Live music is one of my main passions. The buzz of seeing a band or artist that you love perform live is exciting, exhilarating and can leave long lasting memories. In terms of value for money, music festivals are a great way to catch lots of bands play. Whether you are familiar with a band or not, it can be a great opportunity to discover new artists or see bands you love. I’ve recently noticed there has been an upsurge of smaller festivals in the UK, so this year we decided to go and check out the family friendly Deer Shed Festival in North Yorkshire.
I visited my first music festival in 1998 – V98 in Leeds in case you were wondering. Mildly obsessed with Stereophonics at the time, and having watched footage of them at a very muddy Glastonbury that summer, I felt the need to experience a festival. I made a phone call to the ticket line (internet booking wasn’t really a thing back then) and bagged one of the last tickets available. Come August, myself and a friend jumped on a train to Leeds, camped up and saw the likes of The Verve, Charlatans, PJ Harvey, Catatonia and Stereophonics. I was hooked.
Between 1999 and 2011 I attended four or five music festivals a year. Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds, Latitude, Benicassim and Coachella were some of the major festivals I visited, but there were countless more. In 2011 I semi-retired, certainly from camping. A very wet and muddy Glastonbury left me feeling jaded, even though Beyonce perked me up on the final evening. From then on I only visited Reading Festival (walking distance from home) and a few others. That festival bug was still there though, niggling away, so it was time head off and camp in a field again.
Deer Shed Festival has now been running for 10 years and grows in size and stature year upon year. A small, independently run festival, there is a heavy focus not only music, but on theatre, arts, comedy and heaps of activities for kids. The musical line up is eclectic and current, bringing to the stages some of the best acts on the circuit, but we’ll get to that bit later.
The main arena was separated into a few different zones. Entering from the main campsite entrance, the first section was packed full of great food vendors and market traders. Off to the left was the main music arena, with the Main Stage at the bottom of the hill, and the In The Dock Stage in a tent at the top of the hill. This field also featured a real ale and cider bar, a gin and prosecco bar and a cocktail bar, as well as a vintage fairground and more food vendors. There was an entrance from this field into The Wilderwild – an enchanting, wooded area with plenty of activities for children as well as campfire music and storytelling sessions late into the night.
Heading to the right from the main campsite entrance, another field featured a collection of family friendly venues. There were activity workshops, a science tent and the Big Top which had a range of comedy and theatre performances. There were also more music venues here, with more low key performances in The Lodge Stage and acoustic performances on the Pallet Stage. With the exception of the Main Stage, all other stages were undercover. Pretty handy for when mother nature unleashed her ‘typical UK summer weather’ upon us, as we well found out on Saturday. The final area within the arena was the Sports Arena, where you could find wrestling workshops and matches, human fussball, tag archery and even quidditch. There were plenty of other sporting activities around the site too.
I’ll be honest and admit that I had my reservations about attending a ‘family friendly’ festival. I have no children. I don’t mind other people’s children, I even like some of them, but I don’t necessarily want to spend a huge amount of time surrounded by them. Nevertheless, won over by the stellar musical line up and reputation of Deer Shed Festival, I decided to embrace it. How bad could it be? Well, in short, the answer was that it was absolutely fine. There was a large percentage of attendees who were families, but there were also adult groups.
As mentioned above, the festival site layout splits the crowd quite nicely. For the adults (and children) who were more into their music, the field with the main stages also had some attractions to keep the kids busy such as the vintage fairground and a huge area populated with over thirty ‘That Game With A Tennis Ball On A String’ sets on the hill side. That’s Swingball to you and me. The location of the Main Stage viewing area meant that a lot of families settled on the hillside with small tents, picnic blankets and gazebos. There were even massive umbrellas with sides (who knew these even existed?). The things that you learn at a relatively middle-class, civilised festival eh?
The fairground at the top of the hill was popular across the weekend with a helter skelter, ferris wheel and a chair-o-plane ride. Further down past the TGWATBOAS (Swingball) area was the entrance to The Wilderwild. This was such an awesome area for kids, with workshops and activities from 9am in the morning for all of those early risers. Tucked away in the woodland, it was a place to test creativity with magic wand making, pottery and blacksmith workshops. There were outdoor activities such as fire lighting and wild kitchen, bird watching nature walks and even a fairy school. We were bemused by the father trying to convince his small daughter that the fairy walk early on Saturday morning in the torrential rain wasn’t such a great idea. She was having none of it! Kids don’t really care about the rain and mud do they – makes things more fun.
What felt like the busiest section of the arena at some points was around the Bubble Inc stall. A constant stream of bubbles – some huge bubbles, some smoke filled bubbles, had children and adults fascinated and jumping around trying to catch them, or pop them. It was quite infectious actually watching how much joy such a simple thing bought to so many little people. The adults were definitely loving it just as much too.
