Bestival 2017 review: mopping up and reflecting

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It’s so hard to separate a festival from its weather or any tragedy that happens within its gates.

Regardless of anything else, extremes of hot or cold, wet or dry always tend to define an event – as do those terrible moments that happen every day in the real world but seem to have no place at festivals (and so capture undue media attention).

So, while Bestival’s post-event headlines should be how it managed its move from its spiritual home on the Isle of Wight to its sister-site in Dorset, this year’s write-ups will inevitable major on Sunday’s show-stopping winds, the persistent rain that turned the ground into a churned up mudslide, and the death that tainted an otherwise safe and friendly event.

Let’s deal with these things first.

The unpredictability of the British weather is the fundamental reason why ‘which is the best weather forecast?’ is such a hot topic on festival forums in the ten days leading up to every event.

It’s also why such big chunks of any festival safety plan will be dedicated to contingency measures that need to be implemented when things get to the point of lives being put at risk.

But before that critical point arrives (as it did on Sunday when Bestival’s organisers had to finally pull the plug and evacuate the arena due to sustained high winds) the question is: ‘how does the site cope with lots of rain?

Truth be told, Lulworth Castle ought to be able to cope better than the old Isle of Wight venue.

Robin Hill is a big valley – and big valleys collect water.

On the other hand castles tend to be built on hills, and Lulworth is no exception.

So although there were slippery slopes, there wasn’t a single point where all the fallen rain became focused (although there were places that felt like it).

The mud was everywhere of course – and when you find yourself squelching through several inches of the brown stuff even in the middle of the large feast collective food tent you know the ground has reached 100% saturation point.

The bottom line here is that you pay your money and your take your chance. No festival is ever guaranteed good weather. And no festival can hold back the elements.

Can Bestival learn some lessons from this year?


And that’s possibly the beauty of having had such bad conditions on year one of the new site…the production team now know what happens when the rain comes. They know the pinch points. They know where trackway is needed. They know which parts of the arena cope well with rain and which parts get bogged down.

And with that knowledge next year’s Bestival can be re-planned, re-structured, and, although that wind isn’t anything you can fix, be better prepared for rain and the subsequent mud.

As for the tragic loss of a young life…sadly it is a fact of life that things like this happen. And whilst that may seem heartless to some the point is that festivals are not a safety blanket from the real world. They do their best to reduce risks to ticket holders, but people cannot be completely controlled – and indeed, why would we want them to be? So despite all the sniffer dogs and bag searches people will always find ways to get around the checks, and the most any festival can do is be watchful and ensure its staff take care of anyone they see in difficulty.

Our collective souls cry out for the family of the beautiful girl who is no longer with us and we know that everyone at Bestival HQ will be asking themselves ‘could we have done more’? The answer to that question can never be known – but the lesson that all of us need to learn is that life is a precious thing that needs to be cherished and every moment of it enjoyed.

Festivals provide us with the chance to do just that – and long may they continue to do so.

So, with all that out of the way, what is it that Bestival now delivers?

Well, we’ve already established the site has its issues in bad weather – but we know from many years of Camp Bestival that when the sun shines this is a fantastic location. The natural slope down from the castle to the main stage gives great sightlines and the adjoining areas are all close at hand without stepping on each other’s toes.

Yes, there are some long walks from some of the camping areas, but once you are in the arena you can loose yourself in the moment until it’s time to head back to sleep.

But then there is the line-up

This is where opinion divides.

Bestival has definitely changed direction over the last three or four years, and it’s too early to judge whether this change is for the best.

Looking back to ten years ago the main stage was a very different vibe to today’s, and the question is whether today’s audiences are being sold on the change.

There’s no argument that Dizzee Rascal packed the arena to capacity and the XX put on a great show, but it’s perhaps telling that the next most talked-about act were the late-additions to the bill, Soulwax.

That left A Tribe Called Quest and The Pet Shop Boys as also-rans…regardless of the fact that the each put on brilliant perfomances at the top of the night.

But truth be told the rest of the line-up left a bit to be desired in terms of breadth and depth.

Taken one at a time each act had something to offer, but the whole thing just didn’t really come together in the way that it could and should have done

We absolutely loved L.A. Salami’s set on the main stage. Since we first saw him at the Invaders of the Future tent a few years ago he ‘s matured and settled into his onstage persona. And being given the privilege of an excellent front-of-house sound mix his intricate Jim Morrison-esque lyrics were given every opportunity to fly free and grab any awaiting ear.

It was just a shame there were not as many ears as there should have been.

And as we dipped in and out of stages around the site we were immersed in the skiffle-folk prowess of Pronghorn and the exuberance of the New York Brass Band. We also loved the energy and passion of The Tuts.

Tucked away behind the castle we applauded the downright nuttiness of the team at the Bramble FM caravan. And on Sunday we stumbled across a busking band playing acoustically around a fire-pit to a weather-beaten but appreciative crowd.

Yeehaa Granma – perfect festival music. Our hats go off to you and to Spinney Hollow for bringing these guys in as their campfire band.

Special mention does of course also have to go to the act that didn’t get to play.

Loyle Carner was the main victim of the storm after Too Many T’s went against the laws of nature and attempted to play a set consisting of a playthrough of their yet-to-be-released new album. This move clearly angered the Gods so much that violent winds swept the site and caused the Sunday afternoon evacuation which led to Carner’s entire set being cut.

He did manage a short poem to a small crowd in advance of Circa Waves – but what this demonstrated was that this young Croydon artist really does have the professionalism and talent to establish himself as a future legend.

Carner’s borough-neighbour, Nadia Rose, also stood out as one of those acts who if she plays her cards right will have a long career ahead of her. Sassy, confident and erudite, Nadia is a name to watch out for.

What this boils down to is that Bestival 2018 will stand or fall based on the strength of its line-up and its ability to learn from the lessons of this year’s weather.

We know from past events the team have the ability to pull together some of the strongest bills possible. We’ve spent many happy September weekends enjoying a blend of classic names, contemporary hit-makers, and break-through emerging acts.

What we’re looking forward to is a return to form and a clearer sense of what Bestival is all about… eclectic quality and an understanding of the need for festival-goers to be able to sample the widest possible range of genres in a balanced and beguiling way.

In the meantime we’re planning our flights to Bestival Bali – because this looks like being possibly the most amazing experience of the season…an amazing line up in a breathtakingly beautiful location. What better way to end the season. Book your flights now.

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