Every year 17,000 hippies descend on sleepy Cropredy for a rock festival. And the residents love it.
Ask villagers near Stratford-upon-Avon and Glastonbury about their summer rock festivals, and you might be met with an icy glare and some foul language. But quiz those in the sleepy Oxfordshire village of Cropredy (population: 724) about theirs, however, and you will be offered a cup of tea and fond memories.

Those living downwind of the towering loudspeakers at the Phoenix and Glastonbury festivals have, over the years, protested vociferously. The council at Stratford, site of the Phoenix festival, has been flooded with complaints from residents furious at noise, an alleged rise in house break-ins and the frequency with which festival-goers use their gardens as public toilets.

In Pilton, Somerset, some still rage over Glastonbury as they have since its birth 25 years ago. They criticise Mendip council for ignoring a 1987 referendum when many villagers voted to close the festival down, and view the organisers' donations to local causes as simply a way of silencing the anger. Others have given up the fight and, too scared to leave their homes for fear of burglary, resign themselves to a long weekend of misery once a year.

For Cropredians, however, the prospect of 17,000 people descending next weekend for two days and nights of music, beer and frolics on their doorstep is a cause for celebration. What sprouted in 1976 from a back garden sing-along performed by the folk-rock band, Fairport Convention, to raise money for a new village hall, has grown into an international festival.

Bass guitarist Dave Pegg, who organises it with his wife Christine, remembers the first event in 1979 which was meant to be a valedictory for the band: "We thought that was it for Fairport and we would go our separate ways, so we arranged this farewell concert in Cropredy where we lived at the time. It was such a success that, in fact, it facilitated Fairport's rebirth and we've been going ever since."

Yet, while its expanding sister festivals were marred by disorder, Cropredy's peace remained unbroken. The village nestles in northern Oxfordshire and, besides being popular with boaters on the Oxford Canal, is famous for a Civil War battle in 1644. Its streets are quiet and its pace slow, but so popular among residents is the festival that, rather than fleeing their rural idyll, they stay to let their hair down. According to villagers, only one complaint has been received in its history.

Ron Marchington, a former district commissioner of Scouts and the festival's chief parking steward, believes that "98 per cent of the village are in favour of it, and those who aren't are the ones who forget it's on and get stuck in the traffic coming home on the Friday night".

When the Rev Peter Atkinson is not adding last-minute touches to his sermon for the special Festival Sunday service, he wanders across the green to the Brasenose pub for a pint. He says that, by not battening down the hatches, the village makes people feel welcome and diffuses tension.

This year's Glastonbury saw 250 arrests (three for firearms offences) and more than 200 drug seizures. At the Phoenix last month, 69 people were arrested for thefts, drug offences and knife-point robberies, although things were more peaceful than 1993 when a mini-riot ensued and a security guard was stabbed.

At Fairport's folk-rock bash, however, save the odd tete-a-tete over noisy love-making under canvas in the depths of the night, aggression is alien. "The only violent act I can remember is when some twit went and pulled up an old lady's rose bush," says Mr Marchington. "So we bought her three more and planted them in the same place."

There have been minor incidents such as the odd car break-in or drug arrest, but it is generallly so harmonious that police volunteer to cover it and have been seen jigging around their helmets at the foot of the stage.

The presence of narcotics is so small that the Thames Valley drugs squad gave up attending 10 years ago. Detective Constable Paul Norley believes there is no drug problem because most of the people are middle-aged. "I'm not saying that some drugs don't go on there, but it's not a recognised factor like at Glastonbury, where you've got people openly dealing and putting up signs saying 'Es for sale'," he says.

Cropredy's relaxed atmosphere is due partly to its size: this year's estimated 17,000 people is a fraction of the 150,000 thought to have been at Glastonbury. According to Christine Pegg, 80 per cent of visitors have been before and so appreciate its good reputation and strive to maintain it. She believes they like the homegrown qualities which retain the feel of an overgrown village fete.

Bearded bikers are directed to their tent pitches by smart Scouts co- ordinating traffic control. And the lack of an exclusive hospitality area for star performers means that if the acts fancy a pint they have to mix with their audience at the beer tents. This set-up provides Cropredy veterans with stories they can dine out on for years.

Mark Bennett, a 28-year-old senior business administrator from Kenilworth, Warwickshire, recalls his chance meeting with former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant among the guy-ropes. "I was wandering around the stalls one afternoon when I met him walking an Irish wolfhound and a whippet," he says. "At first I didn't click who it was. I thought it was just some long-haired hippie. We stopped and had a good chat. Cropredy's the only place where you could do that."

In keeping with a family-friendly philosophy, the Peggs allot one field away from the hubbub for those with children. "I think most of the kids who come were probably conceived here," says Dave Pegg. But the Arcadian attributes do not stop there.

Groggy and weather-beaten, revellers wake on the two mornings of the festival to the scent of bacon and eggs being prepared by the Ladies Circle in the village hall. A cottage industry selling breakfasts to thousands of hungry hippies can be a profitable concern and is one way Cropredians benefit from the festival. The two pubs also do a roaring trade.

Perhaps Cropredy's greatest asset is that it is run by musicians rather than businessmen. Certainly, profits are made for Fairport Convention and money is given to village causes, but residents do not feel they are being thrown a few pennies while the organisers run off with the silver.

Maybe if it was a violent event, bringing havoc to a settled pocket of the English countryside, accusations would indeed fly. Instead, as Dave Pegg says, it is "just a bunch of old farts having a pint and a bit of a sing-song - in front of 17,000 people".

The festival takes place on 11 and 12 August. Tickets are available on the gate.

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