As I sat down in the Caravan awing on Friday night, the children asleep, Mrs EBF out enjoying the festival, I thought about how I would write this review. It occurred to me that this year is my 26th year of attending Music Festivals in the UK. I was never a “Lads Holiday” kind of bloke, my idea of a fun summer was in a field somewhere with my friends, listening to music that we all were obsessive about. My priorities at music festivals may have changed, but my reasons for going to festivals hasn’t.
Let’s get this one out of the way right at the start. In my long and experienced opinion Greenman is currently the best Festival in the country. A big statement I know, hopefully this review will justify it.
Set in the foothill of the Brecon Beacons, just outside the beautiful small “Offshore” town of Crickhowell, Greenman boasts the most beautiful backdrop of any festival. This is our sixth year in a row of attending the festival and in that time it has never lost is values.
Like the small town it neighbours, Greenman is fiercely loyal to its traders and to local businesses. From the produce the food traders sell being locally sourced to the local camping shop being given a pitch rather than a national chain, you won’t find corporate logos and sponsorship at this festival.
Camping is spacious with plenty of toilets and shower blocks. The Family camping area is vast and feels a very safe space, everyone looking out for each other, the children mingling and playing together. Live in camping (us old farts NEED the caravan these days) had plenty of room and was not a ridiculous distance from the arena entrance.
So, the arena. Greenman has had a little move around this year, little tweaks that make a huge difference, is this attention to detail that makes Greenman great, not re-inventing the wheel, but not resting on their laurels either, the organisers have taken measured sensible decisions that simply work.
The Main Stage (The Mountain Stage) remains with the majestic Black Mountains as its backdrop, a stunning stage with plenty of room and a nice stepped slope at the back to relax on with the kids away from the throngs if required. The Far Out Stage, Undercover has had a revamp, moving the bar to its opposite side leaving a huge space where the centre piece, the Green Man himself has been moved further into giving him the majestic recognition he deserves. The biggest change has come in the Walled Garden, my favourite area of the festival. The Stage has been moved into a more central location with the bar the opposite end rather than to its side, allowing you to watch from the bar seating at the back and giving a larger area in front of the stage. As mentioned, these little tweaks have made a world of difference!
Food and Drink. Greenman could make a fortune with a dedicated booze sponsor, and I’ve no doubt they have been approached by plenty asking for exclusivity for a sweet kickback. It is fantastic that the organisers have resisted. The Real Ale and Cider bar has 100 real ales and ciders to try (I’ve had a bloody good go at getting through all of them) made by micro-breweries, craft beer brewers, Home brewers, Shed brewers and probably bathroom brewers! By the very nature of these small brewers, stocks are limited and some do sell out quickly, by Sunday there is rarely anything left but that is the nature of non mass produced craft product. The rest of the bars are always well staffed, prices are reasonable and fair and waiting time not ridiculous.
Some of the best street food vendors in the country keep everyone fed. JambonJambon is a personal favourite, award winning killer Paella, and Nick the owner is a great bloke who is passionate about what he does. Last year the girls at Pieminister were great with us, providing us with a small portion of mash for our 6 month old and refusing to take payment for it. When we visited this year we were greeted with squeals of the “the strawberry onsie baby!” remembering us a year on and much cooing and cuddling ensued. Goan Fish Curry is very popular, it was great to see the wonderful The Hippy Chippy (a Glastonbury fav of ours) and the brilliant girls at Strumpets with Crumpets (my sons favourite) Little disclaimer here, we couldn’t possibly eat all of this wonderful food over the weekend, we go with a group of friends who give us detailed critique!
Things to do and see. There are a vast array of arts and crafts, workshops, demonstrations and activities to see and do. From Yoga, to anti-gravity back pain relief, hot tubs, spa’s, meditation and art installations, one member of our party got up religiously every morning to attend a yoga class and enjoyed every minute. The Children’s area “Little Folk” has a myriad of things to do and see, make and create that will keep the kids entertained all day. Junkfish provide hours of fun making and creating in their huge tent, all free, supervising and helping the children make everything from Puppets to Grasshead ninjas (don’t ask). Our dear friends The Flying Seagull Project provide the laughs, bubbles, adventure and ultimate audience participation. I could bang on about the Seagulls for pages, they are close and precious friends who we love dearly. Dylan ran up to Ash on the first evening asking when he could run away with them! Read more about them here. A new addition to Little Folk was Woodland Tribe adventure playground. With real saws and hammers and nails for the children to make their own additions and improvement to the adventure playground!
As well as Little Folk, the Somewhere area is a space for the bigger kids. Catering for older children this area provides music workshops, T shirt printing, The Banjo Buskers stage and educational activities such as Food for Thought, ran by Mark Musgrave in association with The National Trust giving information on sustainable food production. His fireside Popcorn making proved very popular!
Of all the traders another of our dear friends Ralphie and Elke Curtis and their family still provide the most entertaining demonstrations. Ralph “The Mushroom Man” Curtis, a force of nature who we first met 4 years ago entertains and educates while crafting his fantastic mushrooms on his wood turning lathe and Elke who etches and engraves beautiful Welsh Slate creations. Ralph has a natural affiliation with the children (probably because he is the biggest kid there!) making them laugh and educating them at the same time.
Einsteins Garden is a Greenman “Must Visit” Everything from interactive science shows to spoken word to music, plus the enthusiastic scientists from Universities all over the UK ready to educate and entertain. Dylan had an in depth and very educational time with the guys from Manchester University learning about the Heart and how electricity passes through Cells. Dylan’s enthusiasm for the subject was matched by the young biologists eager to fuel his curiosity, which, for this old fart who has always had a love of Biology, was a joy to watch.
Anyway. Any music at this music festival? You bet there is!
Greenman’s lineup is a carefully selected wide variety of bands and artists. This year saw James Blake headline the Friday night on the Mountain Stage, his 4th appearance at the festival, Laura Marling on the Saturday and the wonderful Belle and Sebastian on Sunday night. As I said at the top of this review my priorities at Festivals has changed over the years, my days of sat in front of the stages all day and night are over, the children adore live music, but they enjoy making and creating in the Little Folk area and being entertained by the Seagulls a lot more! Still, I managed to catch a few bands that I really wanted to. Grandaddy were personal highlight on Sunday Night, White Denim On Friday. I heard good reports from our group about Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros while my find of the weekend was Formation on Saturday afternoon on the Far Out Stage. Check them out! The Walled Garden Stage is my favourite (I may have mentioned that!) I get to hear loads of bands that I may not have had the chance to hear before, watching with a pint and a bite to eat. I really enjoyed Emma Pollock on Friday afternoon and Happy Meal Ltd on Sunday.
Greenman are committed to new music and the Greenman Rising stage gives up-and-coming emerging bands an opportunity to play. An excellent stage and chance to see some future stars!
I’ve really just scratched the surface with these 1600 or so words in this review, Babbling Tongues, the spa area, Char Wallahs, Cinedrome, the hot tubs, the rum bar (gutted I missed this) are just some of the areas I didn’t get to. For a small to medium size festival Greenman certainly pack a lot in!
In summary, Greenman is like coming home for us. We have made lifelong friends as a result of Greenman festival, from Ralfie the Mushroom Man to The Seagulls to the wonderful people at Bleach Communications. We have a group of friends who we have introduced to the festival that are already planning next year (the festivals 15th anniversary) and it’s the first one we Sharpie in to the calendar. As I said at the start, Greenman is the best festival in the country, but don’t take my word for it, Early Bird tickets go on sale later this year! See you down the front*
*at the mixing desk nursing a real ale.