Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Playgroup Festival

A while a go, we here at told you to get your ass to the second annual Playgroup Festival. If you chose to ignore our sage advice, quite frankly, you're a fool. Envisage a smaller, stranger, more child friendly Secret Garden Party with a fantastical and beautifully manifested theme: 'Woodland Animals.'

Set halfway between Brighton and London in England's oldest deer park, Eridge Park, two miles south of Tunbridge Wells, Playgroup 2011 offered three days of freedom, relaxation and madness. With Big Lemon buses going back and forth from Brighton and London, Playgroup also earned points in the green department. The quiet, idyllic, green English countryside setting allowed festival-goers to fully immerse themselves in the theme of the event. And while most embraced the theme with immaculately crafted costumes and brilliant makeup, others chose to ignore it altogether. In addition to the stylish army of woodland animals, there were those who dressed as frogs, aliens, lizards, leopards; pretty much any brightly coloured creature you could imagine, all of which added to the of the festival.

The real joy of Playgroup was that there was something in it for everyone. And we mean absolutely everyone. The folks at Harvest Brighton taught listeners about growing and eating local produce, while Hannah the Mer-made shared her love of the magical sea creatures to an enamoured crowd. Two comfy cushion-filled cinema tents offering classics like Groundhog Day allowed for a temporary escape from the madness of the festival, while the alcohol-free relaxation tent also allowed for rest and recuperation. The wonderful people at offered a fantasy forest photo stage, where professional photographers documented the brilliant array of badgers, owls, foxes and other woodland animals. Videopia offered one of the festival's most experimental and involving attractions in the form of a mobile movie studio that casts and films festival goers in mini tributes to Hollywood classics.

The children's tent offered a variety of engaging activities for tots including face painting, magic shows, drawing classes, interactive science workshops and boardgames. The poker and blackjack tent, Apokerlypse Now, which deserves a mention for its name alone, ran well into each night as serious punters and jokers alike came together to flirt with lady luck.

Between all the attractions and working out how to smuggle as much moonshine in as possible, it's sometimes easy to forget that a festival starts with the music. Best described by the Playgroup people themselves, the line up offered a 'tapas menu of the best music you've possibly never heard of.' Saturday night 7-piece Quantic y su Combo Barbaro set the pace with their fresh brand of Cuban and Latin beats that got the crowd dancing on perhaps the liveliest night of the festival. 

With such an eclectic mix of genres, it was sometimes hard to fit it all in. Hiding away from the rain in the Burrow, possibly the world's most comfortable festival tent, decked out in lush cushions, couches and carpets, punters saw, among others, Rory Mulligan and the Imaginary Band, whose Tom Waits-esque cover of the White Stripes' Seven Nation Army left them hanging on even after the rain died.

Skinny Lister's familiar brand of classic folk, fusing more imaginary words than Ned Flanders with typical folk classics had the crowd jiving away in the gorgeous Sunday afternoon sun. In contrast to the familiarity,The Correspondents played to the Sunday sunset to a crowd that didn't know what to expect when lead singer, Mr Bruce first arrived on stage, decked out in a futuristic black and white ensemble and a cracking pair of reading glasses. But when their remix of I Wanna Be Like You from Disney's The Jungle Book (yes, you know the one) began, the crowd was ecstatic. Mr Bruce's crowdsurfing antics were embraced as he simultaneously screamed along to the band's unique brand of vintage swing and jazz and perfectly contrasted modern drum 'n' bass.

Immediately following were Tel Aviv 9-piece The Apples, the last main stage act of the festival, who washed over the festival with their unique fusing of North American jazz, funk and hip-hop traditions with North African and Middle Eastern tribal styles. Within minutes of the end of their set, the sky erupted with the heaviest downpour of the entire weekend, literally marking a sad end to the festival. Punters frantically rushed to the Watering Hole, eager to continue their escape from reality, only to be told, much to everyone's dismay, that the bar shut at 10pm.

No doubt Playgroup Festival will continue to delight festival lovers in years to come with more explorations of themes, artistic expression and family friendly fun...we only hope it stays as intimate and magical as Playgroup 2011.

Review by Celeste Macdonald. Here are a few more photos...


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