the Big Chill, Easnor Castle, Near Ledbury, Herefordshire

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The Independent Culture

Holding pop festivals at historic sites is nothing special – indeed, there's something very right and proper (and English and mad) about ye olde tradition – but this must have been one of few such events to take place on turf once trodden by the fragrant presenters of Antiques Roadshow. Built in the Norman Revival style by Robert Smirke in 1810, and later Gothicised by Pugin, Eastnor Castle nestles dreamily amid the Malverns. Not that festival-goers got to see much of it beyond the odd turret glistening in the distance, as the site turned out to be the deer park rather than the castle itself. Even so, Eastnor made a pretty location, and for The Big Chill, location is all.

Holding pop festivals at historic sites is nothing special – indeed, there's something very right and proper (and English and mad) about ye olde tradition – but this must have been one of few such events to take place on turf once trodden by the fragrant presenters of Antiques Roadshow. Built in the Norman Revival style by Robert Smirke in 1810, and later Gothicised by Pugin, Eastnor Castle nestles dreamily amid the Malverns. Not that festival-goers got to see much of it beyond the odd turret glistening in the distance, as the site turned out to be the deer park rather than the castle itself. Even so, Eastnor made a pretty location, and for The Big Chill, location is all.

Although the organisers do not like to think of The Big Chill as a pop festival, it is. The main difference from other, larger gatherings is that everyone is middle class, so there are no marauding Scousers, and if anything is drizzled on your tent at night, it will probably be olive oil. The festival is also child- and parent-friendly, so it tends to attract urban professionals only too happy to pay £90 to sit on the grass for three days without anyone trying to sell them crack or The Big Issue.

These days, The Big Chill is dedicated less to ambient music (although Saturday featured the mulleted German New Age harp guru Andreas Vollenweider) than to a broad coalition of dance music, and the DJs easily outnumbered the proper bands. That could lead to dull, karaoke-style entertainment – as with Saturday afternoon's main-stage sets by the Afro Art and Different Drummer sound systems. Then again, the music isn't what most Big Chillers are there for. Instead, they play frisbee, sit on the grass smoking Old Blunkett, and generally chill. The main outdoor stage and large club tent weren't always where the action was, either: crowds filled the smaller venues to hear favourites such as DJ Derek, who plays roots reggae through a Heath Robinson console contained in an executive briefcase. Top of Saturday's bill were the Norwegian duo Röyksopp, whose quaint electro-pop matched the late-night mood perfectly.

If you tired of the music, you could always check out the art trail, a Big Chill institution that had improved greatly this year, stretching the usual format of trippy visuals and Blair Witch tribalism with which to scare the kids. But it was a moment on Sunday evening that best summed up both the unique charm of the festival and its occasionally irritating neo-hippie gormlessness. Unaccountably, the main stage's sound system started to play "Duelling Banjos", from the film Deliverance. Suddenly, in the gloaming light, people began to dance quite spontaneously, as frisbees flew, jugglers juggled and everyone smiled like blissed-out Moonies. Oh, the horror, the horror.

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