Barn on the Farm 2016 Review: A Boutique Festival with Heart

Barn stage

Barn stage

The promo videos, the Instagram posts and the hundreds of tweets that all boast of a ‘truly memorable experience’, a ‘really special place’ – and they aren’t sugar coating it. From the moment I arrived on site, greeted by happy stewards dancing away while they directed the traffic, to the moment I left, the thought and care that had gone into every element of the festival was clear.

With feet still a little sore from the hundreds of kilometres of sticky, ankle-deep mud I’d trudged through the weekend before at Glastonbury, I optimistically left my wellies in the car and pitched my tent in a spot with no mud in sight and plenty of room. On exploring the site my first impression was just how small it was! You can walk between the three stages in five minutes and the capacity (about 1500 tickets were on sale) is the same as my local music venue. Each sign had been hand-sprayed and everything from the fences made of wooden pallets to the bar in a horse-box had been thought out to make sure the festival retained its authentic farm feel. And it was beautifully done; it is the serial Instagrammer’s dream. Wellies were hung across the bar, each sporting a letter to spell out the name of the festival and more pallets had been stacked to form the letters ‘BOTF’, the festival’s initials. Each of these creative endeavours reminds you how much heart the organisers put into the festival each year.

In its seventh year, the festival feels like it has really established itself and despite its size they have consistently booked a strong line-up every year. And they are rightfully proud of the musicians they have hosted, some right on the cusp of huge careers. Ben Howard and Ed Sheeran played in the festival’s second year in 2011, Hozier in 2014 and James Bay in 2015. Oh Wonder filled Saturday night’s headline slot this year with Jack Garratt on the Sunday, both artists set to achieve huge things in the near future (Jack Garratt has arguably already overtaken the ‘up and coming’ status he had back when the festival probably booked him).

Each year, the festival sells a couple of hundred tickets which include an ‘Intimate Friday’ with a secret headliner. The headliner plays on the Barn Stage that gives the festival its name and this year the artist was Bear’s Den (although I missed the performance as I arrived on Saturday morning). It is a beautiful little venue with the stage elevated in a section resembling a hayloft six-feet above the crowd. The sound quality was fantastic and there were some beautiful performances from the likes of Gavin James and Isaac Gracie.

The Main Stage is situated in a circular tent, a new feature for this year’s festival. Again, the acoustics were great and the shape of the tent still managed to make the larger space seem very intimate. It was the ideal stage for both smaller bands playing earlier on in the day and for the crowd to get close to the headliners later on in the evening. The tent was packed out for the Farm Band which was comprised of Hudson Taylor, Amber Run, Gabrielle Aplin and Hannah Grace – artists who are very much at the heart of the festival.

Hudson Taylor made another appearance, not on the programme, at the Barn Stage just before Sunday night’s headliners. I’ll give credit to the festival organisers for this one. Intentionally leaving a gap in the line-up created quite a stir. Even though it seemed to be on everyone’s radar to get a good view of Jack Garratt that same evening, the Barn Stage was packed out half an hour before anyone even graced the stage for a sound check, people spilling out on both sides of the open barn doors. The crowd waited in anticipation, everyone verbally contemplating who the secret guest could be. Personally, my money was on Gabrielle Aplin or Saint Raymond, who I spotted enjoying the festival over the weekend. No one was disappointed with Hudson Taylor jumping onto stage punctually at 19:10. One half of the band had broken his leg that morning on site, so he made an appearance on stage via FaceTime instead. Although from his hospital bed, the crowd still roared in appreciation and he was still jamming along to the music throughout the set. Gabrielle Aplin and Hannah Grace stepped up to fill his spot on stage for a couple of songs.

One thing that struck me when first taking a look at the set times for the weekend was how early the headliners finished up. I couldn’t help but wonder where everyone would disperse to once the headliner had wrapped up their last encore. What I didn’t expect was everyone to whip out their own instruments and get the party started in a true camp site style. Guitars and ukuleles appeared and even though there was no official entertainment after 11ish the camp site didn’t call it a night until the early hours of the morning. Everyone who attended was so chatty and friendly- willing to talk music, which is something I really enjoyed being at a smaller festival. I had a great chat with a girl by the ostriches on site. (It seemed to be on the unofficial Barn on the Farm bucket list to get an ‘Ostrich Selfie’, even though I can confirm they are terrifying.) Everyone so open to having a conversation about the bands they love, me and the mysterious girl bonded over our love of Fickle Friends. I later saw her in the crowd, which seemed to be a recurring theme of the weekend. It was small enough to start recognising faces before the first day was over.

As you now expect at festivals, the food on offer was great even if there weren’t any particularly cheap options. There was a wood fired pizza oven and some Greek food as well as the usual selection of curry and burgers. The drinks however were more reasonably priced than usual which helped prevent too much grumbling about not being allowed to take your own drinks out of the campsite. The festival teamed up with the local Gloucester Brewery to produce a Barn Beer and Two Birds Spirits to create a delicious Two Birds on the Farm Cocktail. I was genuinely surprised at how reasonable drink prices were, and loved how bar queues were non-existent, meaning I could go from bar to stage between sets and still get a in a good position to see each live performance.

All in all, this was a completely different festival experience from what I am used to. The Portaloos were clean and well-stocked and there was minimal mud. After a few hours many faces became familiar and band members were frequently spotted wandering around and watching other artists or doing little filmed performances around the site. Everyone was warm and friendly and up for a drink and a sing-along in the campsite after the stages had closed. I hope Barn on the Farm manages to stay this small while continuing to produce such great line-ups – definitely an event to revisit next year.

Photo credit: Josh Halling