Sunday, 15 January 2012

Guest Post: Family Festivals for 2012 by Natasha French


I’ll never forget my first festival. For as long as the children and I could remember our friends the Hawthornes had gone to WOMAD every July. And every year they said, come with us, and every year my children said, Can we? And every year we were unaccountably too busy.

Every August we heard about the children’s workshops and the fantastic parade at the end of the festival with giant papier maché giraffes they had made. Oh, and the music too, music from all around the world.

And eventually we did it. The festival was still at Reading, and we camped in a big circle with our friends, and every morning my friend Fiona and I risked unnameable diseases by swimming in the Thames between the swans and the houseboats. The sun shone and the temperature hovered in the 80s. The fun fair lights sparkled every night and Tuareg band Tiniwaren were on the main stage in their cobalt blue robes.

So that was it. We fell in love with festivals. And to those who say that music festivals aren’t for children, I would say: all you have to do is find the right events. In years of writing about and photographing festivals, one of the great benefits has been taking the children with me.
They’re teenagers now and I’ve had the pleasure of taking my daughter with me to photograph her hero Patti Smith, at Hop Farm Festival in Kent. She saw Bob Dylan there too the year before. She’s met Imelda May. (I’ve met Seasick Steve, but let’s draw a veil over that experience). My son came to the Big Chill with me, as did a bunch of his friends and my friend Sarah. (The Big Chill has hairdryers).

So although it’s still winter you can get through the gloomy weather by planning some festival fun for your family this coming summer. In fact choosing your festival now could save you some money - ‘early bird’ tickets for some popular events are still on sale but many of the longer-established festivals will sell out before the end of the Easter holidays.

There’s no Glastonbury this year, as its farmland site needs to be rested, but there are plenty of other options which promise plenty of activities and entertainment for children, quiet areas for family camping and other kid-friendly facilities.

Happy camping
Camp Bestival (Lulworth Castle, Dorset, 26th-29th July 2012) is an award-winning family favourite, hosted by the team which also brings you the larger Bestival (Isle of Wight, 6th-9th September).  This year’s Camp Bestival will feature the ‘Silly Olympics, hundreds of free things for kids to do, music, magic and mayhem.’ There are hot showers and flushing loos, too – bliss for anyone who has endured long queues for freezing water and stinking toilet blocks.

Latitude (Southwold, Suffolk, 12th-15th July) has a literary persuasion, with plenty of poetry, comedy, cabaret, art, craft, drama, dance, film and music plus dedicated areas for children and teenagers.

This year’s Cambridge Folk Festival ( 26th-29th July) features roots, acoustic music - and kids’ workshops, including instrument-making and story-telling, as well as a fully-equipped playground and crèche. This year’s Secret Garden Party (19th-22nd July, Huntingdon) is also inviting the audience to get involved – build an art boat or vehicle, stage a theatrical performance, and under-12s come free (you can even bring the dog).

Small is beautiful

If the thought of your little ones among 20,000 people is too much to contemplate, then there are smaller ‘boutique’ festivals, nonetheless featuring well-known performers. The Larmer Tree Festival (near Salisbury, 11th-15th July) has just announced Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra as a headline act this year, and the Wychwood Festival (Cheltenham Racecourse, 8th-10th June) has much-loved indie band James; the Cornbury Festival in Oxfordshire (29th June-1st July) has yet to confirm this year’s stars, but its line-up last year included Cyndi Lauper, the Kinks’ Ray Davies, The Faces, Status Quo – and a particular focus on gourmet food stalls.

Specialist interests

Almost every niche musical interest can be catered for, with specialist events the length and breadth of the UK. From Fairport Convention’s traditional folk festival at Cropredy (9th-11th August) to the super-diverse Green Man (Crickhowell, Wales, 17th-19th August) or electronica-fest Glade (14th-17th June, Norfolk, under-12s free), ‘80s retro, country, bluegrass, jazz or blues, there’ll be something to your taste. Check out www.efestivals.co.uk for comprehensive listings. There are loads of one-day events to choose from if you’re too fond of your home comforts to camp ­– and provided you book early, you can always stay in a B&B near to your chosen festival.

Be cautious of third-party websites offering tickets, and make sure you book directly or through an authorised agency. Also be aware in advance of any booking fees that you might be charged by buying tickets online. A credit card can help you book tickets safely and spread the initial cost, especially if you've got a card that offers a 0% period on purchases or rewards your spend. It's important to bear in mind though that if you don’t clear the balance outside the introductory period, you will be charged interest.

Finally, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. You and the children will never forget your first festival – or the ones after that.

This is a sponsored post 

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