WOOD Festival

Annual local folk and roots eco-festival in May in Brazier's Park, near Didcot. Run on 100% renewable power.
Wood Festival 2013: weaving and dyeing
Tickets in advance from www.woodfestival.com and limited numbers of weekend and day tickets available on the door. If you drive to the event you need to buy a parking pass. Alternative means of transport encouraged!

May 19, 2013
Wood Festival: May 17th - 19th 2013

Once again, Wood Festival proves that small is beautiful. It's a bit like the West Coast of New Zealand: lovely scenery, full of nice hippies, and everyone you meet there wants to come back next year. There's a relatively low proportion of teenagers: instead, lots of creative adults and children gather to build fires, play and listen to music, drink local cider and ale and take part in workshops (dyeing, yoga, hula-hooping, harmony-singing and playing the spoons were all a lot of fun).

There's a very safe and friendly atmosphere: guitars and more exotic instruments are everywhere (my favourite was a kind of multi-tone gong formed from two old gas canisters). "Everyone was singing and laughing and sharing and having fun", indeed. 

May 22, 2011
WOOD 4: 20 - 22 May 2011
Back in Oxford, I'm relieved to find that the End of Days has not come and swept away my home and colleagues. Inside Wood Festival it seemed quite possible we were in a charmed bubble that might be spared Judgement Day, and we could all come out once the danger had passed, to build a happier, greener world.

WOOD is a funny kind of music festival, in that if you ask the festival-goers who they've come to hear, no-one seems to know who's playing, In fact one person told me they didn't really like folk. So why is it so popular?

To people with children it seems to be the genial and safe atmosphere, combined with a size of venue which makes losing people difficult. Children of all ages can be let loose to enjoy themselves. One family said they came for the campfire - certainly an unusual feature in a festival. And with fire stewards presiding as long as there are flames it's also quite a safe one for children, however hellbent they are on toasting marshmallows.

There are also workshops, stalls, and a heck of a lot of recycling points. It could all end up being too good to be true, but nothing is forced on anyone. The festival's green credentials are becoming widely recognised, helping it win its host of awards, including:
"Gold award from A Greener Festival, the Industry Green 2* award from Julie’s Bicycle and is shortlisted for MusicWeek’s Green Business award. It even won ‘Best Festival’ from The Oldie Magazine!" - woodfestival.co.uk

The music I did hear was lovely. The strains of Jali Fily Cissokho's kora drifted up the slope, perfect sunbathing music. I enjoyed Holton's Opulent Oog, on Sunday at teatime, again across a sunny field. I did worry a little that it must be frustrating for the performers, being treated as background music by so many people, but I hope they appreciated being appreciated from afar.

The Samba Procession was determined to be heard, and wound round the stalls and tents incorporating everyone in its path. Some of the families had already been to workshops making instruments to rattle, hit or otherwise join in with, and a practice session where Sol Samba demonstrated the different rhythms that form part of an intricate musical patchwork: "I like to PAR-ty", "mummydaddymummydaddymummydaddy" and so on. Dressed largely in pink, alerting you to its presence all over the site, the procession is, in all senses, unmissable.

Part of the fun of holding a festival in May is that you can't predict the weather. On the whole we were lucky - one rainstorm, in the middle of Saturday night, which caused the campfire to stop a little earlier than expected but did little damage otherwise. The wind was more exciting, but didn't quite reach the gale forces which would have blown the marquees away. Stewards were deployed to patrol the campsite with mallets, ensuring tents were firmly pegged. In the end the only casualty was the kitchen gazebo, which had to be put up again early on Sunday so that breakfast could be cooked "inside", as required by law! But anyone trying to pack up early on Sunday found they were battling a galloping monster, and one group of lads had to throw themselves on their escaping tent to stop it taking off.

This year there was no Hammer & Tongue tent. I missed the hot drinks and cake / performance poetry chill-out combination. It's nice to have somewhere where the emphasis is not on alcohol, and where you fetch up to de-daze yourself for a bit.

WOOD 4 felt more grown-up than in previous years, not necessarily more sombre, but somehow mature and less frantic. I don't know if it was a combination of the weather and the financial crisis, calming everyone down, or that all the organisers are now family people with children and their air of responsibility has rubbed off, or if it's entirely in my imagination! Whatever the cause, it made for a relaxing festival, like a breathing space in life.

