It was our family’s first visit to WOMAD and it was easy to see why so many people return faithfully year after year. What stood out was the variety of music and workshops on offer, together with one of the best equipped kids’ fields we have seen. I found myself wishing my children were younger to enjoy the full scope of what was on offer!
For a quick preview see our video – best with the sound on for music by Femi Kuti (who performed an amazing headline set this year):
Camping and Facilities
The campsite was stunning and the family camping stretched from the arena across a beautiful flower-filled field to the woods and the Moon stage. There were several options for live-in vehicles, including the Meadow which was a bit further away but the other side of the woods, making a lovely walk back.
Toilets were the composting long drop ones, which I prefer to the chemical ones. They were kept in very good condition, and rarely ran out of paper and soap. They got busy around the main stages but you could always walk to one further away without a queue. Some people reported a problem with dirty sawdust and paper being blown up out of the toilet by the wind. This seems like a design problem which could be fixed, but until they do best not use them while it’s blustery.
There were free showers available, with queues at busy times, but this is the same for most festivals this size.
The weather was challenging this year, with heavy rain before and during the festival, but the addition of metal paths meant it was always easy to get around the site. There were many covered stages and sheltered areas so the weather didn’t spoil our weekend at all. As we had a caravan we needed a tow off site but we didn’t have to wait long for a tractor.
It is clear that WOMAD take accessibility seriously with provision throughout the site and friendly helpful stewards. There were viewing platforms and disabled toilets, and many acts had sign language interpreters. The accessible camping was well located close to the entrance and there were firm pathways to get across the site. There was a lot of mud this year and the festival coped with it admirably.
World of children
The children’s area seemed to have everything. There were two large craft tents with a variety of activities all day. But as well as that there were individual tents offering the same thing for those children that wanted to stay and do something for longer. At many festivals you will find a 2 hour clay sculpting slot for example; at WOMAD the clay was on offer all day. Anyone with neurodiverse children particularly knows how important this can be.
There was an upcycling clothes area, a storytelling tent, huge puppets children could animate, aerial workshops, a forest school, walkabout performers, and many other activities. This is the first festival I have seen storytelling all day, and I wish more festivals did this! Molly’s bar, the venue next to the kids area, had family friendly programming during the day, including children’s discos, dance, singing, yoga and ukulele workshops.
There was another area with a skateboard ramp, DJ and graffiti workshops – presumably for teens but all ages were having a go. The climbing wall appeared to be the only thing in the kids’ field charging, at £3 a go.
There was a separate fenced off toddler and baby area that was a little oasis of calm – with a chill out tent with books, another one with lego, outdoor toys, a sand pit, a breastfeeding and changing area.
The favourite place for our children was the ‘play music’ tent which had instruments and teachers available for as long as a child was interested. My eldest was interested in playing the violin and ended up spending a large chunk of the festival in that tent. We left all our kids learning various instruments to go and see some music and when we came back they were jamming together with the staff and other beginner learners in an impromptu folk band. It was lovely to see the children so invested in educational activities.
Among so many festivals packed full of the same UK bands, WOMAD stands out as an oasis for music lovers. My favourite thing to do at WOMAD was wander between tents and discover the most incredible music.
There were plenty of venues to suit all tastes – there were five main stages including d&b Soundscape featuring d&b and dance music, the Ecotricity stage, a small outdoor stage in the woods, and Charlie Gillet Stage with some excellent jazz. There was even a stage at the Museum of the Moon under a large moon in the woods, with DJs and dancing in the trees. Cafes also had live music. There was so much quality music on offer that there were usually several things we wanted to see at any time.
Our music highlights started on Thursday with the opening of the festival and the brilliant drumming and dancing of the Malmesbury School Project. Friday’s highlight was Dutty Moonshine Big Band who got the crowd dancing despite being on early in the day. Saturday’s set by The Comet is Coming mixed jazz and electronic dance, with stunning visuals. Sunday I discovered Nihiloxica – a fusion of dance music and real African drumming (why has this not been done before, it was brilliant!) and Femi Kuti and the Positive Force played a fantastic headline set. I finished the weekend with Oh My God! It’s the Church at Molly’s Bar.
Every evening ended at Molly’s Bar, the late night venue. They had some excellent DJs and acts until 3am for those who wanted to keep dancing until later. I admit that before I went to WOMAD I wasn’t sure there’d be enough dance music for me, but there were some great DJs, with decent light shows. There was also a lot of incredible fusions of world music with modern styles which was interesting and great fun to dance to.
Taste the World
The Taste the World stage was a highlight of the festival. It was good to see food have its own proper stage, and it had plenty of seating. The food demonstrations were often accompanied by stories and music from the same country which provided a great atmosphere.
The children’s sessions in the morning were particularly popular and you could see why – the show was engaging and the presenters were fun without talking down to the children. They didn’t make bland food either – the one I watched was Moroccan flatbreads with spiced dips which looked lovely.
World of Physics
The World of Physics offered science workshops and demonstrations and a planetarium show. The popular opening session demo “Resonating Sparks – the Music of Tesla Coils” was an exciting way to mix science and music.
World of Words
We spent a large amount of time in the World of Words – particularly at the Hip Yak Poetry Shack. I could quite happily have spent the day listening to all these incredible poets.
We particularly loved Edward Tripp – who was not family friendly by any means so I wouldn’t take your children to see him unless you’re prepared to answer a lot of questions afterwards! His poems were more like performance pieces – rude, insightful and blisteringly funny.
