It’s tricky for a dance music family-friendly festival to balance the party and family elements. I think The Shindig Weekender managed this well, giving a great mix of the two.
It was a lovely warm bundle of arty-party fun, with a fantastic kids’ field to boot.
While I don’t think it will appeal to parents who want to keep their kids away from this kind of partying, I thought it was great for parents who look for a bit of craziness and proper dancing in their festivals. There was also plenty of space and chilled out areas for families to hang back and relax while the children ran around.
The main part of the festival was a bit too busy and a bit too loud for our kids. So we didn’t see a lot of the big names. And there were so many brilliant people on the line up. It’s definitely worth getting ear defenders for this one!
If we had been camping a bit closer we could have taken it in turns to go and see the acts while the children played in the kids’ field. And this brings me to the big problem we had there.
Our experience at the Shindig Weekender was affected by where we were directed to camp. We decided to wait until school had ended before setting off from London, so by the time we arrived it was already 8pm. This meant we were camped in the car park instead of the campervan field.
I believe that if we had been camped in the campervan field our experience would have been very different, so I’m going to separate my review of the camping and my review of the festival.
The music at The Shindig Weekender was simply fantastic. There were some bigger names, some up and coming bands and DJs, some unknowns and some great regulars. I do think that if you’re into the same sort of music that we are – ie dance, soul, funk, hip hop – you will be happy here!
I managed to see Soul II Soul, Norman Jay, The Cuban Brothers, Plump DJs, and we even got our children dancing to Smoove + Turrell. But the lineup also included the Dub Pistols, Stereo MC’s, Mr Scruff and Correspondents, all some of our favourite live acts. It was impressive to have so much talent on one weekend.
There were lots of venues spread out across the site and some smaller venues pumping out easy-dancing which appealed to the largely young crowd. There was definitely an element of the party crowd out who were a bit worse for wear early on in the evening, but it was all extremely safe and friendly. Added to that, there were so many small venues that away from the main stages it never felt too crowded.
I loved how many of the acts booked were simply about having fun. I stumbled into Acid House Therapy by accident – they were playing great acid house while doing a very funny act making fun of the whole era. They even handed out ‘pills’ on a tray at one point (I managed to get a parma violet!). There was also an entire venue built like a church with dancing nuns. They had so many different fun small venues that you could easily roam around until you found something you liked.
My children spent a lot of time in the rocket field. Here they had a fire breathing dragon that danced to music, and bits of old jet engines and helicopters that the kids could climb on. Having stuff for kids to climb on is an important part of any festival for our family so we spent a lot of time here! It would have been great if the adults could see a stage from the helicopters, but we were close to the music. There were quite a few other parents dancing round the helicopters in the evening.
The Word tent was my favourite one. It had talks about green futures and sustainability – we watched a presentation about trying to preserve elephants’ habitats. There was also comedy, and I managed to catch most of Mark Thomas’ set. He’s one of my favourite comedians and someone who I used to see every year at Glastonbury, so it was a treat to watch him again. His set wasn’t at all family friendly though so I had to leave the children and sneak off to watch it!
The kids’ field
A lot of thought had been put into the kids’ field, and everything in the kids’ field was free. There were tents for babies, toddlers, and younger children, with activities going on all day. There was a badge making tent and a tent full of old clothing and sewing machines that I know my children would have been in most of the festival if it hadn’t been so sunny. They also had a climbing wall and various workshops and performances all day.
My girls particularly loved the climbing wall, and although it was a long queue they were happy to wait. One of my children loved the aerial circus workshop she went back there several times, and it was great they were running it long enough that she could actually start learning some of the techniques.
There were roving metal animals and odd creatures wandering around and it gave a lovely festival-feel to the kids’ area. There were quirky shows like the Feminist Mouse Theatre, which my children loved so much they watched twice, and a storytelling session where the children were given lots of different objects and created stories in groups. Junior Jungle were there getting children up and dancing, and there was a fantastic teenager tent offering classes in graffiti, beat boxing, break dancing and DJ-ing.
There were a variety of crafts on offer. My girls chose to do the pottery glazing – for £5 they painted glaze onto ceramic butterflies which were then baked overnight for us to pick up the next day. The girls were welcomed everywhere we went which was lovely as sometimes my twins can get a bit… how can I say – ‘bouncy’ when they’re excited and other people don’t always react well to them. The girls were even invited to help with one of the large willow pieces which they loved.
