The lowdown on Latitude: Our pick of the highlights at this weekend's Suffolk festival

There's more to Latitude than just great music, says Elisa Bray

Glastonbury may be taking a sabbatical this year, but there's no chance of festival-going music fans feeling hard done by. With its trio of headliners Bon Iver, Elbow and Paul Weller, hotly tipped new bands, and acts including Laura Marling and Rufus Wainwright on the bill, Latitude is – if not the biggest – the best line-up of the festival season.

But Latitude is not just about rock and pop music and big-name headline acts. Since its inception in 2006, when it welcomed around 5,000 visitors (that figure is now 35,000), Latitude has been billed as "not just a music festival", but rather as the kind of festival aimed at people who wouldn't typically go to a straight-up rock and pop festival. Across the festival's stages and tents over four days, you'll find comedy, talks, opera, theatre, literature and poetry. And on the Waterfront stage, overlooking the lake, you'll find ballet. It also has a comedy and theatre line-up to rival Edinburgh.

In its seventh year, Latitude remains the queen of arts festivals, which is why it's gained a reputation as the festival for middle-class families. It's been a winning formula that has helped spur the prominence of arts across the festival circuit. With the boom in boutique festivals, it is now perfectly normal to see Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake a metre or two away from, say, Paul Weller.

But a few years ago, before the emergence of Latitude and other boutique festivals, the idea of having ballet or opera at a music festival would have been considered absurd. All of which explains why Latitude director Melvin Benn was laughed at when he decided to set up a festival where the music was secondary. Benn wanted the festival to appeal to Hay-on-Wye or Edinburgh festival-going types.

"I wanted to start with the principle of literature and poetry being at the heart of the festival", he explains. "When you come over the campsite and over the bridge, the first thing you come across is the literature and poetry tents. Normally you have music at the heart. My team said 'Melvin, you've lost the plot!' It was the same with opera. I very much wanted it to break ground and redefine what a festival could be."

The ballet element has become so popular that the Waterfront stage has been unofficially renamed the "Sadler's Wells stage". "When the Matthew Bourne version of Swan Lake was performed on the Waterfront stage it was extraordinary", Benn recalls. "There must have been 20,000 people crowding round. It was a magical moment in the history of the festival."

With Glastonbury being off this year, Latitude is the obvious alternative. But with its impressive line-up across the arts, it's the alternative any year.

Latitude, today to Sunday at Henham Park, Suffolk (latitudefestival.co.uk)

COMEDY

Tim Minchin

Considering that the comedy-rock superstar sold out the 20,000-capacity O2 Arena, this show will no doubt have crowds rivalling the music headliners. Arrive early to see Minchin and his band play his witty, unsettling songs.

Doc Brown

Zadie Smith's brother was a rapper until 2008 when he turned to stand-up, and now combines the two in his comedy show.

Greg Davies

Best-known as Mr Gilbert in The Inbetweeners, Davies gave up teaching for comedy. See him before he takes his new show The Back of My Mum's Head on the road this autumn.

Josie Long

Expect plenty of political satire from the left-wing-activist comedian's critically acclaimed Romance and Adventure from Edinburgh last year.

DANCE

Spitfire

In 1988, Matthew Bourne had his first hit with his version of Perrot's 19th-century ballet.Here, it's performed in a glorious open setting.

The Most Incredible Thing

The Pet Shop Boys' first ballet score, a collaboration with the choreographer Javier de Frutos, incorporates a live orchestra with house, trance and synths, while the dance features film installation and cabaret.

TALKS

Jeremy Deller

The Turner prize-winning artist discusses his and co-director Nick Abraham's new film, The Bruce Lacey Experience, which examines Lacey's legacy as a painter, sculptor and avant-garde film-maker.

THEATRE

National Theatre

The writers behind the hit musical adaptation of Spring Awakening bring their new show – Alice By Heart – to Latitude.

Lyric Hammersmith

The Lyric returns with a new series of site-specific theatre pieces from five of the country's most innovative theatre companies.

LITERATURE AND POETRY

Iain Banks

The bestselling author of The Wasp Factory reads from his new book, Stonemouth.

Siri Hustvedt

The author of What I Loved brings philosophy to the festival as she reads from her new collection of essays Living, Thinking, Looking.

Tim Key

No stranger to awards and invitations to work with other comedians – Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan (and Charlie Brooker – the comic performance poet returns to Latitude.

Simon Armitage

The Yorkshire poet reads from his new book Walking Home, which charts his 256-mile journey across the Pennine Way.

CLASSICAL

Lang Lang

The 29-year-old world-renowned classical pianist is accustomed to performing for royalty and Barack Obama, but here makes his first-ever outdoor festival appearance.

NEW BANDS

Toy

Heavily tipped by The Horrors, the London five-piece share in their psychedelic art-rock and atmospheric swells of guitar. One of this year's most hyped bands.

Cold Specks

Canadian Al Spx has a voice that recalls Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson, and creates evocative blues songs steeped in the musical traditions of the American Deep South.

Alt-J

Hailed as "the lifeblood of new music" by Radio 1's Zane Lowe, the experimental band from Leeds meld reverb-drenched blues-soul vocals with a variety of playful percussion and dissonant melodies.

Django Django

The quartet met at art school and have a brother in the Beta Band which helps explain their psychedelic tendencies. The sonic adventurers' jerky, melodic, indie-pop and clever use of rhythm has already attracted throngs at this year's Great Escape and Field Day.

Alabama Shakes

The Alabama four-piece have already built a reputation as a top live act while Adele and Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner are fans of their raw take on Southern soul. Their top trump is their guitar-playing frontwoman, 23-year-old Brittany Howard, whose powerful voice compares to Robert Plant's.

Lucy Rose

The gentle, Dido-esque voiced singer-songwriter's songs are simple, but have the instrumental build-up to keep it interesting. She's also become an almost-member of Bombay Bicycle Club, singing on their 2011 album.

Other Lives

You can see why Radiohead are fans of this Oklahoma indie-rock five-piece, and invited them on tour. Live, they impressively re-create the layers of their cinematic album Tamer Animals.

BIGGER BANDS

Elbow

Before their Mercury prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid, the Manchester band seemed doomed never to make it as headliners. Expect heart-warming songs, oodles of charisma from frontman Guy Garvey and a mass singalong for "One Day Like This".

Metronomy

The indie-pop band with a dance lilt bring songs from their much-loved Mercury prize-nominated The English Riviera to the festival.

Bon Iver

Much credit is due to Justin Vernon for bringing falsetto into the pop charts. His band's beautifully emotive, delicate indie-pop has the power to reduce a vast audience to silence.

Richard Hawley

The former Pulp member has one of the best albums of this year with Standing at the Sky's Edge. His life-affirming majestic psychedelic rock will be a treat.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Californian singer Alex Ebert created the messianic figure of Edward Sharpe as his stage persona, and his band's psychedelic songs are other-worldly, joyous and deeply stirring.

Laura Marling

A live show from the shy-but-assured 22-year-old singer-songwriter is always a joy to watch, from her delicate finger-picked folk songs to the country stomp of newer numbers such as "Sophia".

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