World of Words also offered literature talks, a giant crossword, and had a real bookshop on site (wonderful for our children but not so great for our wallet!)
The main highlight of the weekend for our family was the legendary Michael Rosen.
“This is the largest audience I’ve ever seen at a poetry tent” exclaimed Elvis McGonagall, the poet on before him.
As the Saturday was sunny, the Hip Yak Poetry Shack turned their stage around so that the audience could sit outside. And it was a good thing too. The crowd starting forming a long time before Michael Rosen came on. I had secured myself a spot at 2.20pm for the 3pm start (the rest of my family turned up later and had to sit much further back). But it’s not as if getting to the poetry stage early was a bad thing. We were all hugely enjoying the entertaining comedic set before. Elvis McGonagall, noticing the massing crowd, kept apologising for not being Michael Rosen – which of course made him even funnier. He finished by saying it was the biggest audience he had ever had to a huge round of applause.
As the numbers of people massed across the pathway into the next area, to the point that the affable security had to step in to make sure people could get through (this was an extremely accessible festival, and I appreciate these efforts) – the organisers acknowledged that maybe they needed to rethink the size of the stage.
It was a massive treat to see Michael Rosen and we all knew it. He told brilliantly funny and fascinating stories about his life, and led the appreciative crowd to join in with his poems. I imagine it was many other families’ highlight too and my children have been saying ‘noice’ ever since.
Our kids are now teenagers and are passionate about art, music and dance so WOMAD was the perfect festival for them. We were particularly attracted by all the different workshops and the family picked out their favourites the week before so we could make the most out of it.
We were glad we did this, as workshops filled up very early, and without planning we would not have managed to do everything we wanted to. Some of them you could book in advance but many you had to turn up early and wait. I would recommend getting to everything with limited places at least half an hour early, earlier for those with a small number of places such as the cooking and physics workshops.
My favourite was the Kora (West African harp) workshop. Luckily I signed the family up on the first day – all places for the weekend were booked out very quickly. If you miss out on booking they recommended showing up at the start of a session, particularly for the earlier ones, as people sign up but then don’t show up and you can still get a place.
We learned a small piece, and it was quite different from other instruments I had learned before so was incredibly absorbing. Our family spend a very happy hour playing the kora and we would all love to do it again.
The All Singing All Dancing tent had workshops all day, with no queue or waiting, and we visited often for the dance workshops. At the end of the Afrobeat one the audience were invited onto the stage to dance which was a real treat for my children.
The only negative from a fantastic weekend were the fairground rides in the site – the music they blasted out was intrusive and sometimes blocked the music from the stages, and the children continually pestered us to go on them. £6 for a ride made it particularly difficult for large families on a budget. While I appreciate festivals need to make money I wish they would reconsider as the weekend would be so much better without them. Having said this I know many families love them so of course this is just my view.
Food and drink
Food food FOOD! I love world food and to see so much on offer made me extremely happy. The only problem was deciding what to eat from the many enticing offerings, of pretty much anything you could think of. The children didn’t even eat any pizza! That was a first.
Bars and cocktails bars were plentiful, with a deposit on plastic cups. The WOMAD crowd also picked up their litter which was great to see.
There was a large covered area called The Dining Room which was invaluable in bad weather.
All the food we tried was incredibly tasty, and main meals were around £10-13. We brought food with us to make breakfast and a sandwich lunch so we only bought food once a day, although we would have loved to have eaten more festival food and could have quite happily eaten out all weekend with the variety on offer.
The adults tried Sengalese peanut curry, Tibetan momos, Indonesian coconut curry and pad thai. The children loved the Om Burgers.
There were also quite a few cafes with room to sit inside and shelter, some with live music. There was a cafe in the kids field serving child friendly food such as pasta bowls with lots of seating, and the lovely Tiny Tea Tent which was full of sofas.
The kids’ favourite place was the Crumble Shack – for obvious reasons!
I don’t usually mention festival shops in a review, but there were so many great little places at WOMAD. Lots of shops had bargain bins or rails, and there were several second hand clothes shops which our children loved.
The Oxfam shop was well stocked including cheap camping gear and waterproofs, which I’m sure was invaluable to many people on a weekend with such difficult weather.
Adults and children alike had a lot of fun at Prat in a Hat – trying on hats from the bargain bins outside (£3 or 2 for £5 ). My kids got some lovely second had clothes from there including denim jackets for £10.
The breadth of cultural programming was impressive and the crowd matched that – one of the most diverse inclusive crowds, from all over the world, from tiny babies to the very old.
It was one of the first festivals in a long time where I haven’t felt I was that far over the average age… and this made for a slower less hedonistic festival. There was still decent late night music and were always festival-goers out dancing to the early hours, but it’s not the place to go if you’re looking for a crazy party. This did make it feel incredibly safe for families and children, and there was no problem with the children going off on their own.
The performers mixed together with the audience and it was lovely to share cultural experiences and dance with people from so many countries. The parade was full of musicians and brilliant costumes. Drumming circles and music popped up with people jamming for fun. One of my favourite moments was during some of the worst rain, when a drumming circle moved into a shop and the people sheltering joined in, or danced around the tiny tent. It is the perfect festival for those who love live music and culture.
Would we go again?
WOMAD was a wonderful festival and we will certainly be back. We would particularly recommend this for families as it has plenty on offer for all ages. The mix of music and workshops, culture from across the world, and friendly people is a recipe for a brilliant weekend.