Larmer Tree 2011 review

Festival Kidz goes to Larmer Tree Festival 2011

mud dance larmer tree

Wednesday:  An hour before we planned to leave and we start packing… well obviously we weren’t nearly ready in an hour so ended up leaving 2 hours later than planned!  Oops!  What is it that makes me think I would be more efficient at packing for a family of four by now?!  I seriously overestimate my packing abilities sometimes… Anyway by the time we arrived at Larmer Tree later that evening we had 2 very excited girls squealing in the back of the Campervan.  This really is their favourite festival.

We parked up in a nice sunny spot in the campervan field with great views over to the festival site.  Although not far by most festival’s standards, it does feel like a real trek from the main arena.  We’ve been spoiled in the past by camping right outside the main entrance where the family camping area is now situated.  On the plus side, the campervan field was so peaceful at night, and any sounds from the arena were actually quite clear from the main stage!

By the time we had set up camp and cooked dinner we decided to just put the girls to bed.  It was a still night so we cracked open some beers and listened from the comfort of our awning to Jools Holland playing what sounded like a well-received set with his guests Ruby Turner, Sandie Shaw, and many others.

Thursday was another beautifully sunny morning and life felt good.  Our morning was spent gently wandering around the site, checking out the new layout of the Global Bazaar, exploring Lostwood, making bracelets in the Earthwise Woodland Crafts yurt, and looking out for Larmer Luminaries.

ukulele orchestra of great britainNext stop was the Press Garden to find out if and when we could interview the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (UOGB).  My kids were keen to do some Junior Reporting for me this year and really love their ukuleles.  Once we were given the all clear for the interview, the girls then set about writing out their questions and arranging who would ask what and in what order… a minor few squabbles and nervous panics later and the girls were all set.

We were honoured to have our interview with all 8 members of the orchestra, and what a lovely and talented bunch of people they were too.   I’m making a video clip of the interview so I won’t give too much away now but they were so much fun and the girls were chuffed to bits, they even got the chance to play a miniature ukulele which would have been better suited to their Barbie dolls!!

hotell bell tentBy chance we bumped into Tobyn from who invited us to spend a night in his gorgeous Hotel Bell Tent.  I have drooled over beautiful Bell Tents for years but never actually spent a night in one so we happily checked in to our new sumptuously cosy retreat.  I can really see the appeal of booking one of these gorgeous tents… arriving and having everything ready set up for you, lovely soft mattresses, beautiful furnishings… and no tent to pack away at the end – what a treat!

It was quite a chore to drag ourselves out again to go and watch the evening bands but we were so glad we did.  The UOGB performed a hugely entertaining set, to much hilarious banter and singing along.  The girls felt particularly excited about watching them perform, knowing that just a few hours earlier they had been backstage chatting to them and playing on the very same instruments.

morning in Hotel Bell Tent

As is inevitable with young kids at a festival, the girl’s batteries ran out so we couldn’t catch all of Imelda May‘s stunning performance, instead we went back to the ‘hotel’ to relax.  We lit the tea-light chandelier and, feeling very bohemian, settled down on our comfy mattress swigging red wine and chatting together in the candlelight as the girls slept soundly in their beds…  It was too dark to take a good photo at night, but here’s a shot from the morning after.  We could have spent all day in that tent but we had lots to do so after we had thanked Tobyn for the privilege of enjoying a cosy night in the luxury Hotel Bell Tent, we checked out.

pitta workshop larmer tree festivalFriday is the day that most of the workshops and other activities start running so we started with yoga in the sunshine on the Main Lawns, followed by the popular Pitta Bread Making Workshop with Pizza Tabun.

We spent a lazy and glorious afternoon the Main Lawns listening to the soft sounds of Polly and the Billets Doux and a phenomenal set by Matthew and the Atlas, who Steve described as a cross between Mumford and Sons and the Kings of Leon.

ozomatli festival kidzBut for us, Friday was dominated by Ozomatli.  My 8 year old interviewed 2 members of the band backstage and then watched their fabulous energetic OzoKidz show.  So refreshing to have children’s entertainment that doesn’t patronise the audience.  Their songs were as musically tight as their usual ‘adult’ set, only their performance was adapted for an audience of children.  They interacted playfully with the kids, wore funny masks and outfits, invited some kids on stage, and generally encouraged a lot of participation from the willing crowd.  The Big Top was packed out with parents and kids grinning from ear to ear dancing away to the infectious tunes.  Watch our Ozomatli interview.

The rain then came and we couldn’t get it together to watch Mama Roisin but managed to catch the end and saw they had gone down very well with the crowd.  Likewise Bellowhead‘s audience were loving the set despite the wet.  We were cowards and had settled into The Social to watch a few acoustic musicians, and once inside the snug reindeer herder’s tipis we were finding it very hard to drag ourselves back out into the rainy night… but needs must, and there was a headliner we wanted to catch…

ozomatliAnd catch it we did… Ozomatli blew the entire audience away with their incredible 90 minute set, opening with old classics from Embrace the Chaos and moving on to their newer material, all delivered with their unbridled energy, funky Latin rhythms and Hip Hop beats.  Each member of the band takes the lead in different songs and this is something I love about them – they’ve played together a long time and it shows.  There are no egos or power struggles, just respect for each other’s musicianship and individual styles.  The main lawns were a throbbing mass of bouncing bodies, oblivious to the persistent driving drizzle.  It’s easy to see why these guys have won so many Grammys!

