In The Woods Festival is magical. A lot of small festivals try to be magical, using close-up, filtered photographs of the really pretty parts of their site, and everything’s all sunshine and trees and low lighting and prettiness, and then you get there and it’s grass and burger stands and portable loos. Don’t get us wrong, there are loads of lovely festivals out there, and some pretty great burger vans – hell we’ve even seen some pretty swanky portable loos – but no festival has managed to live up to that promise of total, all-encompassing magic. Until now.
In the daytime you’re treated to beautiful, well marked paths lined with fresh, vibrant flowers and colourful welcome signs woven of lively fabrics. Art installations, mirrors in the trees, a central chill-out area complete with rustic bed, chaise longue and hand-crafted banquet tables with tree stump chairs.
At night, the lights come on, and honestly, they make this festival what it is. Glitter clad shapes hang from trees high above the main stage, glinting purple in the dusk. Shoals of fish swim through trees, silver shapes reflecting golden fairy light-glow. Full bunches of flowers hang mid-fall above hay bale seating.
Something else which makes the atmosphere what it is: at a guess, the average age here is a little over thirty years old, which creates a much more laid-back and relaxed vibe than you might find at a lot of other festivals. There are also a lot of kids running around. Kids wearing animal masks under hoodies, climbing trees and shouting incoherently at passers-by like mischievous wood-sprites. And not even in an annoying way – everyone’s just having a great time, and it all adds to the magic. All that said, there are still plenty of dilated pupils wandering post-10:30pm, but once the music’s done they seemed to more-or-less confine themselves to the silent disco.
In The Woods started out as a party, organised by a group of friends for just eighty people. In 2016, the festival’s capacity is estimated at a thousand. For a festival, that’s still really little as it’s the equivalent of an average live music venue. On Record’s other favourite small festival, 2000 Trees, is small at five thousand capacity.
A note on the mechanics of a surprise location, and travelling to it: it is made evident on the festival’s website which is the closest train station to the event. Once you’ve purchased your festival ticket and the location has been announced – just a few days before the festival begins – the full address will be emailed to you adding a little mystery.
On arrival at the site on the Friday afternoon, you’re greeted by no-material-barrier-whatsoever, and a gazebo manned by a few folks who scan your ticket and give you a wristband and a welcome back, including a program, Tangfastics and a couple of glowsticks, which has to be the coolest entry to a festival ever.
ITW had only two bands billed to play on Friday; singer songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich – who opened with a short, touching and ethereal set – before The Invisibles took the stage with a Bowie & Prince tribute set, producing such wonders as a rendition of the latter’s ‘I Would Die For You’ which must have lasted a full (and hugely enjoyable) fifteen minutes.
If that sounds like not a lot to do on a Friday night however, fear not. Once you’ve set up your tent, there’s a lovely evening ahead exploring, eating great food, barn dancing – while a folk quartet kept furious time – watching a magic show and witnessing performance storyteller Xanthe Gresham-Knight bring Iranian and Saxon folktales beautifully to life with nothing but accents, wig changes and a bridal veil made out of a Waitrose carrier bag. Oh, what a night.
STUFF TO DO
Saturday morning kicked off with a group yoga session in the main field from 11am and offered more non-musical fun & games throughout the day including mini-golf and the biggest bonfire you will ever see, which was lit at midnight as a big, tribal end-of-festival celebration.
There also featured a ‘Silent Cinema’, which showed collections of short films grouped by themes such as ‘Urban’ and ‘No Fairytales Here: Childhood In Flux’. This offered an opportunity to get away from it all in warm, comfy surroundings, chill out and maybe learn something. Or just get out of the rain.
ITW prides itself on finding the best little-known talent from around the country, and their selections didn’t disappoint. Stand-out performances came from one-man-post-rock-juggernaut – and Three Trapped Tigers drummer – Adam Betts, who hammered his way through a seriously noisy twenty five minute set on someone else’s gear and still made me weep with joy.
Four-piece indie outfit Ilk bought a taste of Alt-J-esque weirdness to proceedings with some incredibly well crafted songs featuring harmonies galore, high-energy, Middle East-inspired percussion and lots of jumping up and down.
London MC Trim livened things up with a grime set. First, no one knew quite what was happening. Then Trim announced the James Blake production on his new album and people took notice. Then Trim’s DJ Funk Butcher dropped ‘Rhythm and Gash’ and people completely lost their shit. Trim’s realisation halfway through the set that ‘we’re not really in the woods, are we? You’ve all come down from the city’ was one a highlight moment of the whole weekend.
Aside from the two music stages – The Quarry and the Laurel Lounge which, rather than simply hosting different acts or types of music, just host alternate performances, allowing uninterrupted sound checks and a clash-free program – there’s The Spinney; a poetry and spoken word stage which offered a more relaxed atmosphere and a few big names from the scene, including Chris Redmond, poet and organiser of Tongue Fu spoken word show.
All in all then In The Woods is a festival to be treasured – that lives up to its ideals, that makes no sacrifices for profit (honestly, how do they make any money out of it?) and puts on fantastic bands and artists year after year. We can’t wait to go back.