Festival Preview: THE BIG CHILL 2011 - the 'Original Boutique Festival'

The Big Chill is a festival which does exactly what is says on the tin: promising a weekend of extreme relaxation with a blissfully mellow soundtrack in a beautiful setting.

A certain kind of music festival has emerged in recent years. In the mid-nineties, the festival scene was stagnating: Glastonbury was a ticketless free-for-all, V was a soulless corporate cash-in and Reading was where teenagers set portaloos on fire. Sensing a gap in the market, some enterprising sorts started up what became known as the 'boutique festival' - multi-arts, small but perfectly formed, family friendly, an uber-relaxed atmosphere and an often grand country setting. Positioning itself as the 'original boutique festival' is the Big Chill, now in its seventeenth year and a veteran on the festival calendar. This is a festival which does exactly what is says on the tin, promising a weekend of extreme relaxation with a blissfully mellow soundtrack in a beautiful setting. Nestled in an idyllic Herefordshire valley, the beautiful site - home to the festival since 2002 - is a working deer reserve year-round, the private grounds of nearby Eastnor Castle, a stately home. And it feels like it too - the glistening lakes and rolling greenery lend an elegance to proceedings amidst the partying. Musically, it can be very diverse, allowing anything that falls under that €˜chill€™ remit. But broadly speaking, you can expect downbeat electronica/folky guitars during the day, and dancey four-to-the-floor/funky beats during the night, with smatterings of pop, alt-rock, jazz and soul throughout. Previous performers have included Massive Attack, Basement Jaxx, Orbital, Lily Allen, Cinematic Orchestra, Thom Yorke, Brian Eno and Lamb. This year€™s lineup features some of the most mainstream choices to date, with Jessie J and Kanye West headlining on the Saturday night, presumably in an effort to coax a wider audience. But once again there€™s a fantastically esoteric range of artists on offer, with the guitar virtuosity of Rodrigo y Gabriela offsetted against the poppy dance of Calvin Harris, or Sharon Jones€™ old-school soul train worlds away from Four Tet€™s glitchy chin-stroke-tronica. And there€™s always festival favourites Mr Scruff and Norman Jay, two DJs consistently invited back, year after year. Like all good boutique festivals, music is not the only thing on the agenda. There€™s your usual hippie fare in the Enchanted Garden, offering weary festivalgoers massages or alternative therapies. There€™s enough comedy, cabaret and film to forget there was any music going on at all, there€™s an Art Trail with commissioned installations from local artists, and then there€™s something called Lee Nelson€™s Well Good Party, which apparently is what all the young people like these days. Indeed, this is one of those festivals where young and old cavort side-by-side. The dedicated kids tent (the €˜Little Chill€™) encourages families to attend, and of all the many festivals your author has visited, the Chill has perhaps the friendliest crowd of them all. When you have thirty-five thousand people actively seeking out the most zen-like party of their lives, a decent atmosphere is assured. Perhaps it€™s a skewed, sycophantic perspective to hear from a four-times-previous attendee, but trust me: The Big Chill is one hell of a good way to spend a weekend. The Big Chill runs 4th - 7th August 2011, Eastnor Deer Park, Ledbury, Herefordshire. Tickets and more info available from www.bigchill.net/festival


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