After an arduous cross-country journey guided by a questionable sat-nav, we arrive at 2012’s In The Woods festival. Now in its seventh year, a major draw of In The Woods is the taciturn nature of the event, housed as it is in a secret location known only to festival goers, completely hidden away from the outside world. Its discrete, remote location, along with the limited number of tickets, makes In The Woods feel simultaneously like a retreat, a tryst, and a secret adventure.
This vibe continues as we enter the festival itself. A path leads us into the woods, lit subtly by lights and lanterns. Every now and then pieces of art work reveal themselves from the trees; ready-made flower gardens, mirrored silhouettes and statues reminiscent of Maurice Sendak’s work are the first things to catch my eye. And then in front of us emerges the main stage area. Dubbed The Quarry Stage, this reverberating natural amphitheatre is large enough to house the full festival crowd, and offers a dance floor, or an excellent view for those who just want to sit listen.
Immediately we start to scavenge for some musical treats. First we watch Fiction offer a cracking set at The Quarry Stage, and then we head over to the other stage at the festival entitled The Laurel Lounge – a tiny set up housed in a thicket of laurel trees so tightly packed you can barely see the sky. Here we are entertained by Sivu, a new psyche-folk artist who offers soothing melodies and beautiful lyrics accompanied by cello, violin and melodeon. We then nip back to catch some of Peter and Kerry, and then stop of a bite and explore the site a bit more.
After selecting some sumptuous (and reasonably priced) homemade burgers and freshly blended smoothies, we take part in some of the active (and completely free) installations dotted about the place. We have our photos taken by a pinhole photo booth, watch some short independent flicks at the silent cinema (housed in a yurt no less!), and head down to the spoken word area for a short time. As we soak in all these activities, a major presence at the festival is made clear – the importance of creativity and art, and how everybody here wants to be a part of that world. Everything that is happening here – music, art, film-making, poetry and even the food is not here for the sake of money or politics or self-justification but because being creative is a fun, vital and important part of life. And In The Woods offers a marvellous vehicle for that.
Another major thing that strikes you at In The Woods is the complete lack of commerciality or bureaucracy typical in larger music festival. There are no shops or merch stands – the only thing you have to pay for is food and drink. There is security and St. John’s Ambulance people and everything that is sensible for a music festival to have, but otherwise, positive intentions are presumed. Camping and parking is free, and if you want to bring your own booze, that’s ok. This approach by the organisers is reflected by the punters and the artists alike, to the point where there is a decidedly mellow, happy vibe to the place. There are plenty of teenagers and students, yes, but there are also families with babies, retired couples, and even a few dogs dotted about. It really does feel like a collective decision to create a temporary sanctuary from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
Throughout the evening and into the night, we continue to enjoy the marvellous vibe of the place, along with the excellent selection of music on offer. Tanya Auclair provides a vibrant performance with her complex and diverse instrumentation, fully catered for by the festival. We also catch the marvellous Stealing Sheep (who have audience members climbing trees just to catch a glimpse of them), festival curators The Laurel Collective, and a special guest performance from Man Like
Me, whose stomping beats and humorous choreography are very well received by the crowd. The evening is rounded off by Alt-J, whose calming, melodious sounds wrap us all up nicely in time for bed.
It must be said that every act we have had the privilege to witness performance at the year’s In The Woods festival are fantastic. A wide range of styles have been offered to us, but the key thread tying each performance together is that every act here is creating clever, interesting, dynamic and accomplished music. These delightfully vibrant sonic adventures each feel like marvellous little discoveries, hidden as they are in softly lit glades. The line-up has been expertly curated, with each act offering great music that also fits in with the vibe of the audience, of the venue, and of the festival itself as a whole. In The Woods has offered a fully composed concept for its punters, and has delivered in every way possible, with marvellously heart-warming results.