First Night: Wychwood Festival, Cheltenham

Summer festival season launches on a sunny day of bucolic bliss
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The Independent Culture

Six years into what has been a charmed life, when other events have fallen by the wayside for lack of patronage or ill-thought over-expansion, the Wychwood Festival has become a recurrent and enjoyable high point of my musical year.

Ideally positioned after the last May bank holiday and making the most of the facilities at a venue more usually associated with the sport of kings, the three-day event enjoys nice weather – last night a cool breeze was just the ticket for those sampling the delights of the Barefoot wine stall or the Waitrose cocktails a touch too eagerly – and does great return business with habitués.

The family-friendly atmosphere and the gorgeous scenery in the distance also play their part, of course, but the breadth of music on offer is what makes Wychwood the undisputed first highlight of the festival calendar.

The late-afternoon start to proceedings on Friday gave campers a chance to pitch their tents and park their caravans – I even spotted a very fancy silver Winnebago – as well as find their way around the many stalls, workshops or locate the comedy and children's literature tents.

The keening, easy-on-the-ear harmonies of Manchester-based six-piece the Travelling Band created the perfect mood.

Jo Dudderidge and Snaf Ballinger – wearing a bandanna worthy of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler – bridged the gap between Americana and the West Coast groups of the 1960s on songs such as "Screaming Is Something".

An extended "Lanes of Names", sounding like a collision of The Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd and the Super Furry Animals at a rave, provided another delightful moment, the line "Endless sinking sun" summing up the good vibes floating over the blissed-out audience.

Under the Big Top, the perfectly named, violin-toting Welsh quintet Rusty Shackle created a hootenanny, hoedown feeling in keeping with the rootsier tendencies of many of the artists due to appear over the rest of the weekend, such as Piney Gir, Seth Lakeman and Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds. Back on The Independent stage, Nick Hemming's outfit the Leisure Society made the most of the setting with bucolic material such as "A Matter Of Time".

Their turntable hit "The Last of the Melting Snow" was probably the most unseasonal song ever performed at Wychwood, but went down a treat with the pastoral pop connoisseurs all the same.

The two guys dressed in full piratical Captain Hook garb and the girls in the hula skirts certainly seemed to enjoy them. It's all part of Wychwood's rich tapestry.