So relaxing, it's hard to believe it's over, and that it's time to re-enter the real world. My head is full of the host of characters I've bumped into again and again over the weekend, creating a clan out of a gathering. I won't remember anyone's names for next year, but we'll recognise each other's faces.

May 22, 2010
I think I've just had the most perfect festival experience of my life: Wood rocks. The small scale, the family-friendly atmosphere and the environmentalist/hippy ethos make it simply a lovely place to be. Its scaling up from the first tiny, charming tryout version in 2008 is I think a triumphant success. It's managed to keep the friendliness and the green ethics while becoming more efficient and absorbing a lot more people.

The weather this weekend was spectacular, which, as my friend said, meant endorphins were high though functionality was low. Fabulous golden sun both days and purple starry nights. The mechanics behind the experience - food, sound and lighting, toilets, showers, litter, woodchopping and so on, appeared to run incredibly smoothly: solar panels and bike power powered the stages and the composting toilets change the whole festival experience: they're spacious and so much less skanky.

Highlights for me included:
  • the beats at the bicycle-powered disco tent (perfect for poi)
  • Richard Brotherton's various sets at the Hammer and Tongue poetry tent (terrible puns, fabulous guitar-playing)
  • the free range chicken in creamy sauce and the blackcurrant and clotted cream ice cream at the Vaults-powered food tent
  • Jaly Fily Cissokho playing kora on the Friday night
  • Tunng's folk-electronica on Saturday
  • music at the nightly central fire
  • an extraordinary, unexpected exhibition by Oxfordshire Mind of inventively decorated shoes lining a forest path. I peered into a dell and observed a collection of shoes sitting like forest animals in an animé on a mossy bank. Inventively renovated wellies appeared at intervals along the path - my favourite included a stuffed bunny peering out of a window cut in the side of the boot.
That's the other thing about Wood - the Brazier's Park site is a gorgeous patchwork of woodland, fields and meadows: everything is lush, green and within easy walking distance, and the layout is intelligent. I love the inventive constructions such as the pedal-operated handwashing stands: they're simple (in that "I should have been able to think of that!" kind of way), effective and fit in with the woodland landscape beautifully.

It pleases me to able to buy hot delicious festival food without the guilt of supporting battery-farming or Nestle. The aim is to achieve 95% waste recycling this year: that side of things (perhaps partly because of the small scale and ecologically-aware demographic) seemed to be going very smoothly. I never saw an overflowing rubbish unit or abandoned litter. The pizza ovens kept going with immaculate precision till two in the morning - 8 minutes, £6, hot pizza. Just what you need.

Other commitments tore me away on Sunday afternoon, but the party continues.

May 19, 2008
This was a seriously nice event. The indefatigable Bennett family, not content with their Truck shenanigans, showed 600-odd people - mainly over 25s and under 5s - a really good time. I think a lot of the success was to do with the size and the demographic: basically, fewer people means less skank, and fewer teenagers means less anti-social behaviour. Remarkably few people (though there are of course always a few) seemed to want to behave like reprobates.

There was a pleasing variety of of hippie weirdness: gong showers (feel the vibe), a campfire each night, loads of workshops (making jewellery, wood-turning, music for kids etc), a bicycle powered stage, a wood-fired sauna ("no dress code, but naked people have the right to deny entry to clothed people")... Many of these things were run by donation, which expresses better than anything else the feeling of cosiness and trust saturating the weekend.

The solar powered stage worked really well (bar one short power-crisis on Saturday night - dealt with smoothly as a swan swimming: one suspected a lot of activity under the surface but the outward effect was fine). Having a slightly quieter sound system has the inestimable advantage that you can actually hear the lyrics with total distinctness - a splendid change from the usual festival blare. There was the Wood Stage and the Tree Stage, but the rather clever sequitur "You can't see the Wood for the Trees" wasn't actually true - bands were nicely spaced so that you could see everyone you wanted to see. This removed one of my two major sources of festival tension.

