Forgive me if I shake my fist at the sky a little. Because although I’m grateful for the amazing weather we’ve had over the last few weeks, I can’t help but feel a little bitter that this year’s Just So Festival was a rather wet and windy affair. Although the festival rocked (as always), it did make everything just that little bit more hard work, and the fact that the festival weekend was sandwiched between weeks of warm sun and blue skies is a bit like rubbing salt into the wound.
Now, I’m no expert when it comes to festivals. Despite spending a good portion of my teens at indie gigs all over London, I never made it to a festival. I love camping but the idea of foregoing a shower for a long weekend of mud and partying was always a step too far for me (and I really like my sleep). So Just So popped my festival cherry four years ago. I may not be a festival expert, but I’m fast becoming an expert in the magic of Just So. Just So is perfect for a festival novice – the site is compact enough to get around pretty easily, but large enough to feel like you’re exploring. There’s enough people to create a wonderful buzz, but you’re not swallowed up by huge crowds. The campsite is quiet at a reasonable hour so you can stock up on sleep for the next day, and the toilets and showers are cleaned regularly so visiting them isn’t the stuff of nightmares.
But the best thing by far is how it sweeps the whole family up into a world of imagination, spectacle and creativity, with so many feelgood vibes that your faces just ache from smiling. With three festivals already under their belts, the twins (now six) really threw themselves into it this year. They’ve got their favourite haunts, they know their way round the festival site, and they get that the pizza is worth the queue! They were also more caught up in the Tribal Tournament than they ever before. Just So has six tribes – owls, foxes, lions, stags, fish and frogs – and you can pick a tribe and try to help them win the Tribal cup. This year we joined the fish tribe for the first time, and Ez insisted on wearing her fish costume throughout the weekend. Earning golden pebbles to add to the fish tribe’s total was a major focus for both the kids.
In terms of the programme, there’s such a wide array of activities on offer, from theatre performances (we absolutely loved the physical theatre show Long, Broad & Sharpsight by Sharklegs – an awesome performance that had the kids totally entranced), to willow installations and bumping into a flock of sheep with a Cyclops in the Spellbound Forest, to the campfire stories and songs (always a favourite, especially when the weather is against you) to bands at the main Footlights stage. Fonz stood front row centre, completely rapt, for the whole of Thingumabob & the Thingumajigs’ set and hasn’t stopped raving about it since. Oh, and we couldn’t miss comedian James Campbell in the Woodland Theatre for the second year running (the twins have been telling one of his jokes from last year for the last 12 months). This year we vowed to spend more time in the evening at the retro disco in the Jitterbug tent, but once again the kids were too exhausted to manage it. Next time.
Another thing we missed out on was taking a rowing boat out on the lake. It was a first for Just So, and it was wonderful seeing people dressed up in their tribal costumes cruising about on the water. I really hope that this becomes an annual event, as it’s something I’d love to do on a future visit.
Just So always offers plenty of spectacle, and this year it was Les Enfants Terribles: The Fantastical Flying Exploratory Laboratory that delivered. With music, huge puppets and circus comedy, this was a show that the whole family could enjoy, with a host of belly-laughable moments.
What makes Just So extra special for me is that we get to share it with some of the same people year after year. We have friends we always meet up with, we make new friends each year, and we love spotting families we recognise from previous years around the site, too. There’s a real sense of community at the heart of the festival, and it’s the warm, welcoming feeling that you’re amongst good friends that keeps us coming back every year. The twins are already talking about Just So 2017, and you can be sure it’ll be one of the first things we add to our 2017 wall calendar. If you’re busy planning your summer plans for next year, why not include the Just So Festival in your itinerary, too?
Photo: TenEight Studios
Early bird tickets for Just So Festival 2017 (18 – 20 August, Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire) are on sale now at www.justsofestival.org.uk at special early bird prices of £120 (adults), £45 (child) for weekend camping, £70 (adult), £25 (child) for 2 day non-camping, £40 (adult), £15 (child) for day tickets. Under 3s free.
Disclosure: This post is written in collaboration with the Just So Festival, but all thoughts and opinions are very much my own.