So, on to the music. The reason I was here. Looking back at the previous line ups for Deer Shed, I have no idea why this festival wasn’t on my radar earlier. Being a big listener of the 6 Music radio station, the line up was packed full of bands I knew and loved. If you have been to a festival, you’ll know that it’s going to be impossible to see everything you want to. With numerous stages across a site, there are bound to clashes. Something I have reluctantly accepted over the years, despite a few sulky moments.
Here’s where Deer Shed helps with this issue. The two main stages don’t overlap, meaning that when a band is playing on one, the other is setting up for the next act. A genius idea! Thanks to this, there was only one clash for me across the weekend, where I wanted to also see an artist on a smaller stage. It also provides a little more time for toilets stops, bar stops and generally taking it easy without racing around. All of these things make for a much better festival experience.
There were also some arena walkabout performers throughout the weekend. We hung around for a while at the Sloemotion Cocktail Tent next to the Main Stage on Saturday, and in-between acts we got to see Leeds band Alligator Gumbo, a jazz and blues band who played acoustically to keep the crowds amused.
We spent most of our time between the Main Stage and In the Dock stage and the line up for both was excellent. Here’s a look at my favourite acts across the weekend.
I’m a big fan of Tom Williams since seeing him at Are You Listening? Festival in Reading a couple of years ago. I’ve seen him live many (many) times since then, following the promotion of his two latest albums All Change and What Did You Want To Be? Tom has played Deer Shed Festival three or four times before, but isn’t quite sure which. He’s definitely enjoyed every visit though, including this one and his repeat visits brought a lot of fans down to the stage. This included a group of children down the front with a huge banner stating ‘Tom Williams – you are the best’. Smashing through a collection of songs from the latest albums including my current favourite Stay Afloat, as well a rocking rendition of older track Twenty Five, it’s easy to see why he has an all round appeal. I expect he’ll be invited back next year, if he’s touring.
Where do we start with Anna Calvi. The first time I saw her live was at Reading Festival 2011, mid afternoon, on a small stage. At the time she was promoting her self titled debut album which was Mercury Prize nominated and blew me away. The passion and power in her performance was prominent, even back then. She’s since released two more albums including the critically acclaimed Hunter in 2018. Headlining the main stage bathed in red lights on the Friday night, she strutted around owning the stage with some of the most awesome guitar solos you are likely to see. She’s relatively quiet on stage with little interaction with the crowd – a silhouette lurking the smoke and shadows, but her songs really do the talking. With old favourites such as Suzanne and I and Blackout, and newer songs from the Hunter album such as As a Man and Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy, it was a standout headline performance that had the crowd captivated. As I write this, I am listening to Suzanne and I on repeat – one of my favourite tracks of the last decade. If you have a chance, go and see her live.
I missed a BC Camplight gig in Reading fairly recently, so was glad to have the opportunity to see them at Deer Shed Festival. Coming onto the stage during some bad weather that moved in, Brian Christinzio was determined to lift people’s spirits despite the subject matter of some of his songs – mental health, addiction and deportation. Everyone was there to have fun together, despite the weather, and BC Camplight’s melodic and catchy tunes really kept the crowd engaged. The tracks from his latest album Deportation Blues focused heavily on the stories relating to his deportation from the UK in 2015. My current favourites I’m in a Weird Place Now and I’m Desperate sounded great live. Can’t wait to see them live again soon.
Super Furry Animals front man Gruff Rhys brought his unique and understated style to the main stage at Deer Shed Festival on Saturday afternoon. Gruff is back on the road to promote his forthcoming album Pang! – a Welsh language record due to be released in September 2019. Playing some new songs, as well as tracks from his other four solo albums, there was a mixture of Welsh and English songs with some witty chatter in between. As well as the melodic and catchy tunes like Candylion, Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru and American Interior, Gruff’s live performances are also enhanced by his placards that he uses for audience participation. Applause!…….Louder……..The End…..etc. A perfect and entertaining 50 minutes.
One of Saturday’s highlights, Sunflower Bean took to the stage during some drizzle and thanked the crowd for sticking around to see them. They were even more thankful to the crowd for sticking around when the heavens opened, and torrential rain saturated the site for a large portion of their set. Lead singer and bass guitarist Julia Cumming was hugely engaged with the crowd, and the stylish New York quartet played a really upbeat set with some of the highlights for me being Crisis Fest and the more low key Twenty Two. During the worst of the weather, Julia had the crowd jumping around in the mud. Hugely entertaining and great fun!
As if all of the above is not enough to tempt you to head to this awesome little festival, there is so much that sets it apart from other festivals I have been to. As a relatively small festival, the organisers seem to have the balance of capacity versus facilities perfectly synched. At no point during the festival did I notice any part of the site feel overcrowded. I waited for no longer than a few minutes for toilet facilities, which always had toilet paper and hand wash available.