No fairground rides!
The Shindig Weekender didn’t have fairground rides. Instead it offered us a fire breathing dragon, impressive circus performers and a large chess set. This made me very happy.
I have a strong opinion on fairground rides at festivals, I wish there weren’t any. They are costly, especially for large families like us, but are also noisy and often polluting. They appeal to children much like sweets do, capturing their attention. But unlike sweets they are too big to ignore. Parents bring children to festivals for the community, music and creativity – and yet fairground rides always drag children away from these things.
I loved that there were child-friendly food places at the top of the kids’ field such as cheese toasties and pasta. This is the first festival we have been to that has offered a range of kid friendly food in the kids’ field. There was lots of lovely food on offer around the festival, including the lovely Pizza and Puppets who are always worth a visit.
The festival was spaced out but much of the space to listen to the main acts was next to the main thoroughfares. This meant it was difficult to sit and listen to the main acts and as a result we missed many of them.
The best places were further out of the main festival. There was a small stone circle further up the hill where you could watch the sunset, with a large inflatable and a large chess set for the kids. It was a beautiful spot with an incredible view, and one adult could always sneak down the hill to the festival to listen to some music and pick up a couple of beers. There was also a communal bonfire up on the hill at night.
If there had only been some (quieter) entertainment for the adults on the hill it would have been a perfect place! At one point one of the wandering performers set up near us and it was fantastic – the children were happy playing and we had festival entertainment to listen to. Watching the children playing chess and listening to Suzy Condrad layering tracks into beautiful songs was one of the best moments of my year.
There was such great artwork through the site I feel I need to mention it separately. I always love it when festivals make an effort with their art – and having climbable art is absolutely the best thing festivals can do for families!
There were robots hanging in the trees, and large sculptures everywhere, many that moved making the festival particularly magical.
My children particularly loved the metal fire-breathing dragon, the pile of rubbish that turned into a monster, the metal horse and goats walking around, and the dinosaur made out of old suitcases!
The toilets were GREAT! I rarely say this in reviews. They were compost long drops, but with proper doors you can lock (useful for families!), a hook on the door to hang your bag, hand gel and paper, and some even had sinks with soap. They never filled up, they must have been emptying them regularly. There were separate kids’ toilets in the kids’ field too. When there weren’t enough toilets in our field on the first day we started to get worried, but another set of three arrived the next day. Five stars to Shindig’s toilets!
The showers cost £5, or £10 for the weekend. I would advise bringing a bucket and a kettle and washing the children down by your tent – so much easier and fun too.
Family camping looked good, and had stewards checking people in and out so felt safe. We met some families who were not happy as they had not found family camping and had ended up in regular camping with the party crowd. This can easily be solved by training stewards, giving them a proper map and putting up a few signs.
Problems with caravan camping
When we arrived the campervan field was full, so we were directed to park at the far end of the car park by the exit road, so we had cars driving past us all day. We spent the first day trying to find the nearest water tap – there were no signs and the stewards didn’t know. When we did find it, it was 3 fields over. I don’t like to whinge and we’re used to roughing it but a family of 5 drink a lot of water so it made the festival just that bit harder for us.
Unfortunately the stewards didn’t know how to get to the festival, and it was through a maze of fields and badly-lit paths – we walked over a mile to get there. The map that came with the program was no help. It only showed the central area with an arrow pointing to ‘campervan field’ which we weren’t even in.
Added to that no signs and not much lighting made it very difficult at night and so I decided on the first night not to go out on my own again. If we had been closer to the festival, with a water tap, the whole festival would have been completely different for us, so I did feel that was a shame.
Why am I being so critical? It’s because I loved this festival, I think it’s special and I want it to be perfect.
[I have been in communication with the organisers and they assure me they’ve take all our issues on board and next year there will be more space in the campervan field, water points, signage and better trained stewards. Given the love that they have put into this festival I am convinced that these things will be fixed next year.]
Would I return to The Shindig Weekender?
Yes absolutely. It was a lot of fun with great art, lots of things for children and excellent music. The vibe was also lovely and properly ‘festivally’ which is a difficult thing to get right.
Early bird tickets are already on sale for The Shindig Weekender 2019. Our advice is to grab them now, as it sold out early last year!