Admittedly, I only took the family along to this event on the basis of its close proximity to home, although I noted afterwards that it was quite rightly nominated for the 2013 Best Small Festival and Best Family Festival awards, but sadly didn’t win. The kids loved the Pirate Party Brigade, a lively group of scallywags from Jersey who described their music as ‘ska-gypsy-punk’, and whose confetti canon secured the interest of their younger viewers. The Military Wives Choir scored points for sentimentality and whilst the Cadbury Sisters seemed uncomfortable on stage at first, and a little too quiet throughout, I was sufficiently compelled to purchase their CD immediately after their set and have spent many hours listening to it since.
Whilst I probably wouldn’t have recommend travelling from outside the UK to attend this music festival (unless you have children who love face paints and glitter tattoos in abundance and want to combine it with some sightseeing in the Cotswolds), it certainly made a very pleasant introduction to festival culture for families with younger children, and the variety of acts meant that there was something to suit most popular tastes. Its line-up was never going to challenge the bigger festivals, although I’ve still not forgiven myself for missing Top Loader’s appearance at the Lechlade Music Festival a couple of years ago, but it was certainly worth a day out, especially for those sufficiently open minded to try out some lesser known acts.
If however, you are the type of festival goer who craves a more spiritual experience, or you attend such gatherings for politically motivated reasons, then this probably isn’t the one for you. The confetti cannons were undoubtedly great for the kids, but they were also a sad reminder that, thanks in no small part to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, it is now almost impossible to rekindle the counter-cultural spirit of early 1970s music festivals; even if we squint at the fluttering confetti we know that it can never be the same as witnessing the Rolling Stones release several hundred white butterflies on stage in Hyde Park in July 1969. Ironically, it was the 1979 Fourth People’s Free Music Festival at Watchfield, no more than a handful of miles down the road, which perhaps signalled the demise of the original spirit of UK music festivals, with it’s enforced external controls and behavioural expectations kept in check by a planned police presence.
The Lechlade Music Festival certainly makes for a quality, relaxed, family friendly weekend, but some might find themselves left wanting something more, lamenting the bygone era of music festivals which facilitated a sense of escape from normal life (note the countless fast food and retail outlets dotted around modern-day festival sites), a return to ‘the garden’ (thwarted by fences, designated areas, ID wristbands etc.) or the freedom to explore countercultural ideas (now little more than apolitical family entertainment). Like other festivals which I have attended recently, I came away feeling that it was rather like having attended a birthday party without ever knowing the identity of the birthday boy or girl; everyone had danced, made merry and spent lots of money in the process of celebrating, but somehow the meaning and purpose of it all had become a little obscure.