When you arrive at a festival and immediately feel as though you’ve come home, you know it’s got something special. Wood Festival feels like that to us.
We sat in front of the beautiful main stage on the Friday evening, the sun low in the sky, surrounded by trees. We ate, we listened and we watched.
We watched children, so fresh from school they were still in their uniforms, bounce around with new friends in the open air. There was something so joyful about the image of kids in uniforms (which convey a suggestion of control), running around with complete freedom and abandon at a festival just a few hours after they had left school.
It served as a reminder that whatever our week had held up until that point – school, work, travel, now was a time to exist fully in a completely different space.
How did we spend our weekend?
Wood Festival has a wealth of amazing workshops, which I’ll go into in greater detail later, but we found this year, in part I’m sure down to the amazing weather, we did an awful lot of what I can only call lazing around!
The area surrounding the main stage is gorgeous and the capacity of Wood at around 1000, means there is never anything even close to resembling a crowd. As such, us adults whiled away many a happy hour in the sunshine on a picnic rug, enjoying the music, which was often folk or Americana-tinged. And it wasn’t just the adults who enjoyed flumping on the grass…
The lovely camp fire makes a fantastic place to gather later in the day and we enjoyed many long chats around it.
Our children made the most of the ample space, running around with their new friends and playing football in what is such a safe, friendly and easy-going environment.
The front of the stage was always left free for children to play. In fact, during many of the sets over the weekend, children were actually sitting on the stage. My two paid a lot more attention to the music than they do at larger festivals, I’m sure because they were more able to feel a part of it.
They also loved wandering the little stalls and my seven-year-old especially loved the stall that sold joke shop wares.
I’m not sure he understood the purpose of the ‘Smelly Feet Sweets’ though, made to look exactly like normal boiled sweets, as after buying some he proceeded to open them and eat one himself!
Food and Drink
Luckily, there was more to tempt us with than Smelly Feet sweets and we ate well all weekend. My seven-year-old has been bowled over three years in a row by the Taste Tibet stall and now asks if the ‘chickpea and spinach curry place’ will be there at every festival we attend.
It is a lovely stall and we all ate from there at various times over the weekend, although my son insisted that he did every day. For £3.50 they served him with a fab child’s portion of the aforementioned chickpea and spinach curry, plus potato and pea curry with daal and rice. They were so lovely with him and even told me he could back for more if it wasn’t enough to fill him up.
An adult portion of the same curries was £7.50 and delicious and filling. Over the weekend, we also ate wood-fired pizzas, halloumi burgers, lovely, chunky chips and a vegan platter.
The size of Wood Festival means there is always going to be a limit as to how many food stalls it can support, so you won’t get the variety of a larger festival, but I think it does well. The food is all of a good quality, reasonably priced and served in biodegradable or recyclable containers. It’s easy to eat if you have dietary requirements – gluten free, veggie and vegan food is all readily available here, which I think is admirable given the size of the festival.
I do think anyone serving crepes, juices or smoothies would clean up though, and make a welcome addition.
We really enjoyed the music at Wood. Folk and Americana is perfect for a lazy, sunny afternoon, and all the acts were accomplished and friendly.
We particularly enjoyed Grace Petrie on the Saturday evening. Her wit, compassion and socialist politics meant that both her protest songs and love songs went down really well, earning her a standing ovation from a crowd that had previously seemed firmly planted on their bottoms after a day in the Oxfordshire sun.
William the Conqueror, a rootsy, grungy affair, were awesome in the Treebadour Tent and I would definitely like to see them again.
Also in the tent were George Borowski and his daughter Mora. We saw them close the festival last year and really enjoyed their set, so I was pleased to see they were playing again this year.
George, who is the George from the line, “Check out Guitar George, he knows all the chords,” from Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing, is an incredible guitar player. His daughter Mora has a strong and wonderfully rousing voice, plus they seem to be really, really good people. Their banter on stage is so full of love and compassion and I just love their northern wit.
Finally, I can’t talk about the music without mentioning the wonderful children’s singer Nick Cope. I think it tells you a lot about Wood that this year he was promoted to a penultimate set on the main stage on the Sunday evening (Wood finishes early on the Sunday, so this was 5.45 p.m.)
