The term ‘boutique’ has been chucked around the press so vehemently in the past few years its difficult to really know what it means. Every year audiences are heading for a rapidly proliferating multitude of small, intimate festivals set in the valleys, woodland clearings and lake edges of the countryside to soak up a sense of belonging and community away from the intensified commercialism of monster festivals. So, with Glastonbury sinking into the Olympic sized black hole, I hooked a camera over my shoulder and went in search of the true meaning of ‘boutique.’ If a locally brewed beer, a slice of performance art and the occasional toddler sloshing in the mud in fancy dress floats your festival boat, then hop along!
First stop on the trail was Rockness, set in the stunning surroundings of Loch Ness. I wouldn’t necessarily stake a claim that it is absolutely a boutique festival; it provides a middle ground alternative to the beast of ‘T in the Park’ but does still sport a mainstream/dance orientated line-up. The idyllic location doesn’t translate into the atmosphere. You were never far from the occasional ‘jakey’ chewing their face off and never were you more aware of that when news spread around the site about the apparent drug-related death of an Edinburgh teenager. Negatives aside, its important to remember that this is a festival originating in the dance scene; so this is an almost inevitable flaw. This isn’t to detract from the names that graced Clune Park on the first weekend of June. Mumford and Sons, Ed Sheeran and Biffy Clyro were just some of the highlights and despite the hostile Highland weather conditions, festival-goers abandoned the slightly warmer sanctuary of the many pop-up bars to hide in bins dressed as foxes and scare bar staff with gas masks and fire related magic tricks. Some of the crowd, at least, hadn’t left their festival spirit in their baggies.
Next was Kendal Calling. It has rightly become a Cumbrian institution and it’s northern voice has called to crowds all over the country who succumb to the magical charm of the deer park in Lowther. It’s a weekend of discovery and fun that harbors that other worldly quality; where the musical line-up is just one component of the fantasy playground.Having grown year on year since 2006, Kendal Calling is now an undisputed gem on the festival calendar, attracting a loyal crowd each year with its bright, family friendly attitude, oh-so-pretty setting and diverse line-up that combines iconic acts with exciting newcomers across a wide range of genres. This year, James, Feeder and We Are Scientists took to the mainstage whilst there was a feast of delights on offer elsewhere on site. A personal favourite was the Chai Wallahs tent, home to an eclectic mix of Ska, Jazz and Dubstep, Chai Tea and Shisha. The complete mix match of acts seems to be one of the reasons that the once dinky festival has grown so rapidly. Craig Charles attracted the biggest crowd of the weekend with a bag of ‘funk n’ soul.’ Audiences embrace the backward. It ticked the boutique festival check list in terms of it’s individual identity and attention to detail; a woodland stage, eight foot high daffodil lights, gingerbread houses and toadstools contributed to the overall fairytale atmosphere of the park.
And on I traversed to the windy hollows of Scotland. Nestled between Glasgow and Edinburgh is ‘Doune the Rabbit Hole,’ a festival marching under the motto ‘Make Scotland Happier’ and intent on creating a haven for parents and children alike. The site itself is a spectacle to behold. A wooden fort still under construction by the Clanranald Trust, it sits perched at the top of the hill. Music-filled tents and artworks dot the trail to the entrance, banners and flags fly from the ramparts, and fairy lights line the trees to the mainstage ‘lorry’ inside the fort. It is essentially a hippie-fest; the Gaelic wanderers have have small children strapped to their backs as they drink wine and mead from plastic bladders. They all have massive beards.They don’t dance, they romp. Aidan Moffat told tales of sex and self, Withered Hand warmed the dampened hearts of the rain dancers soaked in the 3ft mud mounds and the regal King Creosote (Kenny Anderson) had the crowd delighted with a jumping, clapping and bubble blowing set. Other Scottish gems this year came in the shape of ‘Away Game’ organized by Fence Records which takes place on Eigg Island located on the Inner Hebrides. Only 250 people attend and the island owners are your hosts; they cook your dinner, hand you beer and Donna the Piper welcomes and says goodbye to you. Away Game is far too special to be called a festival; it’s beyond boutique.
After my rampage across many a festival field, it seems that in the boutique playground, nothing ever goes quite to plan. With treats and surprises around every corner, it’s easy to stray off course and wander down the proverbial rabbit hole, ending up somewhere completely unplanned and unexpected. I’ve been well and truly converted.