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Family festival review: The Green Man

Terry Burrows reviews the Green Man festival, held on the Glanusk Estate, South Wales (August 14-17, 2014)

With Summer festivals now a well-established addition to the family calendar, let's see if we can crack that tricky formula of how Mum and Dad can get down to a bit of serious fun whilst also preventing the kids from getting bored silly.

Once one of the best-kept secrets on the festival circuit, Green Man has some fine solutions. Set in the heart of the startlingly beautiful Brecon Beacons, there's so much going on for the small ones that you might even find yourself struggling to drag them away should you want to see the odd band.

For the music fan, Green Man has evolved from folky beginnings into what might be called a "connoisseur" event; this year's headliners were Mercury Rev, Beirut and Neutral Milk Hotel – all cult bands with fanatical followings but unlikely to be found ever gracing the main stage at Glastonbury. So one of the great joys of this type of festival is the opportunity to sample new, raw talent. Green-Man-fest-2-280

Only four years ago, Mumford and Sons could be seen on Green Man's tiny Walled Garden stage. (And, yes, we know there are some who would prefer them to have stayed there – perhaps even bricked in with no possibility of escape.) Among this year's currently unheralded crop, Cardiff's Them Squirrels put in the most exciting and chaotic set of the weekend; the prog-folk of Brighton's Sons of Noel and Adrian, as well as the electro dream-pop from a 17-year-old Aussie calling himself Vancouver Sleep Clinic, also stood out.

But we're not really here to talk about the music. What was Green Man like as a family experience? Well, our rookie error was in only arriving early on Friday morning; clearly almost everyone else had turned up the previous afternoon and so we had to trek for what seemed like miles to find a suitable spot to camp. By then there was some serious attitude in the air ("I'm not doing this again – we'll sell the tent when we get back to London!"). This quickly passed, though, when we discovered we were set up only a few minutes away from the festival entrance. But before we even got there, we encountered a couple of serious distractions.

First there was the excellent NoFit State Circus with its own little arena already thrilling a large crowd of under-12s with a spectacle heavy in audience participation. And then there was the Little Folk area – this year taking a Lewis Carroll theme, small children could get themselves kitted out in fancy dress and face paint to join Alice, the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts in a fabulous assortment of games, creative activities and workshops. (All of this, by the way, was included in the price of the ticket - which was free for the under 5s and only a fiver for the under 13s.)

The main festival area homes four music stages as well as the comedy/spoken word tent, a pop-up cinema and a small fairground. And there must be a good forty food stalls catering for pretty well every taste imaginable – festivals have really moved on a long way from the dodgy burgers and veggie gloop of yore. And for the dry of throat, there were plenty of bar tents, including a cider and beer festival with well over a hundred varieties on sale ... although the queues for this were predictably horrible.

Beyond the main Mountain Stage, with the Brecon Beacons providing the most spectacular of backdrops, we found the intriguing eco-science zone, Einstein's Garden, hosting such cool activities as how to make musical instruments from ... er ... carrots, and lectures explaining the science you need to harness in order to survive the inevitable Zombie apocalypse. At some point over the four days, of course, you'll find your phone battery beginning to run low, so why not get your kids peddling on an exercise bike rigged up to a giant charger?

Finally, everyone will want to marvel at the Green Man himself, an enormous 20-foot sculpture made from twigs and leaves which is ritually burned at the climax of the festival on Sunday night. Green-Man-fest-3-280

The verdict? Only Suffolk's Latitide (staged in mid-July) comes close as a family event, but with its continued expansion that now seems to have lost some of its original charm to a creeping "corporate" feel. And judging by the social media buzz after Green Man, it's clear that some die-hard fans do worry about a similar fate; this year it was their twelfth and biggest festival, yet it still sold out several months in advance, and there were a few online gripes about overcrowding – one poster remarked "I still had brilliant time, but for me 2014's Green Man will be remembered as the year of the queue!"

Nevertheless, we had fantastic time. In spite of the odd shower the weather was glorious. The music was great. We ate and drank well. Nobody got bored. Result! What more can we say? The long weekend of August 20-23, 2015 has already been blocked in on the family calendar.

Louis Burrows (photographs)

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