Hamswell and the rise of the Micro Festival
On August 15th 2014 Hamswell Festival opened up its doors to a few hundred happy punters. Celebrating its 10th birthday (and incidentally my 26th!) the organisers asked if I could come down for the weekend, an offer I gratefully accepted.
After 10 years, the place still scrubs up pretty well, and with views like this (below) of the lush green valley, you can see why it has such a loyal following. For a festival in England, the weather has – in my experience – never been too bad, the food always tasty and the tents…easy to find! So here’s my festival guide for run for Hamswell 2014; the charming micro festival that combats the big boys for sheer enjoyment factor.
A Little Bit O’History
In the five years I have been attending this summer festival, it has always has maintained commitment to its core values, eco friendly, collective collaboration and most importantly, family. For those that don’t know Hamswell, its located a little way north of Bath, tucked away in the surrounding countryside.
The brain child of Rich Tugwell, Jonny Wharton and his family, the festival began in 2004 as a few small tents, warm beer and never ending rain, but this did nothing to deter them. Hitting out at the larger festivals, the Hamswell motto of ‘better not bigger’, rejects the commercial nature of many of the larger festivals in the UK in favour of a smaller community feel, similar to the early days of Glastonbury.
Many of the regular attendants know each other, as well as all the staff, lending the impression that it really is one big happy family having a crazy festival in their backyard. For the first time this year the festival sold out, so my friends were almost unable to get tickets. This is the first indication that the festival is serious about keeping the numbers limited and means that means no queues to the loos, a beer at the bar in one minute and no tripping over a myriad of guy lines as you stumble through a field of overpopulated tents.
There is a strong diversity among the patrons of this festival with ticket-holders aging anything from 2-62. While there is a big family presence, there’s also plenty of hilarious local farmers, hippies down to chill and a few in-the-know Londoners. Of course, there is also a large group of artists and performers that support the festival, so at any given moment you can see graffiti artists chatting away to folk singers and rock and rollers smoking with posh hipsters.
They manage to stuff a lot into the lineup in Hamswell, and there is certainly something for every taste. This year saw an epic spray paint battle between two clans, circus acts, poetry slams and an epic drumming troupe. Each year there are juggling balls and hula hoops for anyone seeking to shake their hips but you can also take five and chill in oversized deckchairs with a cup of tea courtesy of Mrs B’s Tea Shack.
For the kids, that seem to run the joint, there is face painting (see my instagram for a sterling Jaws rendition) finger painting, dress up (this year’s theme was shipwreck & pirate) and wax painting. Music-wise the festival is a mixed bag that could see you getting into some finger strumming folk or jumping about to some fist-pumping deep house.
Why I love it
The sheer diversity of artists always surprises me. Usually, I probably wouldn’t stop and listen to spoken word poetry, but something about the Hamswell community makes me much more open to it. The culture of music sharing and passion for art is celebrated in every form here, with no pretension, just sheer love of creation.
There are other factors that sway me into buying a ticket: the price for a super early bird weekend pass is just £35, I can actually find my tent no matter how much I drink and the organisers commitment to the environment through use of solar showers and bio toilets.
Lastly, I love Hamswell for the simple fact that I can arrive, turn my phone off and enjoy the weekend in the company of some good friends, good music, without the worry of losing anyone. The micro festival is taking all the best elements from music festivals and improving them.