Festival Guide 2012: As Glastonbury rests, rival festivals look to raise their game

With the daddy of them all taking a fallow year, 2012 is a chance for smaller festivals to show off their charm and diversity

"Never. Glastonbury is immortal," says Alex Trenchard, organiser of the Standon Calling festival, in an amused response to Michael Eavis's gloomy prediction that the Worthy Farm extravaganza is "on the way out". The Glastonbury founder's prediction that his baby has "three or four years" before extinction hasn't been taken too seriously, but it'll be fascinating to see how much the other festivals can up their game in Glastonbury's absence (the granddaddy of music festivals is taking 2012 off, ceding to the Olympic Games which is eating up most of the country's resources, most crucially the Portaloos). The signs are looking very positive indeed.

Glastonbury has always excelled on the "extras" – theatre groups, surreal happenings, puppetry, magicians, fancy dress – and this is something that the ambitious, family-friendly Latitude Festival, now in its seventh year, and the innovative (but also family-friendly) Standon Calling, which takes place from 3-5 August, are trying desperately to replicate. Latitude, which takes place in Southwold between 12-15 July, will feature a wildly diverse programme that will include world famous concert pianist Lang Lang, comedy from Jack Dee, productions from the National Theatre and Sadler's Wells, plus poetry from Benjamin Zephaniah and Scroobius Pip. This is on top of a giddy music bill that includes Paul Weller, Laura Marling and Janelle Monae.

Hertfordshire's Standon Calling intends to match Latitude, offering as it does a wealth of "unique experiences" including interactive theatre curated by the Heritage Arts Company, sculpture classes, a literary lounge, a "silly Olympics", tree aerialists, a dog show and even a "beatbox workshop".

"Standon isn't just about the music. It's about the arts and theatre programming too," emphasises Trenchard. "Our audience want an escape, even more so now that times are tough. I think those festivals that offer an interesting line-up as well as a unique experience will continue to do well."

However, will there be much of an audience for this no doubt impressively staged event?

"We have seen real upswing in ticket sales this year and are currently running at about 30 per cent up on last year's start, which was a good start," says Trenchard. "Both tiers of early bird tickets sold out in record quick time."

Simon Taffe, organiser for the End of the Road, echoes this sentiment pointing out that he's "100 per cent" confident his quirky, independent festival will be profitable, before adding "it will sell out. It has sold out for the last four years and is well ahead of last year."

It's not a surprise as End of the Road, winner of the Best Small Festival Award last year, is one of the loveliest music events of the year, nestled as it is deep within Larmer Tree Gardens, home to roaming peacocks and exotic birds. Now in its seventh year, the 5,000-capacity festival, taking place from 31 August to 2 September, will feature Anna Calvi, Grizzly Bear, Midlake and Beach House. However, Taffe also emphasises the importance of providing festivalgoers with extra stimulation beyond the music.

"We have lots of other great stuff going on around the site and have been expanding on the literary element over the years," he maintains. "Last year, the comedy came into its own, with a new setting in a natural outdoor amphitheatre. Then there are animation workshops, ping-pong tournaments, great food, fine ales – the list goes on and on."

Taffe is similarly upbeat about his debutant festival, No Direction Home (8-10 June), a family-friendly event pitching up in Welbeck at the edge of Sherwood Castle. "I think our audience trusts us now to deliver on a music level," he says. "It takes a while to build that trust, but we sold 1,000 tickets for No Direction Home before we announced a single band." Acts include Richard Hawley, the Unthanks and Gruff Rhys.

The general feeling, particularly among the more established festivals, is that sales are good. The Isle of Wight festival looks like a guaranteed sell-out given that American heavy-hitters Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty are performing, and festivals such as Wychwood and the Cambridge Folk Festival, which cater to a slightly older festivalgoers, always have healthy sales. The radically hip Secret Garden festival (19-22 July) meanwhile, which takes place either side of a picturesque lake in Cambridgeshire, has very nearly sold out and boasts an embarrassment of riches that include art tents, theatre workshops, a big wheel, boat rides, swimming, treasure hunts, massage, barefoot discos and twilight fire circle tales. Its impressive Kids Area features egg hunts, kite flying, circus shows and karaoke.

However, if you're solely seeking thrills, then Rob Da Bank's hedonistic Bestival on the Isle of Wight (6-9 September) offers you the chance to swim your way across to the island or you can join Bike to Bestival, a group of musicians who plan to busk and cycle their way to the site (visit http://2012.bestival.net/news/bike-to-bestival to join them) for charity. Once there, you can savour Stevie Wonder headlining on Sunday night.

So even though tuition fees are exorbitant, the economy has gone to hell in a handcart and some festivals bit the bullet last year, 2012 still has an air of triumph about it with the considerable feelgood factor of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and, of course, the Olympic Games. Who needs Glastonbury? Well, as Taffe points out, it's "still one the greatest shows on Earth".

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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