Five go to a festival sounds a bit like a modern Enid Blyton book title, and I suppose in a way it could have been. Five of us going off to a festival in a beautiful bit of English countryside on a (sometimes sunny) Saturday afternoon. All that was missing was lashings of ginger beer. A couple of pints of local ale took their place though – for the grown ups in the five at least!
I was delighted to be invited along to BerkoFest in the nearby Chilterns town of Berkhamsted last Saturday afternoon. I’ve been to “Berko” quite a few times before and have always really liked it as a town to visit; a bustling high street, lovely canal tow path and also a nice castle that I’ve been round with the kids a few times.
The festival itself took place at the Berkhamsted Cricket Club which is just a short walk from the train station and nearby castle site. With no dedicated parking on site we actually chose to play it safe (and also indulge Master C’s love of trains) by parking at Watford Junction station and heading to Berkhamsted by train. It’s an incredibly simple walk from the station and spotting the castle the kids actually insisted on calling in there on the way and running round the top of the walls before heading to the site. This meant that we got to hear most of John Power’s set from the top of the castle walls. That’s quite an experience in itself.
Once on site at the festival it instantly came across as to what a lovely, local and family orientated festival this was. We luckily dodged most of the day’s rain showers and didn’t need the waterproofs we’d diligently packed in our rucksack. BerkoFest had a shoutout from BBC 6 Music’s Gideon Coe the day before where he described it as “small but perfectly formed” and I think that is the way to sum up the festival. With one main stage and a couple of new music stages and a “youth tent” (who were very impressive when I popped long) this wasn’t a huge festival, but perfect if you were taking a family for a first festival experience or if you wanted somewhere really safe for young children.
The site was kept impeccably clean during the festival itself by an army of volunteers from the local Transition Berkhamsted and there were plenty of security people milling about too. The site felt spacious, but at the same time safe enough that we were happy to let the children enjoy themselves and let the 13 year old take them to discover the face painting and other kids activities. I’m delighted to say that the festival toilets didn’t live up to the reputation of many and were actually clean and well stocked with loo roll. Always an important thing when going somewhere with young children.
On the food and drink front, there were an array of local producers selling delicious hot food. We pitched ourselves close to the toast van and the smell of cheese toasties was wonderful. Unfortunately the pizza stand sold out by the time we got there, but the sausages from the BBQ were delicious (and local) but I did laugh somewhat at the fact that all the tomato ketchup was organic. Amusingly typical for something in the Chilterns! The guy serving the beer could have done with speeding up at busy times (or just employing an assistant) but when the speed of getting a pint is your only quibble I think it’s very much a first world problem.
We delayed our arrival a bit to avoid a huge downpour so I think missed the drumming workshop that the teen may have enjoyed, but all three kids had fun just dancing to the music and wandering around in general. The girls loved having their faces painted and Master C was thrilled to see the local sand art woman was there as it’s one of his favourite things to do. The Berkhamsted Cricket Club site also has loads of space around it meaning that children could easily go and run off a load of energy without getting in anyone’s way.
As well as hearing John Power, we were in place to see Alabama 3 and (my favourite) Dan Gillespie Sells from The Feeling, and both were fantastic. I’d heard Alabama 3 before on 6Music, although it seems they toned down their language for a radio appearance! Dan was brilliant and I was thrilled to hear him exclusively announcing there that The Feeling will be back in 2018 for a reunion tour. The whole festival was compered by local “boy” Robin Ince who was as brilliant as ever.
We were organised for this festival, taking along camping chairs to allow us to sit and enjoy it in style and I’m glad we did. I’m not sure that I can cope with standing or sitting on the floor for that long at my age! Where we were was also close to the Swan Youth Centre Tent and, in-between acts on the main stage, I was very impressed with some of the sounds coming from there. The young bands were tackling some impressive music and doing so with great gusto and skill. It was wonderful to see a large amount of support for them too.
The kids were sad when the festival drew to a close at 7pm (handily making sure it wasn’t too late to bed for them all!) and I think it fair to say that they’d really enjoyed the afternoon. As had us grown ups. BerkoFest really is a “small but perfectly formed” and I’ll definitely be looking out for the date of BerkoFest 2018.
Disclaimer: I was gifted tickets for the five of us to attend BerkoFest in exchange for this review and some social media coverage on the day. All opinions are honest and remain my own.