’ meaning younger kids can have a runabout and the adults can still listen to the music?!?
Another more general criticism was the sound bleed between stages, which was pretty bad between main stage, hospitality and the JT tent. I realise that this a difficult issue given the size of the site, but when David Holmes leaves the start of his DJ set after being drowned out by Alex Clare on the main stage, clearly there’s a problem! Also the turnaround times between bands on the main stage was pretty long (45-60 mins) and with no other entertainment it got a bit tedious.
There could also be more chill out space too. It all felt a bit full on with the funfair, so more seating akin to the space in the hospitality area would be a great addition and would provide a bit of quieter space for younger children and breastfeeding mothers. If the fair is going to be a mainstay, there could be more rides/stalls for younger children too.
Highlights (apart from Mr Gallagher and 10,000 people singing Oasis songs in a field in Jersey!) were:
The Setting – it’s just a beautiful site set in beautiful countryside and the sun setting over the site was pretty special.
The Staff – they were all amazing, polite and helpful and it’s the first time I have ever seen real policemen on a festival site, so we felt pretty safe! Despite my earlier concerns regarding drunken revelry on the Saturday, everyone was pretty respectful of Noah and I only had one lairy person fall into the pushchair (there must always be one!).
The Human Jukebox in the Par 4 field was inspired and my little boy loved the Gorillas.
So to destination festival or not? I loved our time in Jersey. It’s a really family friendly island and really think with a few changes Jersey Live could be a great family festival. In its current form, I am not sure I would take Noah again, although I would go with a group of friends and get more involved with the revelry myself! But I do think we would consider including a festival within a family holiday again – it does take more organisation but is a great addition and something everyone in the family can enjoy together. I’m holding out for something in the sunshine next time, less wellies, more bikinis!