Intimacy and friendliness are the themes at the bespoke, boutique festivals

Watching Blur close Glastonbury last year with an emotionally charged performance, it was clear that it remains the king of festivals. But for those who've become lost in its frightening vastness, wandered dispiritedly through the dust-blown wastelands of Reading, Leeds and V, or are simply getting older and fancy a sit-down, the past five years has seen a huge rise in bespoke, boutique festivals. Green Man, Latitude, Wychwood, End of the Road, Cornbury and Truck are among the increasingly established names where musical pleasure on a more human scale is all but assured.

"I was 19 in 1998," says Robin Bennett, co-creator of Truck, a pioneer of this approach. "I'd just been to one of the big corporate festivals, and also just seen the Woodstock movie, and realised there was a huge gap between the original ideas behind music festivals and the reality of what was on offer. The explosion we have now hadn't happened yet. You just had a few huge festivals where you'd be sold over-priced bottles of water. That was the motivation. For the first Truck, tickets were £3, and we were shocked when 600 people came, and said it was transcendental. It gradually grew to the level it's at now [headliners have included Mercury Rev and Teenage Fanclub], and feels similar."

"I wanted to create a festival that was much more intimate, that was friendlier, that was easier," says Festival Republic's Melvin Benn of Latitude, the Suffolk festival he's promoted for the past five years alongside the very different Reading, Leeds and Glastonbury. "I wanted somewhere where people would feel exceptionally comfortable. That counts for more as you get older."

This a cornerstone too for Hugh Phillimore, promoter of Cornbury, affectionately nicknamed "Poshstock" for its middle-class families who often spread entire living rooms of furniture across their rugs. "I'd hate to be a big festival," he says. "We have 10 times the tent-space that Glastonbury has. We've had no violence and one arrest in six years. And that makes it what it is."

The many small festivals that have failed recently have usually offered low-rent, incompetent versions of Reading. True boutique festivals succeed by tailoring carefully to a specific audience. "It's a typical Cornbury bill this year," says Phillimore, "with your Jackson Brownes and David Grays. I don't try to musically educate my audience. We know Cornbury's limitations. There are some hardcore music fans, but it's also a festival for people who don't really go to festivals. You don't want to scare them with anything too groovy." Simon Taffe, co-promoter of the excellent Dorset festival End of the Road, calibrates his crowd and bills (ranging from Wilco to Northumbrian folk act the Unthanks this year) together. "I wanted a certain type of punter," he says. "But I didn't want too much of a certain type of punter. I'm strongly into alternative country, but if I just picked that I'd get a lot of older people. Getting the balance right, you don't get picnic blankets everywhere." From Womad's World music to The Big Chill's ambient grooves, the result has something for everyone.

Boutique festivals also allow a sometimes startling range of extra-musical activity, from Cornbury's black-face morris-dancers to the dizzying array of arts companies that descend on Latitude, where the RSC, Liverpool Everyman, and Royal Opera House are among attractions vying with the music. "I set out to rewrite the festival rule-book," says Benn. "And now other boutique festivals are embracing poetry and literary tents. I've laid out the festival so the first thing you come across is the arts arenas and the music is on the periphery. That's deliberate. The arts are at the heart of this. You can absolutely come to Latitude and not see any music at all."

Not everyone is so convinced by this brave new world, where Glastonbury morphs into Glyndebourne. "We went briefly down the line everyone did a few years ago," says Womad director Chris Smith, "where suddenly you've all got to do a bit of comedy and burlesque. We had the National Ballet, and it failed. There was a conscious decision to go back from tangential arts stuff to the foundation of the global musicians here, and what they do – like Taste the World, where musicians cook for the audience."

Without going to Latitude's extreme, every good boutique festival pays attention to ambience, End of the Road's magical, fairy-light draped gardens with a piano and library being perhaps the best example. Standon Calling also prides itself on making its audience part of events, which this year has an underwater disco and murder mystery-themed fancy dress, alongside headliners such as Orquestra Buena Vista Social Club. Most of these festivals are strongly rooted in their communities, making you feel you're in a special corner of Britain, not an anonymous field.

Perhaps surprisingly, the big festivals lumber on largely ignoring these innovations. Benn says there's nothing he's learnt from Latitude that he could apply to Reading. But it's at these smaller festivals where the future may lie. "The need for Truck is no longer there," says Bennett, "but we've started different festivals that reflect new needs. Festivals should all run on solar power and leave no waste, but it'll be a while before the bigger festivals can catch up."

'Most artists have never played in the area before'

Without going to Latitude's extreme, every good boutique festival pays attention to ambience, End of the Road's magical, fairy-light draped gardens being perhaps the best example. Most are also strongly rooted in their communities, making you feel you're in a special corner of Britain, not an anonymous field. "We noticed lot of people were going two or three hours down the country to go to festivals," says Kendal Calling's Ben Robinson. "We'd been to Leeds and Reading and realised they felt like prison camps, and we've got the Lake District on our doorstep – if we do it here, it'll be nicer. There's little else in Cumbria. The majority of artists we bring have never played in the area before. The year we had Dizzee Rascal, half the people didn't believe he'd come. We plug ourselves into the Lake District, with local community groups. Half the performers are local."

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor