Blossoming into a fine feast of fun
Willy Mason - Wilderness Festival 2012

Although only in its second year, Wilderness has already grown threefold since the inaugural event last year. The little sister to the Secret Garden Party, Wilderness is destined to grow and blossom into the finest feast of fun on the calendar, attracting ever greater numbers, so right off the bat we recommend you get there for the third instalment in 2013. As opposed to a corporate conveyor belt mud bath, Wilderness is more a modern day revival of the medieval festivals that once brought our ancestors together every year to make merry and have a massive, madness-filled blowout.

We arrived early on Friday morning and after mooching round the stunning setting of the main site we made straight for the banqueting hall where celebrity Chef Valentine Warner had cooked up a spread of seasonal cuisine all sourced from the wild surroundings. From there we ambled to the main stage and lay satiated while the serene calm of Willy Mason provided a perfect musical interlude. The smooth troubadour went down like a warming liqueur with the large sun-soaked crowd. Mason’s wise lyrics and deft guitar floated out into a perfect afternoon and he returned again during the following set by Lianne La Havas. Mason told Clash later how the pair met on the London Underground and ended up hanging out and penning the delicate folk lilt of ‘No Room For Doubt’ together. La Havas looked grand in her puffball-shouldered harlequin outfit and enjoyed performing her as much as the audience loved listening.

With sun beating down we headed for one of the best things about Wilderness – the lake. A long, natural body of water surrounded by tall trees and inviting banks, what better way to round off the afternoon than floating around on your back admiring the verdant splendour all around? The evening was then set alight by Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings - with the intensity and presence of a female James Brown, Jones absolutely smashed a funk-filled set which included tracks from her acclaimed albums ‘100 Days, 100 Nights’ and ‘I Learned the Hard Way’.

Venturing down to the ‘Lower East Side’ to see what Future Cinema had cooked up for the Bugsy Malone takeover, what we found was way beyond our expectations. They had built a New York neighbourhood in the woods, complete with a sluggers gym and a huge speakeasy club, all Art Nouveau styling, grand staircase and flaming torches. Talk about committing to the theme – inside a full sixteen-piece orchestra in fastidiously authentic vintage attire played Hoagy Carmichael classics and trad-jazz numbers. Meanwhile the Bugsy Malone film was recreated as a stage-play in a mini amphitheatre while all the hordes dressed as gangsters and molls had foam fights. The whole Bugsy Malone thespian thing ran the risk of being a bit naff but on the night it was nailed with aplomb.

Saturday saw us return from 1920s New York back to the present pastoral beauty of middle England and we tried some Yoga, watched Capoeira and listened to an engaging lecture on ancient Greek philosophy followed by another talk about Sloths and a final presentation on self-sufficiency, all courtesy of Tom Hodgkinson’s Idler Academy and The Secret Forum. Did we mention it was diverse?

Heading back to the main stage we caught Jake Bugg play to a crowd of teenagers and granddads alike, both factions appreciating the Dylanesque oeuvre from this talented if slightly reticent young lad. Bugg was followed by a well-received set by Aussie Indie band Cloud Control and an underwhelming display from overrated jessies The Temper Trap. Feeling frisky we next accepted an invitation to help break the world record for the biggest skinny dip, joining over one hundred other brave revellers and all those baring all simultaneously in ten cities worldwide. We don’t know if the record was broken, only that it was shrinkingly cold. Rodrigo y Gabriela and the Cuban orchestra duly raised the temperature with a solo heavy Latin jazz set, leaving it to Sir Norman Jay to round off the evening in the soul casino with his reliably eclectic repertoire.

Sunday was the big music day and we got suitable settled down at the main stage with refreshments to take in an affable set by Grant Lee Buffalo, the heartfelt musings of Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Howe Gelb’s new Giant Giant Sand outfit, a solid if stationary set from Spiritualized and a much more on the nose performance from Wilco, who took off where others only wafted. Jeff Tweedy and his band delivering both the screaming freak-outs and melodic subtlety that imbues the last decade of their work. It was a fittingly accomplished end to another Wilderness triumph, which Tweedy summed up by saying, “we’ve never felt as comfortable at any festival as we do here – this is the most comfortable festival ever.” We whole-heartedly concur.

Words and photo by Nick Rice

Click here for a photo gallery of the festival.

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