I’ve always been a great one for not judging books by their covers – and festivals by their marketing materials. At previous events, I’ve raised merry hell at family-friendly festivals, and been in bed at 11pm for larger ones that seemed to promise everything short of an STD. I seemed to forget this, as I drove with my friend from Norfolk to the deepest, darkest recesses of Kent for In The Woods Festival. “It’ll be full of posh families,” I thought irritably. “There had better not be any children around when I get my drink on.”
Upon arriving, my mood was further darkened as I remembered that only 750 people would be at the event, and I bitterly imagined a day stuck in a sparsely-populated copse surrounded by hippies. At this point, I was aware that these tickets had sold like hot cakes. If I’d thought to ask myself why, what happened next might not have been such a surprise.
After hauling ourselves out of the car, my friend and I spotted a posh-looking man examining his car, wearing what appeared to be a waistcoat, moustache and (possibly) stilts. “More well-to-do folk,” I thought grimly, striding on past the entrance, and down a beautifully fairy-lit pathway decorated with occasional patches of homemade artwork. It’s much like The Secret Garden Party in terms of visual entertainment, which I have no problem with (frankly, who would? It’s fairly charming). In The Woods’ arena is set in a kind of ‘bowl’ in a clearing, a bit like an amphitheatre. People sit on the sides (a choice of logs or floor) and appear to drink quietly – appear being the operative word. The beauty of this festival is that it has a very glossy, prim facade – but what goes on once the wine is opened is quite the opposite.
I think people are so free (is that the right word?) here, is the fact it’s so isolated. The organisers give you everything you need for a brilliant time – cheap booze, check. Clean toilets and good camping, check. Inexpensive, tasty food, check. Everything’s well-organised and you’re left to get on with things, so primal instincts take over – and people effectively go mad. I was lucky enough to see the brilliant Raisa K at some point before a hog roast and after more booze (£3.50? For another half pint? Go on, then) and during their set, the lead singer announced she’d drunk an entire bottle of wine. Enthralled by her honesty, I watched them for any sign of unprofessionalism. To their credit, there was none, but I was concentrating so fiercely that I missed what everyone else was watching – a man going to the toilet at the back of the amphitheatre, blissfully drunk, weeing over his own shoes. Later on, I chastised myself fiercely for missing such an event, not knowing I would soon be seeing things that would cause me to laugh out loud for the next week.
As the afternoon wore on, I saw many things that proved to me the Home Counties are far from dull; a man french-kissing his sister (even now, I hope that was a joke between friends, and she wasn’t really a relative), two young lads scrapping in a pile of mud over nothing at all, and a young woman discreetly vomiting over a hole she had managed to dig for herself before being sick. Even though I was greatly looking forward to it, by the time it came for me to interview Dog Is Dead, I didn’t want to leave the hedonistic exploits of my fellow festival goers. These people look so meek, and, dare I say it, middle class! They wear garlands in their hair, Hunter wellies, and denim from Jack Wills! Why are they acting so debauched in public? The answer is quite simple – why not?
I think the reason that In The Woods is so brilliant is that it’s the outdoor equivalent of a well-to-do dinner party. You watch in disbelief as people who wouldn’t look out of place at a Buckingham Palace tea party do tawdry things to each other in secluded patches of woodland, whilst managing to keep their shoes and hair clean. They are well-spoken, gorgeously dressed, and up for anything. Put simply, it’s great to watch. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Even though I’m a good ten years older than most of the people I was staggering around with, I never felt like I wasn’t part of the gang having the most fun. In the Woods is an inclusive, drink-fuelled haven that swaddles you in a protective blanket of inebriation and loveliness. For all the way home, I was reeling – how do people do that, and carry on looking so groomed? I fully intend to find out. I was gutted I didn’t get to camp this year, as I know I missed out on a major part of the experience – goodness knows how marvellously sleazy things would have gotten after dark. But I’ll be back next year, and next time, I won’t take my eyes off the quiet ones. I will get to the bottom of this mystery, whether I have to wee over my own shoes, or not.
For more information see our In The Woods Festival page.
Image credit: Poppie Skold