This was the fourteenth Green Man Festival. Can you believe it?? Green Man’s growth has been gradual and organic – from humble beginnings to being one of the most family-friendly jewels in Britain’s summer festival crown.
This year, the family-friendly aspect is next-level: the festival teeming with kids of all ages: from new borns (I met a three week old whose parents figured they might as well be at a festival and not sleep as be at home and not sleep) to waterproof-onesie-wearing toddlers to barefoot (and very muddy) teenagers. Green Man takes its reputation as a young-person-friendly site very seriously, with the sensory science paradise of Einstein’s Garden providing hands-on entertainment for kids of all ages. There’s also a completely separate kids’ area, and activities specifically for teenagers.
So onto the actual festival itself this year: we arrived early Thursday morning, and having treated ourselves to a ready-erected tent in the Tangerine Fields, found that we were unpacked and ready to party considerably earlier than in previous years, when we’d would typically spend two hours with two of us flailing around with an 18 man tent, ending up relying on the kindness of neighbouring campers to rescue us.
Cans at the ready, we headed straight to Chai Wallahs, where uptempo reggae/afrobeat favourites By The Rivers were getting the roof of the tent raised, warming up nicely for the weekend. Over in Far Out, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard moved into psychedelic surf rock territory, warming up for Wild Beasts, as they ran through a mixture of classics alongside brand spanking tunes from new album Boy King.
Afterwards it was back over to Chai Wallahs for some bubbling funk and soul disco numbers, before we decided to call it a night relatively early. It was only Thursday, after all.
Given the unsettled weather forecasts, on Friday we headed straight for the comfort of the undercover (and consistently quality) Chai Wallahs, to sit with a cup of brandy chai and enjoy the delicate folk of Kit Hawes and Aaron Catlow while looking at the Guardian crossword (yes, I am aware of how intensely middle class that sentence sounds, but you want the truth, right? That’s the truth). We stayed in Chai Wallahs to see the rabble rousing bluesy-jazz of the Gin Bowlers (who I had seen the week before at Boomtown, and who were every bit as good, if not better), then headed down to the Mountain Stage to watch Meilyr Jones, whose poppy, brass-led indie was a stand-out performance of the festival (despite the rain. But as my mother always says – there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unprepared campers).
We stayed to watch some Jason Isbell (which was underwhelming, so I won’t dwell on it), and then headed off to see Kamazi Washington. Our excitement at seeing the jazz legend was somewhat tempered by the 30-minute soundcheck that seemed to be focused all around one microphone, although once that was over, the set was a stormer, with plenty of jazz noodling.
The act I was most excited about seeing all weekend was Austin pop-punkers, White Denim. I used to be Reviews Editor for a music magazine called Kruger (RIP) and we’d featured them in Kruger issue 22, back in 2009, and they’d been on my list of ‘bands I super want to see’ since then. I’m not sure the show was really one of their best – given it was late Friday night, the setlist was a more mellow afternoon set, with their best uptempo numbers spaced out in between, the songs sounding like they could have benefited from getting another guitarist up on stage with them.
The crowd started thinning out, and by halfway through headliner James Blake’s set it was only half full, though this could have been to do with the severe weather warnings everyone was checking obsessively on their phones every five minutes. Over in Far Out, Lush’s power-pop was extremely pleasing, although the crowd wasn’t much bigger there either. Nicely lubricated with Growlers aplenty, it was then to a change of pace, with some comedy, where Rob Deering was having issues with his guitar while being a human jukebox for people shouting out requests.
We only managed to catch the encore of Charlotte Church’s Pop Dungeon in the Walled Garden (never thought I’d hear R. Kelly’s Murder She Wrote sung live by an ex-child opera singer in the Brecon Beacons, it must be said), before rounding up the night with some uptempo house and electro with the Alfesco Disco in Round The Twist, before smashing it up with the Asbo Disco back in Chai Wallahs.
In the run up this year, we were informed there would be changes to the site layout, which formed much conversation between our group: one Green Man veteran, then one with three under their belt, and one total newbie to the festival. As you can imagine, the constant ‘oo! that’s moved’, and ‘that wasn’t there before’ got a bit tiring for the newcomer, so we limited all the logistical commentary to the first.
For the record though, here were our thoughts: from the Orange entrance, changes were all positive: moving the box office up the hill made it much easier to get wristbands and then go back to your car to get your stuff (although long queues from the box office spilled across the path down to the festival, making it difficult to negotiate with a wheelbarrow full of camping paraphernalia). The general camping area was extended into this area (previously unused), and also included an extra entrance into the festival, that went straight up to Babbling Tongues and Round the Twist, meaning that you didn’t have to go all the way to the entrance by the Mountain Stage: big thumbs up for this change.
On the site generally, the big field edged by Far Out and Chai Wallahs also had some changes: the line of shops and food stalls that had previously divided this space in half had completely gone, moved to line the route from Far Out over to Round The Twist. The “Man” (as in, the green one) was now fairly central in this field, meaning a much better view for everyone when he was set alight on the Sunday. As a small person who has never managed to get to the front to watch the man burn, this change got another big thumbs up from me.
Part Two of our review coming soon!
Check the Green Man Festival website.