Children (and parents) flocked to the front for his set. My 11-year-old was one of the first to eagerly grab a wooden guitar and plastic glasses when they were handed out, and happily joined in with children half her age, dancing along to songs about dinosaurs.
This is one of my favourite memories of this year’s Wood. When you visit festivals regularly, you get to watch your children grow up at them and you are wowed by the independence and new skills they develop each year. But it’s also very magical to watch them happily revert to a younger self, free from judgemental eyes, allowed to be children.
The workshops at Wood are fantastic and always one of the first things I mention to friends when discussing the festival.
We didn’t do as many this year as we did last year (you can read my 2017 review here), mainly due to the lovely weather, but what we did do we really enjoyed.
Both my children love drama but don’t go to any drama clubs, so this is the first type of workshop they look out for. Luckily Wood is really strong in this area. As well as the drama improvisation classes for all ages, there were three age-specific drama sessions provided by local company Boost Drama.
Even though my daughter is 11, she was allowed to take part in the 7-10 workshop with her little brother who was too nervous to do it alone. It was a really well run session that included emoting, mime and improvisation. The children were given various tasks, like saying the word ‘spaghetti’ while conveying a range of different emotions. They also mimed out actions from cards for the other children to guess, and then had improvised conversations in twos. Both my children found it really fun and absorbing.
My daughter then also took part in the 11-16 version of the same workshop. Only she and one other boy signed up, so the leader guided them into a long improvisation that twisted and turned as she handed them instructions on cards.
By the end, they had quite an audience and got a round of applause. My daughter was elated and really proud of herself.
Both my children took part in the Spanish singalong, which was led by two lovely Spanish ladies. Considering my daughter was the oldest by some considerable way, she absolutely loved it and joined in whole-heartedly with the Spanish nursery rhymes. In fact, all the children seemed to be having a great time.
Mty daughter and I also did the hulahoop dance workshop, which was great fun and very popular. It was nice to learn a few tricks beyond wiggling with the hoop around your waist. We both enjoyed swapping the hoop from wrist to wrist while it was spinning.
My husband and I did a workshop by ourselves while our children played. It was called ‘Healing Through The Aura” and was fascinating. The lady leading the session explained how to look for auras, how they can change, what they mean and how we can begin to heal with the use of them. The tipi is a great place for this kind of session as it feels very intimate and relaxing.
There were so many other workshops available. Adults could try Poetry Writing, Shamanism, Chinese Tea Tasting, or A Capella Harmony Singing, to name just a tiny few. For children, you could choose from a huge selection that included Willow Weaving, Button Crafts, Parent and Baby Massage as well as theatre and storytelling. All the workshops take place under cover, so it is always so easy to find shelter from the outdoors if you need it.
Earlier this year, Wood Festival won A Greener Festival Award, obtaining the full four stars. It’s not hard to see why. An understanding of the immediate and wider environment are obvious here. From the living roof on the stage, to the compost toilets, natural soaps and wealth of recycling bins, they are doing their best to be responsible.
But Wood pushes itself too and I love this about the festival. Despite the fact they have been selling only reusable plastic glasses other years, this year they decided to ditch these in place of recycled stainless steel pint mugs.
An email was sent out before the event with the offer that if you pre-ordered one for £5, you would find it filled with a free pint of cider or beer when you picked it up. What a great idea.
We love the compost loos at Wood. We really do. I wish all festivals could have them. They are so charming, clean, ethical and not smelly, certainly when compared to chemical loos anyway. The wonderful hand-washing stations with the lovely selection of soap-on-a-rope makes for the best hand-washing I’ve seen at any festival.
What’s the vibe like?
Wood exudes calm. What stood out to me the most as I wandered the festival site with my camera, was the abundance of relaxed adults and happy children. Everywhere you went, children were free, content and at play.
They could fight with swords and it wasn’t aggressive; they could play football and it wasn’t annoying; they could wander and not get lost.
Would We Recommend Wood?
Yes, yes and yes again. It makes a brilliant first-time festival for families who want a small, safe environment for their first experience of festivals with children. It’s very laid back, so if you want something more full-on, it won’t be for you.
However, if amazing workshops, chilled-out music and ample room for your children to play in an environmentally-conscious space is your bag, Wood fulfils this and so much more besides.