Set amongst the serene countryside of the Chilterns, Wood Festival claims to be a haven for eco friendly music lovers with everything from composting toilets to solar and bike powered stages. Whilst the taxi running trips to the overflow carpark seems slightly at odds with their ethos we can’t help but overlook a small oversight. No one’s perfect, right? Generally speaking this is the greenest festival we’ve ever been to, and that’s some achievement. Music wise Wood’s organisers seem to have pretty much hit the nail on the head too, recognising their family market and plying it with an eclectic and upbeat lineup of artists which for the most part seem to appeal to both the adults and kids. It was clear the weekend was never going to be one for drunken teen fornication, but what it lacked in heady excitement it more than made up for in natural charm.
Friday started and ended a chilled affair with Michele Stodart kicking things off sublimely on the Wood Stage. Working through tracks from her forthcoming album Wide Eyed Crossing including Take Your Loving and My Baby, My Sweet, which she dedicated to her young daughter, the serene yet poignent vibe of her Magic Numbers days still weaves throughout her current works. However the guitar driven Foolish Love and You’ve Got A Hold On My Heart hold a more bluesy vibe, which seemed to please most of the crowd.
Spindrift were, by contrast, like something straight off of a Western soundtrack. Their slightly dark instrumental with sparse vocals and almost tribal beats had the kids dancing for the first time down by the Wood stage, an impressive warm up to Mama Rosin – a band we can only describe as France’s cut down answer to British folk supergroup Bellowhead, who whipped the crowd into such a frenzy that their set must have over run.
By contrast Friday headliner Thea Gilmore struggled to get the crowd going to quite the same extent and, with more upbeat numbers such as You’re The Radio showing everyone’s frustration to recommence the dancing, some of her more sedate songs seemed to wash over somewhat. Nevertheless, an inventive cover of the Guns N Roses classic Sweet Child Of Mine, a nod to Bob Dylan’s impendng 70th birthday with I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight and Jazz Hands late on in the set, followed by an encore performance of We’re Going To Break Out The Wine meant no one went to their cold beds disappointed.
When Saturday came around it was once again plain to see what the crowd, especially the kids, were after. Welsh/Irish band Uiscedwr had everyone enthralled with their brand of uptempo folk and a Bodhran Another One Bites The Dust solo sealed them as a highlight of the entire weekend. It may also have had something to do with the free Fish Cat Door (Ish-Ca-Door…) badges they were giving out. Following on both the upbeat and cultural vibes, Malian singer Khaïra Arby also overran as it seemed the crowd couldn’t get enough of her traditional drum driven tribal song.
When at last Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou could get on stage in the Tree Tent there was a risk that it would be too much of a come down, but in fact nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve missed out on seeing the duo on numerous occasions before but won’t make that mistake again, as it seems their high interlaced vocals come to life live in a way they never have recorded. Whilst at first the shared microphone they gazed over into each others eyes seemed frankly nauseating, with time even that became part of their charm.
Saturday headliner Willy Mason was at times as low key as Thea had been on Friday night until the Bennett brothers made an obligatory outing in accompaniment. Whilst opener We Can Be Strong seemed to mimic Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails classic Hurt, If It’s The End pointed a poignant two fingers up to Harold Camping’s mis-predicted rapture. By this point the crowd seemed content to stand and sing whilst swigging the local brews on offer at the bar.
Sunday seemed at first more about the Tree Tent with Glastonbury Emerging Talent winners Treetop Flyers set to play, however the hype didn’t really live up to the expectation with inappropriately childish jokes and a hint of arrogance marring what was actually a decent set. It was somewhat suprisingly Katy Rose & The Cavalry, the second incarnation of Bennett sister KTB, who played alongside her brothers and at one point a stage full of the audience who had been in a singing workshop earlier in the day, who stole the show. Whilst her own voice wavered slightly the crowd seemed to relish the involvement and her songwriting ability is unquestionable. Treetop Flyers were also seriously outperformed by Canadian Indie Rock band Zeus who had the crowd whipped into a frenzy on the Wood Stage inbetween.
The highlight of the night though inevitably came from Eliza Carthy and her band, who seemed to give everyone exactly what they had come for – crazy dancing and a massive buzz to end the weekend on. A jaunt through every upbeat tune in her repertoire, including Blood On My Boots, Hansel, Warpaint and the showstopping Britain is a Carpark from her recently released album Neptune sent the remaining Wood Festival goers on their way with a firm smile and, most likely, a return trip planned for about the same time next year.
With such a solid musical line up, you’d be forgiven for assuming this is all Wood is about. To the contrary however, the music is in essence more a backdrop for the haven of workshops and green endeavours that line the site. From composting cups to unloved vinyl acting as the brackets for the bins and a variety of homemade food, Wood is a far cry from other more commercial festivals that line the summer calendar. From felt making, to DIY wormeries, Bodhran drumming and yoga classes there’s something to capture everyone’s imagination, irrespective of age. It’s no doubt this which boosts the festival’s friendly nature, where families can relax as the kids roam the field and the camp fire becomes the late night meeting place for friends you’ve not yet made.