Lunar Festival 2018 Review

Lunar Festival is a celebration of the moon, nature and all things psychedelic, set in the beautiful Umberslade Estate in Warwickshire. Back from a break in 2017, Lunar promised to be bigger and better than ever before, so I went with my family to see what has changed.

Goldfrapp Lunar
Goldfrapp

An Old Favourite

Our family love Lunar Festival for many reasons. Firstly, it’s local, which means that we arrive at the festival happy, relaxed and not exhausted after a long journey. It’s small, which means it is safe enough for children to explore by themselves. Finally it has it’s own distinctive style which I haven’t experienced at other festivals; heavily influenced by 60s psychedelia, the music of Nick Drake who was born on this estate, and a slightly pagan feel with the communal bonfire, woodland creatures and Sunday procession.

I was slightly anxious when I heard that the organisers of Lunar had decided to make some bold changes: they moved the date from May to the summer holidays, increased the capacity, and introduced some upmarket features including a range of glamping options, pre-bookable family camping and hot tubs. However it didn’t matter at all and we all had a blast.

Nick Drake
Nick Drake, who was born on the Umberslade Estate

Getting in

When we first arrived we walked to collect our wristbands, I saw many happy NHS workers showing their identification in exchange for free entry. I think this was such a lovely generous gesture for the Lunar organisers to make.

The security staff were friendly and efficient, checking bags as we walked in. No liquid of any form is allowed in the festival arena, although we were allowed to take in empty water bottles which we could fill at the tap.

Cans of fizzy drink could be bought for £1 at the Moonshine café. Whilst I am sure this strategy is good for business I don’t know what children are supposed to do if they don’t drink plain water or fizzy drinks. Perhaps the children’s area could offer bottles of cordial which could be added to water for a small donation? Or milk?

The Site

Previously the festival site was based around 2 fields. This time, in order to get to the main stage we had to walk past some stalls selling juggling equipment and several fairground rides.  The food stalls had been moved from the back of the main field into a hardstanding area, which was on your left as you walked into the main arena.

The new layout changed the feel of the festival slightly. There seemed to be much less activity at the top of the main field than before. However it did make the kid’s sports field more included as part of the festival, as you had to walk past this to get into the main area.

Joyful dancing Lunar
Joyful dancing

Food and drink

There was the usual range of food stalls selling Thai food, Burritos, breakfasts, hot dogs and pizzas. Sloppy Joe’s cafe offered kids meals, a hot dog meal with fries and a drink was £5 which was good value.

The Moonshine Café served home made food for reasonable prices and had the benefit of being in a large covered tent, which was invaluable when the heavens opened on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. They sold some healthier options including baked potatoes with cheese and beans for £5, nachos with vegetarian or meat chilli for £6.50, chicken curry and burgers. Cups of tea and coffee were a very reasonable £1 and hot chocolate was £1.50. Brownies, vegan flapjack, sheep’s milk ice cream, waffles and milkshakes were available.

I would love to see some of the street food vendors from the Digbeth Dining Club come to Lunar festival. Birmingham has such a great range of diverse street food and I think that this would be a perfect match with Lunar to make it feel that tiny bit more special and local.

Drinks were available at the bars around the site. Jugs of Pimms were £20, a pitcher of prosecco was £27 and a pint was £4.50.

Children’s activities

Once I had got my head around the new layout I was pleased to see that a lot of the familiar activities were still in place. There was a field which was dedicated to playing football (under 7s and over 7s coaching sessions), battle frisbee, Lunar Olympics and an over 14s game were enjoyed by lots of children.

Royal Shakespeare Comapny workshops
Royal Shakespeare Company workshops

The skateboard ramp was busy with kids of all ages and a few dads too. There was even a dads and lads football game that took place despite the pouring rain on the Sunday. There were songs with Nick Cope, which were enjoyed by the little ones, theatre workshops with the Royal Shakespeare Company, which included fighting skills and a Romeo and Juliet workshop, drawing classes, ukulele sessions, bath bomb making and a session from the National Space Centre about rockets and meteorites. It’s great to see Lunar collaborating with our local arts and science facilities and will hopefully encourage children to try things they’ve never done before.

I did hear some families with younger children express disappointment that they now had to pay a discounted price to enter the children’s farm, where previously it had been free. I think that having access to a quieter area where children can escape the noise of the festival is a fabulous idea.

For families with several small children, having to pay for the farm may make it too expensive, although it is possible to look at the goats for free from the family camping area.

Camping and glamping

The beauty of Lunar festival is that it is a 5 minute walk from the campsites to the main area. This makes it very easy to pop back to your tent for some food, a rest, or to grab an extra jumper for the evening.

The festival includes several distinct camping areas, including family camping, quiet camping, live in vehicles, pre-bookable family camping and the glamping areas. I could not see many toilets in the camping area, which meant that some people walked from their tent into the main festival site to use the loo!

There were 6 showers for the family areas which had a bit of queue. I think that as the festival organisers have increased the capacity, especially for family campers, it would be useful to have an extra set of toilets and showers. The toilets were well maintained and clean, which was great to see.

Glamping options were available, including bell tents in the main area, bell tents in the family area and landpods, which were little tents on stilts.

Hot tubs were bookable for £20 for a 50 minute session, which included a hot shower and nice toilets. On Saturday afternoon my friends and I sat in the hot tub with a jug of Pimms, listening to the music on the main stage, whilst my other half watched the kids. It didn’t even matter that it was raining.

Music and comedy

The line up for this year’s festival was an eclectic mix, including folk (The Unthanks), punk (The Stranglers), dance (Goldfrapp), world music (Amadou and Mariam) and BBC radio 6 Music including Boy Azooga and Hookworms. We really enjoyed the diversity of what was on offer.

You can get super close to the acts on the main stage and the shows felt intimate and friendly. The Unthanks played a beautiful set featuring the songs of Molly Drake, who was Nick Drake’s mother. The set felt particularly poignant as two of the sisters were heavily pregnant and they showed footage of Molly with Nick as a baby.

The Unthanks at Lunar
A beautiful set from The Unthanks at Lunar

Unfortunately the rain became heavier on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, which meant that some really great bands were playing to small audiences of people who were brave enough to stand in the pouring rain.

The atmosphere of the festival goers remained cheerful and on both evenings the rain stopped to enable people to enjoy the headline acts.

A huge hit with the kids was the Bassment Jaxx DJ set on Friday night, which saw lots of happy children dancing on their parent’s shoulders. Big Fish Little Fish were also there on Saturday morning, providing a happy dance environment with family friendly volume levels and inflatable footballs being bounced around the crowd.

The rain made us explore some new things which were taking place in the covered areas. This included comedy with Barbara Nice and Independent Country, which was a fabulous mix of 90s indie tunes reworked into country ballads. I think it would be great to have even more comedy which is aimed at an under 12 audience.

On Sunday night the sun came out in time for an impressive dance display and the familiar procession around the campfire. A huge wicker ball was pushed into a wooden structure, which was set on fire to the sound of a marching band and fire jugglers. The fire was closely supervised by a team of fire fighters. It was great to see the finale of the festival had remained unchanged and retained some of its pagan symbolism.

Summary

Lunar Festival has expanded but has still kept it’s charm as a joyful, slightly silly, laid back festival that is wonderful for children and adults alike. We all had a really good time, despite the challenging weather conditions. Well done Lunar for an amazing weekend!

Lunar festival fire
Sunday night band by the campfire

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