After a months worth of rain fell in the 24 hours before The Neverland festival opened its gates no-one would have forgiven festival promoter Lee Denny from having a few second year jitters in his new location in the wilderness of Kent.
Turns out the gods (and elements) were shining on him. When Thursday came around and LeeFest: the Neverland finally declared itself site ready, albeit a few traffic queuing problems later, the fans came flooding in ready to party.
If you haven’t been to a Leefest here’s a brief history of the 10 year festival in one sentence…
The year is 2006 and 16 year old Lee Denny is left home alone while his parents ran off on holiday with strict instructions NOT to have a party. One festival and 150 friends later an idea was born and fast forward 10 years that idea is now bringing in up to 5,000 people each year. Ok so that’s 2 sentences but having talked at length to him in the last few weeks it could have been a book.
What you get with The Neverland seems to be quite unique in todays over crowded market. A festival with soul. It really does feel as though you have just invited 3,000 of your best mates to share the weekend with you. Pirates walk the site side by side along with drag queen mermaids and lost boys recruiting members young and old along the way. If it sounds a bit kiddy and family friendly it actually seems to play across the generations. What works for one in the day gets transformed into a very adult playground when the lights go down.
For the families it holds a slightly old fashioned holiday camp feel through the day. Beach games are played, dance routines are organised, marble painting is shown off and bush craft skills are honed. For the majority of themainly early 20-something audience when the lights go down the beach bar turns into an all night rave, the Rainbow Rooms hold a drag queen cabaret and the sunken pit in the middle of the woods is transformed into the Goldmine, a dance arena in the woods complete with DJ and fire spitting decks for approximately 1000 people.
And what of the bands? Thursday nights headliner Kate Tempest played to a packed Circus tent and performed her recent (second in a row ) Mercury nominated album “Let Them Eat Chaos” in its entirety.
Like her Glastonbury performance 6 weeks ago it was mesmerising, stirring, challenging and utterly brilliant. Weaving her urban poetry and dubstep themes around the story of 7 strangers in an urban street who are drawn together at 4.18am and experiance the different sides of each others lives. She left the stage an hour later with the audience exhausted but clearly needing more.
Friday saw indie champions Wild Beasts take to the stage performing songs from recent top 10 album “Boy King” before singer songwriter Jake Bugg stole the evening with a headline performance on the Fortress stage and huge selection of tracks spanning 4 albums (yup 4 albums and we couldn’t quite grasp he’s still only 23 either) Where Bugg can sometimes fail to transmit on record he comes alive in the live arena. Like a modern day Johnny Cash he effortlessly fuses rockabilly, country, folk and blues into an energetic hour long set. Songs like “Two Fingers” “Trouble Town” and “Messed up Kids’ are all aired before a 3 song finale with a stunning rendition of his debut album showstopper “Broken” a cover of “Going Back to My Roots” and the furious energy of “Lightning Bolt”
Saturday saw virtually every genre of music get aired. Local folk-pop heroes Keston Cobblers Club played the festival 5 years ago and now drawing support from the likes of Radio 2 and playing nationwide sell out tours they had the mid afternoon crowd up on its feet with excellent tracks like “Won’t Look Back”.
The early evening was set aside to another local band with a very different feel. Tunbridge Wells punk duo Slaves have certainly drawn their fair share of both criticism and praise recently. If their sound is divisive to some of the (ahem older) audience you can’t help being driven with their relentless energy. Guitarist Laurie Vincent and drummer Isaac Holman throw themselves around the stage with tracks from both their recent albums “Take Control” and their debt “Are You Satisfied?” Its hard not to be swept along when your bouncing up and downto “Sockets” and “The Hunter”.
It’s Saturday night though and as the main stage area begins to get more than a little packed out its pretty clearthe entirecrowd have come to party. Dance icon and Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac headlines and gives them just that. A glorious hour and a half party mix capped off with stunning fireworks and leaving the crowd exhausted, euphoric and scattering to the late night areas (Wilkonson was a triumph!)
So thank you Neverland. From the bottom of our Lost Boy hearts (yeh we picked our tribe) We’ve been to a lot ofbigger festivals this year but I’m not sure if we’ll go to any better.
See you all in the Neverland next August.