The bars were plentiful and varied and the bar staff were efficient and really friendly. In fact, everyone was friendly – the stewards, the security. There were some accessibility issues that I wanted to discuss with the organisation team and I can honestly say they could not have been more helpful or accommodating. This all makes a huge difference into making you feel like a valued customer.
Given the family friendly vibe of the festival, I didn’t really see any anti social behaviour. The bars were always busy and the alcohol was flowing freely, but spirits were high and the atmosphere was fun even in the worst of the weather. The main stage, despite getting large crowds during some of the sets, was never difficult to get close to. The In the Dock stage did get fairly crowded during some of the more popular acts, but I think the heavy rain meant people were trying to take cover in the tents.
There was a decidedly local feel to the festival. The bars were run by local companies with local beers, craft ales and gins available. Many food stalls were run by people from the local area too. There were Yorkshire accents everywhere. We took cover from the rain on Saturday morning at a vintage coffee van (Rolling Scones) run by Team Time Yorkshire, who’s staff informed us that they had a lovely dry gazebo seating area behind the van to take cover. We spent longer than we should have there, sheltering from the rain and chatting to the staff. They remembered us later when we returned. You don’t get that at most festivals.
There was a huge focus on recycling at the festival. Hot drinks and beers were served in reusable Deer Shed branded cups, for which you paid a fee of £2. For the most part, people were using the recycling bins around the site and when looking around the site, there really was very little litter on the ground. There was no sale of single use plastic or straws on site, a policy that Deer Shed have been running for a while, and bringing reusable bottles for drinking water was highly encouraged.
Having been tempted by the superb music line up, I pondered for ages about whether to get a ticket. I’ll take you back to my earlier comment about my final wet and muddy camping experience at Glastonbury in 2011. Could I potentially put myself through that again? Am I too old and grumpy? This answer to this is yes, if you had any doubt. However, scanning through the website, my eyes fixated upon the glamping section. Ooooh, was it about time I should have my first experience of glamping? There were a few options available in the glamping section, via three different companies – Tangerine Fields, Hearthworks and Vintents. I’m sure you are all familiar with glamping, but in short, the companies provide a variety of pre-pitched tents with various options including bedding packages.
Tangerine Fields offered a range of accommodation including standard two to eight person tents, Bell Tents and Bedouin Tents. Hearthworks provided the option of Tipis and Vintents offered those large vintage canvas framed tents with retro curtains that you used to see in the 70’s. Plenty of options available at varying prices depending on your budget. Note, glamping is not a cheap add on to your festival experience – there is a fairly significant cost involved.
After much deliberation, we thought ‘why not, let’s give this a go’. We chose to go with Tangerine Fields and opted for a Bell Tent package. The package included the pre-pitched bell tent in the glamping area, along with two double air beds, a rug and welcome mat, along with a side table and some interior lighting. There were bedding packages available, but we decided to bring our own. A far cry from the thin sleeping bags that I have normally taken with me in the past. Oh, the luxury!
The glamping field at Deer Shed was tucked away at the back of the site, which meant walking through the main campsite to get there. The site was separated from the main campsite by the Baldersby Park Lake. A friendly greeting by the team at Tangerine Fields and we were shown to our home for the next few nights.
The Bell Tent was nicely spacious with enough room to stand in the middle. With two double beds inside, there wasn’t a huge amount of room to move around, but we managed to get all of our belongings inside, as well as a couple of camping chairs at the bottom of the beds. Most importantly it was well pitched and I had the confidence that the rain wouldn’t pour in during any bad weather. The glamping field was spacious with wide pathways and plenty of space between the tents. There was a toilet block with flushing toilets which never seemed to get too busy. Overall, it was a really nice environment.
We had a great time at Deer Shed Festival. The weather, however, got the better of us and we ended up leaving during the Sunday rather than staying for the final night. This meant that we ended up missing some acts which I really wanted to see such as She Drew The Gun and Steve Mason. I’d definitely recommend any families who want some good music and plenty of activities for the kids to go along. It’s great value for money, well organised and a really fun festival.
Would I recommend the glamping option? Well, the benefit of not having to bring and pitch your own tent did indeed feel like a luxury. My issue with sleeping in a tent though, is that regardless of how fancy it is, you are still sharing your bedroom with creepy crawlies, your bedding feels a bit damp and you have to get fully dressed to go to the loo in the middle of the night. Maybe I really have retired from camping this time?
Deer Shed Festival, if you are listening, if you recommend a good place to stay nearby, I will most definitely be back.
While you are in North Yorkshire, why not consider spending some more time in the area and explore the coast.
Have you visited Deer Shed Festival? What were your thoughts?
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