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
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power