My other major source of festival tension was also beautifully dealt with. Composting toilets! Composting toilets are the best! Every festival should have them! Secure, spacious, private, practically skank-free and smelling only slightly of stables. Admittedly, we were the first people to use them - they were built specially for Wood by local carpenters - and it wasn't hot weather, but for once in my festival-going life the toilets held no terrors. They were great.

Most of the bands had at least a trace of folk, and were extremely well-chosen, with one or two exceptions. Ashley Hutchings clearly has a bit of an attitude problem. "Don't dance, we're not actually a dance band... I'm trying to concentrate. So if all you people dancing could just move aside for this next one..." Then when heckled: "I've played with Jimi Hendrix, I have!" "Oh?" called someone "Did he let people dance?" The worst line for me was "We're going to have a break now and the girls'll do the next one. They're really talented too. Let's give them a chance to shine". Incredible. They had a few unintentionally hilarious deep-folk lyrics "Cup it round, hold it straight, let it flow... it'll come, it'll come" - No, it's about learning to write. They were altogether a bit embarrassingly twee, except for the dance numbers, which would have been splendid had people been allowed to dance.

Lightspeed Champion was also, in my opinion, a bit dire - endless witless whinges in tired rock rhythms about the awfulness of himself, his life, his girlfriends etc. The man needs a self-help group, not an audience. This audience seemed to like it though.

My favourite band, by contrast, was Little Sister - 4 talented girls and a multitude of instruments, doing country-soul-folk harmonies in the style of some of the marvellous music from O Brother Where Art Thou. They're upbeat, accomplished and joyous and I hope they go as far as they deserve.

Circulus (Elizabethan psychedelic folk) have clearly adjusted to their new line-up. Their latest drummer provided a splendid impromptu support set on guitar and vocals before returning to the fold. Michael Tyack seemed to thrive on the plentiful backing vocals and, smiling like a maniac, really let his own voice let rip as I've not heard before. And he's developed a few extra guitar noises to compensate for the absence of moog. And Will Summers on his variety of medieval wind instruments simply rocked. Even at 2am the audience were dancing like the freaks they are.

Get Cape Wear Cape Fly has really come of age: he's a Hell's Angel pixie, on fire with intensity and, in this instance, with great backing trumpet. He's got intelligent songs, a rough, humorous self-deprecating stage presence and a great handle on his audience. This was one of the sets that really benefitted from a eco-sound-system: you could hear every word - a dangerous clarity unless your writing, as his, is as good as your performance.

One of the loveliest sets was on the Sunday: Jaly Fily Cissokho from Senegal via Witney played his kora (like an upright guitar) with magical plinkety-plunkety beauty. It took you to a different world, with gathering waves of 1000-year-old melody filling your heart like the sea (well it was the Sunday).

A green festival can be done. This was a stupendous success. Whether the success can can be repeated on a larger scale remains to be seen.
The inevitable question was whether Wood could match the atmosphere + appeal of its big brother festival, Truck. The unequivocal answer was that Wood not only matched it but improved on it. For hippies like us anyway.

Home-made stages, ad-hoc yet highly-efficient organization, lovely surroundings, eclectic mix of bands, irreverent attitude, indifferent weather, recycling, no glass or dogs.

Better but more expensive food, better booze (by a mile), campfire, lots more young children, everything in one field, quieter p.a. systems, less raucous and aggressive music, composting toilets.

The best thing about it was the size. It would be impossible to replicate the atmosphere with the same numbers as Truck. Let's hope it stays small enough and gets even better.
Yes, rather fun. Nicely tiny, like one of the green fields at Glastonbury, only smaller. For the most part, very well arranged. Lacked obvious hand-washing facilities and more places to get cups of tea, but otherwise fine. Sauna recommended. And gonging. Circulus were fantastic. And Ashley Hutchings seemed like an utterly miserable and unpleasant human being, but that's nobody else's fault.
A lovely, peaceful yet stimulating festival, it was so uncommercial which was great too - the workshops were good and there were handwashing facillities outside of each composting toilet block !
There was a lovely small hippy festival feel and we all really enjoyed it and relaxed into the great vibe - my kids loved it, maybe next year there will actually be - crocheting, weaving, knitting and pottery - because it was advertised and I was SO looking forward to doing those things and there was none of those things !
Still gorgeous though .
Amazing, amazing, amazing! A weekend of uplifting energy, the most family-friendly festival imaginable. We don't remember the last full day we didn't have to work to keep our electric toddler entertained. She was in heaven! The music was amazing - go KTB! And the food. Delicious! A perfect spring weekend.

