Wild swimming, mild pop and extravagant fine-dining.
Far from your everyday festival, Wilderness takes glamping to all-new heights with exuberant displays of luxury and wealth; from tepees, yurts and wooden huts to a Sipsmith jazz lounge, San Miguel hammock bar and tented banquet halls laden with finery and five-course dining.
Fine dining came in many forms this year, with Michelin star chef Tom Aikens concluding the Banquet dining on Sunday evening. Offering his diners champagne on arrival and presenting a clear presence in the restaurant area, Aikens demonstrated strong foresight for the needs and desires of his Wilderness guests.
Working with seasonal produce, Italian flavours and grandiose floral displays, Petersham Nurseries returned for its fifth consecutive year. Continuing the banquet theme, Petersham invited it’s guests to experience a menu designed for sharing; the initial concept was impressive and presented a whole new festival experience.
On Friday evening, were invited to sample their vegan menu, which unfortunately fell a little flat by providing an exclusion style selection of dishes. Essentially, Petersham removed all meat, fish and dairy from the original dishes to leave the plant-based diner with the remaining ingredients; for dessert, this meant a small plate of berries compared to a glorious tower of honey soaked tiramisu. Counterintuitive to the concept, this excluded those diners from the experience; considering the drastic rise of veganism in the recent years, one might expect a little more for an experience starting at £80 per guest with the advertisement of a ‘vegan menu’.
Season Nine saw crowds gather en masse for the witty continuation of a fancy-dress, charity cricket match. With not-so-gentle encouragement, this year saw a record-breaking number of streakers take to the pitch, resulting in a mass rendition of the macarena by those in their birthday best. It was certainly more nudity than one might expect from a cricket match, but the crowds surely erupted in cheer with each additional streaker making their way across the pitch. Characters including ‘Marilyn Monroe’, the ‘NHS’ and ‘Brexit’ continued to bat and bowl to comic commentary from Bearded Kitten, ushering unbridled adult humour at 11am on a Sunday morning.
Crowd participation plays a dramatic role in the delights of Wilderness, more so than almost every other UK festival. This year brought to life themes of nature, colour hues and hats for days with it’s fancy-dress guidelines for Season Nine.
One standout event was the world-record breaking mass spooning and cuddling, which saw 1,557 festival goers beat the previous record set by Australian medical students in 2013 at 1,108 spooners.
One could be forgiven for thinking this festival wasn’t about the music; sure there was music, but crowds gathered more in the numerous bars and lounges than in support of lesser known bands. The Sipsmith Gin bar presented jazz bands under the infamous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Bar name, providing top class entertainment.
Robyn gave an incredible performance on the main stage, despite it remaining mostly empty throughout the festival. Caravan Palace attempted to liven this neglected stage earlier in the festival, but found technical issues impaired their abilities to perform at 110% – they didn’t give up as they focused heavily on their newer, more mainstream releases to hype the crowds.
Standout performances could be seen from Shingai Shoniwa, previously of the Noisettes, who gave emotional and energetic renditions of tracks from her solo album ‘Ancient Futures’ as well as the lesser known folk-Americana band The Hungry Mothers. Playing one of the smallest tents at the festival, The Hungry Mothers packed the Troubador tent with delighted dancing fans. Performing their down-to-earth indie-rock and four-way folk harmonies, this is certainly one band to keep a close eye on.
Employing the other senses, Wilderness caters to one area with Goliath ferocity – food. As mentioned, you were truly spoiled for choice with high-end options of festival fine dining, but this isn’t for everyone.
The food stalls and trucks on offer delivered impossible amounts of choice and variety. In particular, vegan options were boundless. Our favourites were the hidden away Naania van, offering the most amazing naan wraps and possibly some of the best festival food we have ever sampled. Their branding and setup was truly inspired, an on-point and true to their origins display.
Overall, an impressive offering from the Wilderness crew.
We would love to see more water points for Season Ten; being a summer festival, queues for the water points reached into the hundreds at times. Additional water points or even just more taps at each location would drastically improve this. After talking with stewards and security across the site, it appears that more could be done to educate the working teams on the festival layout and how they can better answer queries from their guests. We would love to see an improved infrastructure for future years, whereby a larger network of supervisors could be used to direct queries more efficiently.
Other than this, bring on Season Ten!