A rainbow nation in a field of Cath Kidston tents – must be Womad

The chilled-out world music festival, now in its 29th year, has never tried to be cool, and it's all the better for it
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The Independent Culture

Hipster festival-goers may turn up their noses at the world music festival Womad, but there's an atmosphere here that transcends what and who is cool. Nobody is here to promote "that tricky second album". Tonight's headline act, Booker T Jones, has been in the business for 50 years.

Womad is about more than the music, although the music – in this, its 29th year – is very strong. It's about bonhomie and the feel-good factor. Those stragglers arriving on the 9.30pm shuttle bus from Chippenham on Friday night felt their shoulders drop as they put up their tents in Malmesbury's Charlton Park.

Dawn yesterday rose on 35,000 – tickets sales were up 29 per cent on last year – a huge crowd far less definable than a Glastonbury or Latitude equivalent. Rainbow-haired sixtysomethings and babies in tie-dye-lined prams, teenagers trying out their first festival, and couples gorging on gourmet food and a rare opportunity to dance uninhibitedly without ridicule: they all ricocheted between the five main stages, a funfair and such elegant delights as the Human Library, the Riverfood Organic-run Taste the World demo tent and a sea of Cath Kidston tents.

The most popular stalls were the Pants to Poverty one – perhaps it was the young man behind the table, clad only in green briefs – and the Stop Hearing Loss one, where the same baby ear-defenders that Gwyneth uses were selling well. And those free samples of Ecover products went down well with the campers (so good for getting Green & Blacks out of the picnic rug).

Giant dreamcatchers have been spinning non-stop, like the wheels on the charge-your-mobile-by-cycling stand. The only injuries were twisted ankles from hidden dips in the meadows and a bruised nose from a low-slung tree branch on the approach to the Siam Tent, where soulful fado singer Ana Moura entranced the crowd. (OK, that injury was suffered by your reporter.)

Last night, serious musos beat a trail to the BBC Radio 3 stage to see Fatoumata Diawara, a rising star from Mali, before a raucous set from Baaba Maal. On the evidence of this crowd, world music is thriving. Next year's 30th promises to be even bigger.

'The Independent on Sunday' is an official supporter of the Womad festival