Go folk yourself: Small local festivals are miles better than huge ones

Glasto is so mainstream

Let’s be honest, you’re not having the wild summer you expected. You cried yourself to sleep last week, watching Glasto coverage from your mum and dad’s sofa and wiping biscuit crumbs off your A&F lounge pants. You wish you had the dough to blow on three days in a muddy field and get out of the grey inner city, but festivals are insanely expensive. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the summer festy experience though, it just means you need to step away from the mainstream stuff and move to greener pastures. Embrace small folk festivals – they’re the future.

Firstly the best thing about folk and low-key festivals is that there usually locally run and this means they are often free and unlike traditional festivals won’t break the bank. Rather than pretending you know every song on the BBC Introducing stage, you can watch local talent at small festivals and boast afterwards about bands that nobody has ever heard of for real. Sure, you won’t be able to name-drop about getting to the barrier for that one Clean Bandit song you know, and you won’t have a chance meeting with Florence Welch to boast about, but at a proper tiny festival, you’re more than just a number on a wristband, another car in a convoy, another tent in the field.

Everyone makes you feel welcome at these small intimate affairs, and the humble lowkey vibes mean even the police can embrace the Woodstock mentality more than they ever could in the middle of thousands at Reading or Leeds.

Organisers of the Cumbrian Solstice festival told us: “If you’re ever in a jam our wee festival abides by a ‘shout if you need owt’ policy. This isn’t Glasto – everyone has a voice and is welcome to pull up a stump by the camp-fire and share their story.”

A warmer welcome than seeing your tent on fire in a field 

‘shout if you need owt ‘ bless em

One Leeds graduate who shunned the bright lights of the mainstream to go to the festival told us: “Yeah, Leeds is closer, but it’s the same artificial stuff every year. I’ve seen Arctic Monkeys entire sodding back catalogue. Generally the smaller the crowd is the better you get to know people. The bands are never ordinary and camp life is chipper when the weather gets shitter.”

Traditional festivals are futile. Forget the tatty Benicassim band, embrace henna, handmade friendship bracelets and badges instead. Go traditional and have to deal with having your face scrutinised to match your ticket, or scaling 20 foot walls, or take away something of note instead. The only downside is nobody can tell if you’ve joined a hippy commune or a cult once the henna wears off, whereas you can show that Glasto wristband off potentially for life (although it would be pretty unhygenic).

One of a kind m9

It might only be henna but I seriously felt I was part of the tribe

The big stages won’t be much bigger than the tent you slept in, and sure that might put some people off, if your idea of fun is standing for hours among thousands of people throwing cups of warm piss. Swap the sweating, heaving crowds for a more whimsical folk dance. It all feels a bit Wicker Man at first but at the heart of every good English festival is some pagan madness.

Cumbria trying to one up with their own Pyramid Stage


The side stage which would later host some sick drum and bass

With some folk festivals opting for environmentaly friendly and hygienic toilet facilities, the quality of the facilities might surprise you. It is a bit Bear Grylls but it beats cuing for scuzzy chemical loo at Creamfields. The only downside is if you drop your phone in someone’s dodgy attempt at outdoor plumbing it’s not fun. But a smart purchase of a sheewee makes peeing a civilised affair, even if the dreaded composter is the most foul thing you’ll ever witness.

The ladies complete with flowers and hand gel beats waiting in line for a scuzzy chemical loo

But the communal crapping actually makes for great bonding, and you can dress up, make friends and rub shoulders with the organisers. Facilities are of the wall and can include tea tents, outdoor pubs selling assorted home brew, games areas and crafty corners.

Even some female festival goers told us the communal crapping didn’t kill the spirit of a “real” festival experience.

One said: “I don’t know about you but I’m tired of girls walking round Glasto with flowers in there hair calling themselves ‘hippies’. There’s nothing hippy about paying hundreds for a festival and knowing who’s playing and queuing up. Real happenings are spontaneous and mellow and that is why we love folk festivals – they preserve the true free spirit of earlier festivals like woodstock”

Some groovy types chilling at the tea tent

True to hippy form fancy dress is a staple of any good folk festival. The more forest and pagan orientated the better so bring some stag horns, fake ivy, body paint because it all gets a bit stone henge after dark. But you have to admit there’s something magical about the prospect of your clothes smelling like firewood and spilt home brew, isn’t there?

The weirdest gathering of costumes ever

And you’ll take away a little more than some cheap plastic novelty sunglasses and cystitis. As we left one reveller told us:  “Unlike Glasto I actually made friends for life, met interesting people, went out of my comfort zone and got so smashed off home brew I will be mourning going home for years to come. I went away with more friends than I went in with. I was grieved to leave it behind”