Back for its ninth year, Boomtown Fair took over Matterley Estate with a host of three storey pop-up stages, eccentric theatre and world class musical acts narrated over a four day storyline packed full of mischief and surprises. The programme tallied up 101 venues and included everything from electro swing to techno, ska, reggae, cumbia and country – making the sheer choice of genres a mind tingling prospect in itself. But don’t be fooled by the impressive music variety; this is no normal festival set up.
You want to hear disco? Head to Grandma’s Living Room where you’ll find her playing bingo and handing out custard creams while she spins the decks. Fancy swinging your mates around at a barn dance? Wander across to Crazy Calamities Saloon in Wild West, where a blues band will serenade you with fiddles and Americana rhythms. As festivals go, Boomtown is pretty much as bizarre as it gets.
Boomtown Fair has massively risen in popularity over the last couple of years, selling out way in advance this time around. Thankfully, those who were lucky to secure a ticket breathed a heavy sigh of relief when the rain clouds parted just in time for the big event. That’s not to say Thursday wasn’t a squelchy affair in the main stage pits, but by Saturday everyone was lifting their feet to Balkan beats with ease.
The crowd has definitely got younger in the last couple of years and the glitter game has aligned itself accordingly. There were sequin jumpsuits and glitter beards a plenty, illuminated by the sunshine and reflected across the animated crowds. As you might expect, festival fashion was loud and proud on the Thursday when everyone’s energy was at peak momentum.
Friday saw Hallouminati take to the Mayfair bandstand which sits in the central walkway as you enter the festival. The six piece ensemble played their ragga punk to a skanking crowd, combining electric guitar with saxophones and Greek rembetiko vibes and delivering what they proudly describe as “deranged beats”. Ed Soloand Deekline brought the bass to Sector 6 for their opening show which was a big hit with the rave crowd who were ready for some heavy electronica to break in the weekend of partying.
But it was La Inédita who really stole the show on Friday. These guys are a Latin American band who play a fusion of chicha (traditional Peruvian cumbria) and dancehall. They took over Wild West‘s main stage, The Old Mines, and had every single person on their feet dancing like no one was watching.
However, those who went to see them were lucky to make it there unscathed as the bearded ladies of Wild West lured festival go-ers into their Pie ‘n’ Tash barber shop, ready to turn you into “one of them” – roughly translated as branding you with a darkly etched kohl beard covering your chin from ear to ear. Tread carefully!
Other high points from the weekend included Smokey Joe & The Kid who played the Town Centre Stage on Saturday afternoon. Their groovy melodies combined with hip hop and scratching bass echoed a show stopping performance from The Correspondants in the same spot a year before. House Gospel Choir impressed everyone by doing exactly as promised; fuelling familar house tracks with joyous harmonies that pumped the crowd full to the brim with energy ready for the Saturday night ahead. It’s unique to hear this blend of genres on stage and I think everyone would agree the atmosphere was nothing short of infectious. Definitely a highlight of the festival and one to catch again if you get the chance.
Ziggy Marley and The Specials headlined Trenchtown’s Lion Den on Saturday night. Being predominantly a reggae based stage, it’s good to have a lively headliner who can get everyone on their feet as the sun falls. AndThe Specials did exactly that. Opening with Ghost Town and working through Monkey Man and Message To You Rudy, they arguably out shone Madness who played the same slot back in 2016.
Now onto to the psy trance. This is a genre that really divides groups! But it definitely makes up a big part of Boomtown. The Tribe of Frog forest always has the most incredible, mind blowing visual decorations which demand appreciation regardless of your musical taste. The workout pace and techno intensity is the best pick-me-up if you need a dose of pure energy on your way back from Trenchtown’s steady reggae rhythms. And who can say they aren’t intrigued by the prospect of a Secret Forest Party in the woods?
With a political vein running through the heart of Boomtown, it wasn’t surprising to see a “Thump A Trump” punch bag being wheeled around the festival. This art installation/mobile entertainment venture invited revellers top give Donald’s face their hardest slam. As you might imagine, it was a big hit and drew rings of crowds from far and wide, all keen to expel some targeted force.
One of the most impressive art installations was an entire troop of Mad Max inspired steampunk creatures, dipped in bronze, creeping around a deconstructed mechanical vehicle at The Old Mines stage in the heat of Sunday afternoon.
These slithery beings made up part of a procession that moved across the festival and were keen to point, beckon and swing themselves around their metallic contraption much to the intrigue of passing onlookers. One actor stood on top of the vehicle, rocking a cradle made of bones while other members of the group balanced on stilts wearing combat gear and bald head masks. It sounds weird, right? But that’s exactly what Boomtown is all about. Unleashing your creativity and experiencing something new.
Food-wise, the Duck Burger stand was widely discussed and the gourmet Hippy Chippy Van offered a budget friendly festival snack by doing something really simple, really well.
Although everything goes on until 4am on the Saturday and Sunday, it was noticeable how this was the peak time to see everyone out and at full power. If the curfew could be extended an hour or so longer next year, that would definitely be applauded judging by the amount of people still out on the city’s streets ’til the early hours.
Boomtown Fair has so much to offer for the ticket price you pay. Many festivals sit within the same cost bracket but offer just a couple of main stages next to fields upon fields of camping. Boomtown unveils an entire city made up of 12 districts, hosts music and theatre to suit every taste and will never leave you grumbling that there’s nothing to do or see. It’s a concentrated hub of creativity that just keeps giving and leaves everyone in attendance resolving to come back next year to continue their adventures.
All photo credit: Boomtown Fair