On the way out we took a detour through the Lost Woods.  We got stuck in a queue for the site art installation, Tunnel Vision, and considered bailing out.  We stuck it out though and after 20 minutes or so were rewarded with the eerie columns of lights surrounding us to the sounds of some other worldly music.  Enchanting, surreal, slightly spooky and yet strangely calming.

Saturday:  A day of rain. rain.  and more rain…

Teya is a creature of habit and insisted on going to the Pitta Bread making workshop again, but as the rain fell heavier and heavier Kira saw sense and refused to get out of bed!  I drew the short straw and had to accompany pitta-girl in the rain while Steve got to stay warm and dry.  Still, at least he sorted the van out and had a tidy up.

We spent most of the day chilling out.  During breaks in the rain we would go for little spontaneous wanders, enjoying roaming musicians and buskers, or playing with the circus skills crew.  It was Dress Up Saturday and the weather meant a lot of people’s outfits were covered up, which was disappointing.  The girls still insisted on dressing up though, braving the damp, Teya in her 50’s inspired skirt and Kira in her Princess Leia outfit (she always insists on following her own theme!).

In the evening we spent some time hanging out by the beautiful fire pit, watching the flames flicker in the reflections of the mirror balls suspended overhead.  We caught an incredible fire show by the Invisible Circus in the Flag Circle too.  The fire hula-hooping was absolutely amazing and has inspired several new tricks in the kid’s hooping repertoires, although how the girl was hooping round her shoulder I will never know – it really was awesome.

We waited in the queue for the Headphone Disco for what felt an eternity, but they were having technical problems so eventually we gave up.  Little one wanted her bed so I snuggled her down in the wagon and took her back to the van while Steve and Teya went off to have a groove to the formidable DJ Derek.  We so love DJ Derek!

Sunday saw another lazy start to the day and we hadn’t planned on doing too much other than mooch about and maybe pack down and leave later that evening.  I was still in my PJ’s with yesterdays make-up halfway down my face when I got a call to come and interview James Shepherd, one of the Larmer Tree Festival Directors!  ‘Oops‘ I thought, I had forgotten about that… so I dashed about attempting to make myself presentable, tried to think of some interesting questions and rushed off to meet him.  And what a lovely man he was too.  We chatted about why Larmer Tree is so enjoyable for families, its coming of age, and its future.  You can read the interview here.

I met my family later in the Larmer Parler and listened to the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band giving their talk on The Magic of Rajasthan.  The girls were entranced by their stories of elephant taxis and their ornate clothing.  The band were taking questions from the audience and everyone came away having learnt interesting facts about the culture and history of Rajasthan.  The girl’s favourite was the Snake Charmer and the cobra dance she performed.

sarpenela natural therapies centreThe final day is always a good day for a bit of pampering after festival life is beginning to take its toll on our bodies and energy levels.  We treated the girls to a massage from Sarah Lownds, our favourite festival therapist, who runs the nearby Sarpenela Natural Therapy Centre.  I found it so heartwarming to see the girls relax under Sarah’s gentle touch – they adored the massage and spent most of the afternoon in a calm state of bliss…

Their relaxed state lasted right until we went back into the mud-stricken Global Bazaar area.  We were just calling in on my mum in the Artist’s Quarter to say goodbye (she and her partner Premgit have the Moorlight photography stall) when the girls decided that the mud looked unbearably exciting!  A new uncontainable energy had invaded the girl’s bodies – I saw their tell-tale grins and braced myself… and sure enough the next thing I knew they had taken their wellies off and were running around in that thick squelchy mud and squidging it between their toes!  I think they were desperately hoping they would fall over in it, and I was dreading that, but by some miracle they stayed upright – phew!

I don’t know how, but eventually we managed to persuade them to leave their muddy fun behind and off we went.  But as we jumped in the van to drive away I heard ‘Zorbing‘ by Stornoway playing out across the valley.  It sounded so beautiful.  Tears stung my eyes as we drove down the avenue of trees and out of the site – that haunting melody echoing in my head – such a fitting soundtrack to end such a wonderful weekend on.

Thank you Larmer Tree – we will of course be back! x


The Larmer Tree Festival is an independent festival with a non-corporate ethos, held in July in the beautiful and unique Larmer Tree Gardens, near Salisbury, on the Wiltshire/Dorset border.  There are six stages, over 70 artists, comedy, 150 free workshops, street theatre, and spoken word plus much, much more!  It’s a real gem of a festival for all generations to come together in a shared celebration of music and art.  Tickets sell out every year so be sure to buy yours in advance.

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