Despite being a seasoned festival-goer for almost 20 years, I’d never quite made it to the Isle of Wight (IoW). But with a rock n’ roll reputation to rival some of the world’s greatest music events, it had always been on my bucket list.
What started off as a project to raise money for building a local swimming pool quickly turned into the UK’s first major open air music festival, with the likes of T-Rex and The Move playing to 10,000 people at the Great South Coast Bank Holiday Pop Festivity in 1968. The following year, Bob Dylan stole the stage, followed in 1970 by Joni Mitchell, The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. But over- excited crowds resulted in Parliament passing The Isle of Wight Act, preventing gatherings of more than 5,000 on the island – meaning rock’n’roll quickly went into retirement.
“In its heyday, it was the Woodstock of Europe,” says John Giddings, who resurrected the festival for a new generation in 2002. “I think if it had kept going it would be the Glastonbury of today, but obviously Michael (Eavis) spotted that himself and went for it. Good luck to him, it’s a different experience.”
I have to agree. Although the IoW festival (above) boasts an equally star-studded line up – acts over the past few years have ranged from Jay-Z to Bruce Springsteen and Kings of Leon – with a capacity of 50,000, it’s a third of Glastonbury’s size and it isn’t a 24-hour site.
The eclectic crowd ranges from teens to grandparents and families, and everyone’s united love of music seems to break down the barriers – in fact, it turns out to be by far the friendliest festival I’ve been to.
The acts reflect the diverse audience, and aside from the main stage and The Big Top, there are plenty of tents and small stages where up-and-coming artists perform. I highly recommend the sultry jazz and blues of siblings JC and Angelina, who are regulars on the island’s pub gig circuit.
Having always camped at previous festivals, this time I ditch my sleeping bag in favour of a B&B. Regular buses connect the festival site at Seaclose Park to Shanklin (below) and Ventnor, running until the early hours over the festival weekend. It gives me an opportunity to explore the surrounding area, taking a break from the festival madness to enjoy a game of crazy golf on Shanklin Beach.
As the event closes with an explosive fireworks display, I wonder where else you could find the perfect marriage of rock’n’roll and relaxation?
Wightlink offers a sail-and-stay package with five nights at the IoW Tree House for £200 per person. For a chance to win a holiday to IoW Park Resorts, including ferry travel, enter the competition at wightlink.co.uk
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