So how did WOOD start? Is this the first year?
It actually came about from a visit to Braziers Park in January this year. We (at Truck) had heard about the Park through friends and we were intrigued about it; the place itself seemed to suggest the activities that should happen there, so I suppose WOOD invented itself really... Plus, we wanted to do something that was like the first ever Truck festival (in 1998) in size and spirit.

What's special about WOOD?
We're aiming to use renewable energy sources as much as possible. So, the main stage - which is being built from green oak timbers by Rory, a friend who is an experienced carpenter - will be solar-powered, and the second stage will be bicycle-powered (which will require audience participation!). There are composting toilets (which are much nicer than portaloos by the way - I've tried them!), and the showers will be powered by a wood burner. There'll also be a sauna powered by the same method.

What'll there be to see and do there?
There'll be workshops in everything from Harmony Singing and African Drumming to Hay Bale construction and Circle Dancing, and a songwriters' session around the camp fire. So bring your acoustic instruments with you!

And of course there'll be loads of great music, from acts like Circulus (surprisingly dancy Elizabethan psychedelia), 20-year-old laptop folkster Get Cape.Wear Cape.Fly, Ashley Hutchings (of Fairport Convention/Albion band) with his new band the Rainbow Chasers,  Lightspeed Champion, King Creosote, Devon Sproule (as seen on Later with Jools Holland last month), Danny & the Champions of the World, the Coal Porters, the Epstein, Stornoway, Senegalese kora player Jali Fily Cisshoko, all-girl folk supergoup Little Sister, Anton Barbeau, KTB and more.

Tickets are FREE to children under 14 accompanied by an adult, so it should be a lovely, relaxed, family-friendly environment!

Tell us more about Braziers Park.
Braziers Park is a site of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with undulating hills surrounded by woodland. It can be found just off the A4074, on the main X39/X40 bus route between Oxford and Reading. You can find full travel info at www.braziers.org.uk/find_us.htm

We're levying a £5 parking "fine", so please take the bus or cycle if you can (we'll be working with Oxford Cycle Workshop to organise a group bike ride to WOOD from Oxford, and awarding prizes and respect to those who manage it!). Proceeds from the parking fine will go to a rainforest protection charity.

What about the food and camping facilities?
We'll have fine local ales and cider - courtesy of Cotwold Brewing company - and Butts real ale, and delicious locally sourced food in our café courtesy of the Vaults & Garden. You might even get to take part in the preparation of your meal! And if you want to camp in style, you can hire one of our luxury yurts.

A yurt? What's a yurt?
A yurt is a circular, wood lattice-framed tent originating in Central Asia. Have a look at some pictures of them here (www.yurtevents.co.uk).

Where do you buy tickets?
An adult weekend ticket costs £45. This includes 3 nights' camping and workshops. It's free if you're under 14 and accompanied by a paying adult (max 2 kids per adult)! Day passes cost £20. 

There are a limited number of tickets available from www.wegottickets.com, or you can get them in person from lots of shops including: 
OXFORD: Scribblers 01865 727524, The Music Room 01865 722227, Videosyncratic: 01865 792220, The Inner Bookshop: 01865 245301
ABINGDON: Mostly Books 01235 525880
DIDCOT: Windjammer 01235 818511
WALLINGFORD: Toby English Books 01491 836389
HIGH WYCOMBE: Counter Culture 01494 463366
WITNEY: Rapture 01993 700567
READING: Guitar Works 01189 589333
BIRMINGHAM: Jibbering 0121 449 4551

This is a particularly interesting project because of the conscientious approach to the environment. Do you think this is the way of the future for festivals?
Definitely. We have made a lot of progress at Truck over the last ten years in areas such as recycling and using compostable packaging, but with WOOD we have an opportunity to experiment further with lots of other alternative methods. Maybe Truck could be using completely composting loos within a couple of years... just got to get permission from the farmer!

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