15 August 2011

Wilderness Festival

Music, Food & Swimming

Charlbury is a pretty little village just outside Woodstock in Oxfordshire, it happens to be home to the vast estate of Cornbury Park where over the weekend the first Wilderness Festival took place.

What is known I believe as a “boutique” festival, i.e. it’s fairly small and not overrun with pissed teenagers, Wilderness had a compelling mix of music, food, discussion, workshops and a lake to swim in! Highlights on the main stage were Gogol Bordello’s gypsy punk, Mercury Rev’s complete run through of Deserter’s Song, the beauty of Laura Marling’s voice and the low-fi sweetness of the Low Anthem.
But it was the unexpected that sticks most in the memory: French 3 piece We Were Evergreen on a tiny outside stage under an Oak tree playing pop/folk tunes to the delight of everyone seated on the grass around them; coming across a crooning reggae singer at 2a.m. on an even tinier stage outside, on the hill above the lake making the small crowd smile and dance; a choir singing Beatles tunes, a honky tonk piano amongst hay bales in the middle of the site; an hilarious cricket match complete with Test Match Special spoof commentary.
Lucky enough to be friends with the couple who live in the gatehouse we camped outside their house with 12 other friends, enjoying bacon sarnies each morning, washed down with Rum & Coke. With access to the grounds of the estate, Russell our host was kind enough to provide a taxi service practically to the main stage. In fact at one point Mandy and I became terribly confused when we found ourselves backstage, able to join in with Gogol Bordello if we’d wished!

Amongst this weekend of highlights was the wonderful idea of having a feast each day, provided by a first rate restaurant. Friday was Thomas Hunt, Saturday, Moro and Sunday, Michelin Star Skye Gyngell of Petersham Nurseries. Mass catering, for 300 odd people (that’s odd in both senses, it is a festival after all) can be difficult as I’ve mentioned before, but when you have a reputation for excellence it really does get put on the line. Petersham Nurseries however don’t need to worry. This was one of the most enjoyable and memorable meals, with unexpected twists, just like the rest of the festival, in interesting company and all with the sound of the Guillemots playing in the background.
Sharing plates while sitting on hay bales, Parma ham on melon with feta and rose syrup not only looked beautiful, with rose petals scattered on the dish, but tasted of a Mediterranean summer. A very good Buffalo Mozzarella with finely sliced courgette and dried chilli cleansed and pleased in equal measure. Then while discussing the best places to live in London whole grilled sea bass with aioli arrived, looking impressive, to be followed by chunks of sirloin with horseradish and chimmichurri sauces. The steak was perfect, the fish delightful. In fact all the dishes were delightful, especially in the context of the occasion.

Nice too at a festival to have a good bottle of wine, a Spanish Verdeho, and to throw in a surprise at the end with some salty pecorino drizzled with honey.
Wilderness is a lovely festival, great bands, quirky stages, plenty to do and an excellent banquet.  Great food and music seem to go together it would be great to see more of this initiative at other small festivals.

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