Our view on Bearded Theory in these post-Covid times is that it’s still a winner
We arrived at Bearded Theory 2022 in what looks like being a crunch-year for many festivals as they teeter between enforced Covid absences and a new world which seems dominated by rising event production costs coupled with squeezed household budgets.
The big question, it seems, is whether people see festivals as an essential shopping bag item or an expensive luxury they may be forced to do without.
We made our regular trip to Bearded Theory to see how an event which is widely regarded as the first major festival in the UK calendar is shaping up – and whether it provides any indicators as to what’s in store for other festivals throughout the summer of 2022.
Bearded Theory 2022 Words by John Bownas – Photos by Sara-Louise Bowrey
Before we arrived, the big thing we noticed was how late in the day the festival had announced it was sold out. Bearded Theory is definitely at the smaller end of the ‘big festival’ pecking order, with only about 15,000 ticket sales needed to hit capacity. And yet, despite being littered with big name artists and also being the first annual chance for many festival-goers to don their boots and shake out their musty tents, the ‘sold out’ sign only went up a week or two before gates opened.
Scare stories are beginning to circulate in the mainstream press of how a lot of annual festivals may have to call it a day this year, and we’d already seen events such as Bigfoot (a relatively new addition to the calendar, but a festival that had impressed us when they managed to stage their inaugural event in what was ostensibly a locked-down summer) throw in the towel for 2022.
Thankkfully however, Bearded Theory managed to buck that worrying emerging trend, and although many guests clearly made the decision to leave their ticket-buying until the very last minute, when the gates opened it was to a full house.
It’s always hard to know if changes year-on-year at festivals are due to anything in particular, but one of the first things we did notice was that the variety of traders seemed to be somewhat diminished from previous years.
We’ll be looking at other festivals later in the year to see if this is a pattern, but it may well be that the past couple of years have found regular festival stalls decide to call it a day.
The food offering didn’t seem to have been noticably impacted though, and there was a healthy range of (not necessarily healthy) tasty looking dishes to be had. That said, we did pick up a strong undercurrent of comments on social media from people who felt that food prices had gone up whilst portion sizes had gone down.
This might just be general background grumbles, but it’s a subject we’ll look into in more detail at later events this year.
It might be our imagination or failing memories, but there did also seem to be less choice of real ales at the bars. We stand to be corrected if that’s wrong, but having said that the main tap offerings were fairly decent – and only overpriced if you forgot to return your pint glass each time to reclaim the deposit.
Beaded Theory might be a victim here of its policy of allowing people to bring their own booze into the arena. At ‘grown up’ festivals where people don’t tend to get silly with excessive drinking this is always a popular selling point for ticket-buyers…but at the same time it reduces sales at bars and can be a big factor in the decision not to stock such wide ranges.
Where the choice was undiminished was the line-up.
One of the reasons we keep coming back to Bearded Theory is that they always pull in a brilliantly eclectic batch of artists, and as well as heavy-duty headliners they champion the best of the grass-roots circuit as well as giving stage space to real up-and-coming names who will undoubtedly be playing much bigger events very soon.
Chief amongst this last category this year were Nova Twins and Bob Vylan.
The industry is constantly being challenged to give more of a platform for female musicians – and Nova Twins are one of the big antidotes to that malaise … because they will undoubtedly be on the ‘must book’ list of pretty much every festival promoter in Europe right now. Their energy and songwriting plus amazing stage presence makes them a festival must-have.
Bob Vylan should also be featuring on any discerning festival poster by the end of this summer – and we predict that next year will see their name appearing in the top three billing on numerous big stages. Songs are well-crafted and socially relevant, and these two young guys have the buzz (and looks) about them that gets A&R professionals all hot and bothered.
A bit of criticism did find itself being thrown at Bearded Theory on Saturday night as Peter Hook and the Light headlined the Woodland Stage.
This is a brilliant and atmospheric space that really stands out as being one of the best places in the UK to experience amazing bands in a festival setting. But it has its limitations due to there only being one way in and out, and security on the night made the decision to restrict numbers to reduce the risk of crowd control problems.
Sadly, this led to huge queues back to the main arena and many people not getting to see Hooky and Co do their thing.
It’s a tough call as a festival when you get the chance to book a really big name into an intimate space.
Do you go for it, and take the flack from those unlucky enough to not get in, or do you politely decline the offer? We think Bearded made the right call – and the lesson to be learned for big fans of bands in situaltions like this is simply get to the arena really early to avoid dissapointment.
What were our other highlights?
Well, Zombie Met Girl’s gig in the Something Else Tea Tent was a real triumph and something very special to behold.
And the Pizzatramp set in the Convoy Cabaret tent proved just how much love there truly is for these punky upstarts.
Walt Disco immediately grabbed our attention when they shook up the venue with their choppy take on Talking Heads colliding with Roxy Music in a head-on happy accident.
And we were also delighted to make the discovery of Jess Silk – not sure how we have managed to miss her truly spellbinding music up until now. We will be making a point of seeing her again at any chance we get.
Overall our experience at Bearded Theory 2022 was a really positive one, and the little niggles that so frequently get over-amplified on social media about things like toilets not being able to achieve five-star cleanliness ratings 24-7 didn’t really feature on our radar screens at all for the time we were there.
We did our usual ‘barefoot challenge’ on Saturday, and can report that kicking off your shoes and letting your feet breathe for the day is perfectly safe – although do remember there are a few pinch-points where you’ll need to remember that gravel isn’t as forgiving as grass.
So our recommendation is that if you are a mature music-lover with a free spirit and a friendly disposition then you’d be daft not to give Bearded Theory a try – when it’s good it’s very very very good!