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Kendal Calling 2019: Part 1

Photo - Jody Hartley

I have a confession to make, I’m a born-again festival goer. I used to be a regular punter, back when I was, erm, a little bit younger than I am now, but after about 6 years of music filled summers, I thought that perhaps it was time to grow old gracefully and stop going, put my feet up and give the younger ones a chance. So that was that, or so I thought until last year, when we decided that we might take the kids to Bluedot. It went surprisingly well, and I caught the bug again, so when 3 Songs & Out offered me the opportunity to go to Bluedot’s sister festival, Kendal Calling, I jumped at the chance, packed my bags and trundled off to the Lowther Estate in the North Eastern corner of the Lake District. And what a beautiful neck of the woods it’s in, with the Cumbrian Fells to the West and the Pennine Hills, the festival is nestled in the gorgeous Eden Valley. The site itself is different to many, in that it doesn’t seem to be traditional farmland, there are sections of woodland and loads of trees dotted about the main arena, which provides an amazing backdrop in which to enjoy the music.

Now, on reflection, Bluedot isn’t like other festivals, it has an incredibly strong emphasis on science and space exploration for one, but it’s also quite a (how do I put this politely?) middle class festival. Everyone’s very good at keeping a clean campsite, recycling bins are used correctly, and the toilets are ever so clean. As one Kendal Calling punter described Bluedot within my earshot, it’s full of 6 Music parents- I think she meant that as a put down, but I am a 6 Music dad, and I wear it as a badge of honour, so whatever, anonymous woman overheard in the campsite.

Photo - Scott Salt

Kendal Calling is much more like a proper festival, with a strong emphasis on music with some other bits thrown in. And that’s reflected in the lineup; Kendal Calling has traditionally had a consistently strong musical offering throughout the three days (and one evening), which led to several agonising choices this year, and some massive regrets about bands missed. Don’t get me wrong, there was much more than just music to enjoy; the Soapbox comedy stage hosted Josh Widdicombe, Reginald D Hunter and many other acts, as well as offering late night cabaret, there was a collection of films shown in the cinema tent to entertain all ages throughout the day, The Garden of Eden provided a bewildering array of pampering experiences, and a section of the woodland was taken over by The Red Stars who curated an amazing selection of interactive art and music installations. As well as all this, there was the Kids Calling tent with entertainment for the very smallest festival goers, a music quiz hosted by the excellent Bands FC, and a variety of busking entertainers dotted about the arena. The food and drink was incredible, with traders providing food from all corners of the globe, real ale, an Argentine wine bar, cocktails, enough to provide even the most committed gourmand with their fill.

Photo - George Harrison

Kendal offers so much to every person that walks through the gates, and that’s reflected in the diversity of the crowd. It’s almost like there are three festivals going on at once; one for young children, one for a traditional festival goer who likes to show up and watch bands before tootling off to the campsite for a nightcap and a respectable bedtime, and one for the young crowd (as Gomez’s Tom Gray described them, “the school leavers”) who want to party hard into the wee small (and not too small in some cases) hours. For the latter group, the main arena offered entertainment through till 3am, from Indie discos to some proper serious dance in the Glow Tent. I’m afraid that nowadays I fall into the middle camp, and although I would have loved to see Leftfield, Maribou State and Danny Howard (amongst many others) ply their trade, I had to reluctantly agree with Liam Fray and realise that I’m not 19 forever. What the organisers have realised is that to have all of these groups in one campsite is never going to work, and so there was a massive array of places for each demographic to rest their weary heads; glamping, live in vehicles, family campsites and a variety of sites for general use, from late sleepers to early risers. Consideration had clearly been given to the placement of each area, with Family Camping placed next to the entrance, so the little legs didn’t have to walk so far, and the late night party animals next to the arena so they didn’t wake everyone else up on their way to bed.

Much was made, prior to the festival, of the involvement of Extinction Rebellion, the environmental campaign group responsible for several mass actions in cities across the country. The Rebel Rebel tent played home to the group over the course of the festival, but it was perhaps apparent that their message wasn’t getting through to a significant proportion of festival goers, especially as the campsites began to empty and the campers’ detritus was clear to see. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a festival where I’ve not opined that the world should be more like a festival, but as the ever excellent Beans on Toast sang as he entertained the main stage with ‘Take Your Shit Home With You’ on the Friday lunchtime “if you want the world to be more like a festival, festivals are gonna have to lead by example… it [littering] pulls a rug from underneath all of its magnificence”.

The weather is always going to have an impact on British festivals, and Kendal Calling certainly had its fair share of weather over the course of the weekend; from arriving in the hottest temperatures Cumbria has seen this summer, to the spectacular lightning show of the first evening (which briefly shut the main arena), to the mud bath (knee deep in places) which followed the torrential downpours of Friday evening and Saturday. What amazes me about this, is how well festival audiences deal with it. There was never a moment where anyone looked any less than a hundred percent committed to having a good time, in spite of the conditions, as Doves’ frontman, Jimi Goodwin put it “you cats are strong”.

Review - Jon Stokes

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