The Greatness of Small Festivals

Although big festivals have got huge names on sprawling fields, we wanted to give a little love to the smaller, unique festivals that give off their own charm. Katie Fannin, Aoife Maguire, and Evan Osborne look over their summer small festival excursions.

Eden Festival, 9-12th June

Eden Festival describes itself as a ‘truly energetic, vibrant and independent boutique festival’, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Set in the picturesque Raehills Meadows just a short drive away from Moffat, Eden is a relatively small festival – a capacity of just 5000 – and sold out for the first time this year since it began in 2009.

But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in character and atmosphere. The interactive vibe of small festivals is unbeatable, and that was immediately obvious at Eden. A family festival at heart, the festival area itself was full of things to do during the day (when you’d recovered from your hangover) – something unique to smaller festivals where it doesn’t take you an hour to walk to and from your flooded tent to the festival site. You could make bracelets and pom-pom crowns in the craft tent (something I took full advantage of), take part in morning yoga sessions, ride on the ferris wheel and even watch a film in the drive-in cinema (or just use the vintage cars to escape from the rain). There was also amazing food, stalls from the likes of Greenpeace and the RSPB, and an array of shops selling everything from hippie wall hangings to hula hoops and vintage clothing.

And the line-up was incredible too. Sure at festivals like Glastonbury and Reading/Leeds you can see the likes of Muse and Tame Impala, but smaller festivals have the best selection of diverse local talent which you can enjoy without having to squeeze through crowds of thousands of people. With 9 different stages, Eden provided a huge selection of music; from big names like King Charles and Congo Natty at the Devorgilla Open Air Stage, to local folk talent at the intimate Rabbie’s Tavern, to psychedelic trance and techno at the sweaty Voltans Temple, choosing something to see every night was almost impossible. The Lost Disco became a personal favourite – an outdoor ‘dance parlour’ with flame machines, amazing DJs and a light-up dance floor. And when you needed a break from cutting mad shapes in the mud, you could head to the Vishnu Lounge – a chilled out tent with hot drinks, relaxing tunes and sofas made out of old bathtubs. You could even go for a swim in the river next to the campsite to freshen up the morning after (if you were willing to brave the cold water and the midgies).

You may not get the big names, but smaller festivals like Eden have a unique and intimate atmosphere that is impossible to find anywhere else. I’d choose them over Glasto any day.

[Katie Fannin – @katfnan]


Sunflowerfest, 5th-7th August

A small local music festival with a strong family emphasis, Sunflowerfest embodies all the best aspects that a small fest offers. Running for seven years, Sunflowerfest has got better and better every year while still maintaining its core ethos of family, friendship and laughter. This year was my fifth year attending the festival and my fourth year volunteering so I have seen it spread to all parts of the UK as more and more people hear about the incredible and intimate festival experience

The music consists of nearly all local music stretching across a wide range of punk, folk, metal, reggae and as of this year, house and techno. There are five stages to accommodate all genres, the newest being the electro moot stage which hosted local house and techno DJs and the festival classic – the silent disco. Quite often you would wander over to this stage housed in a log tepee of sorts, and people would still be silently rocking out at six in the morning.

After a long night of partying, people drift over towards the campfire which is lit every night from around eleven and burns until the morning. The campfire epitomises the true spirit of the festival. With everyone singing, dancing, sharing drink and swapping stories, it looks like it could have been taken straight from a Mumford and Sons video, except with more Buckfast.

The one thing that makes this festival particularly stand out is the fact that it is so family orientated and everything has the kids in mind. There is a fantastic Kidszone dedicated to putting on craft workshops, circus skills and all manner of activities for kids to engage and involve them in the festival as much as possible in a safe environment. The kids make the festival so much more lively and colourful and also provide a calming influence, seeing as festivals have a propensity for getting out of hand.  

So whether you are a seasoned festival hopper and want to bring your kids along to follow in your footsteps or you’re a festival virgin, there is no better place than Sunflowerfest for fantastic music, colourful characters and friendships to last a lifetime.

[Aoife Maguire – @aoifeymaguire]



Green Man Festival, 18th-21st August

A slightly larger festival now reaching 20,000-person capacity, Green Man is a predominantly folk, indie and electronica festival in the Brecon Beacons, Wales. It’s come to be one of the largest within Wales, and has won Grass Roots Festival award in recognition of its independent success. It focuses on an ethical approach to festivals, as well as avoiding many corporate influences.  Its areas are split by genre (like most) as well as a children’s area that has received many accolades.

Relatively big names have still shown up, despite the rather small capacity: Laura Marling has been a consistent attendee, as well as James Blake, Super Furry Animals, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Mogwai. The double whammy of getting significant bands, as well as the ability to get up close is amazing. My most memorable experience was getting my ears blown off by Post-Rock outfit Explosions in the Sky, and being unable to sleep that night as my bones had been rattled so hard.

One specialty of Green Man is The Settlement, in which festivalgoers arrive a week early to engage with the local environment, exploring the mesmerising Black Mountains, alongside workshops and excursions which are all family friendly. To my mind, this is a great idea to support the local community, as well as make a festival a real holiday, as well as a great collection of music, films with live scores, Literature and Comedy, and also a few secret sets if you find yourself in the right place at the right time! In addition, the burning of the green man which occurs on the final night is a spectacle to behold: in the early days of the festival you are encouraged to leave a wish and tie it to the beautifully crafted wooden giant; before burning it all to commit them to nature. It’s a nice ritual that people have come to love, although it’s a little sad to see the man aflame.

In 2016 the festival has really come into its own, with little random tents popping up around the place that you can enter and have a surreal experience, as well as crafted illusions that both children and adult alike can enjoy. These detours are one thing that makes you enjoy just being at the festival as much as the lineup, when you are looking forward to a new surprise.  I also believe that the comedy area seems to benefit from the small capacity. one unexpected heckle culminated in watching two 14-year-old boys play a game of rock paper scissors on stage to see who could win some grapes (I was there, it happened. A treasured memory).

The small size seems to be related to the friendliness and kind nature of the festival itself. You’re going to have drunk ping pong games with strangers, get questioned why you don’t have glitter in your beard, and dance around with a druid praising the rainy weather.

[Evan Osborne]

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