LeeFest 2010: Rated!
Highams Hill Farm, Bromley - 14 August
Francis Whittaker - 16 August 2010
Overall – 9/10
Even the most cynical festival fan can't help but be a little bit touched by the LeeFest story. In an age where accusations of rampant commercialism are levelled at organisers everywhere, the tale of this small, not-for-profit festival which started in a tiny suburban back garden and is run by a group of super hard-working of twenty-something best mates is truly inspiring.
For those of you who aren't au fait with LeeFest yet, here's a little background for you. In the summer of 2006, Beckenham teenager Lee Denny's parents decided to go away on holiday. After their suburban semi had been on the receiving end of more than its fair share of raucous gatherings, Mr and Mrs Denny decided to sit Lee and his friends down and explicitly forbid them to have any form of house party, hootenanny, box social or knees-up in the family home.
So, faced with weeks on end of boring, empty summer evenings, what does any right-minded teenager do when a house party is out of the question? Why, hold a festival in the garden of course!
Quick as a flash Lee and friends called in a few favours, erected a small, ramshackle stage in the veggie patch and used equipment from their mobile disco business to set up the sound and lighting rig. Just one week, 150 paying ticket holders, one illegal bar and more than a few trampled flowerbeds later, the first edition of LeeFest – as well as its eponymous director's passion for organising festivals - was born.
From wandering around their brand new site set in farmland on the edge of Bromley, you can sense how that passion still shines through, and it's no wonder the team behind the event picked up the gong for Best Grass Roots Festival at last year's VF UK Festival Awards.
While still wonderfully intimate, LeeFest has grown at an almost inhuman rate in the short years since it left the cosy surroundings of the Denny family garden. Now a 2,000 capacity event, the festival is small enough to maintain that all-important village fête feel while big enough to attract some decent-sized, well known names, with electro-rebels Does It Offend You Yeah?, upbeat ska troupe The King Blues and acclaimed Mackem post-punkers The Futureheads all gracing the bill this year.
There's also plenty of things going on away from the music stages, with an artificial beach (complete with volleyball), an Alice in Wonderland-themed shisha cafe (complete with skantily-clad, glitter-wearing masseuses) and all manner of oversized snakes and ladders boards and Twister mats scattered around the site.
LeeFest truly is a testament to what a combination of passion, self-belief and lots of very, very hard work can achieve. Despite having few resources and growing entirely organically from a rebellious, teenage sapling in an average, suburban back garden, Denny and Co's event is a resounding triumph – a small but very well formed festival which keeps the community, charity and, most importantly, ensuring everyone who attends has a bloody good time, at its core.
Getting there and back - 8/10
LeeFest is a short trek away from both East Croydon and South Bromley stations, with a free shuttle bus provided between the site and the latter. It's also set in possibly the only rural farm that falls within Transport for London's jurisdiction, so there are London bus routes that run past the site frequently and link to local tram stops.
The site - 8/10
Modestly sized but more than fit-for-purpose, the intimate nature of LeeFest means there's never any rushing between stages, which adds to the laid-back nature of the event. There's rarely a queue for the bar, and portable loos (the yearly growth in numbers of which are LeeFest's imaginative way of assessing how well they're doing) are in good supply. The ground survives a handful of heavy showers early on, and there are more than enough covered areas to duck into when the rain does arrive.
Atmosphere - 9/10
LeeFest is advertised as a community-minded, family orientated festival, and this is very much evident in the atmosphere on site. Groups of up-for-it youngsters are out in force, mums and dads on patio furniture sup Adnams Bitter by the main stage bar and toddlers cause havoc by the giant snakes 'n' ladders board by stealing the oversized foam dice from some admirably good-humoured older players.
Barring the odd, inevitable, over-excited teenager, there is no aggro to be found whatsover and people of all ages mingle happily in what has to be one of the most relaxed small festivals around.
Music - 7/10
The combination of the organisers' chutzpah and the added pulling power of a UK Festival Award ensures that 2010's LeeFest line-up is their strongest yet. The festival prides itself on putting up-and-coming Bromley bands on the same bill as established national acts, and a heady combination of ska, funk, indie, folk, electro and dance ensure all tastes are catered for.
King Charles - 7/10
This dandy, Dali-moustachioed, hirsute shaman keeps the crowd waiting but produces a bombastic, mesmeric performance when he finally arrives onstage.
The Futureheads - 8/10
The criminally underrated Sunderland quartet are a massive coup for LeeFest's young organisers and don't disappoint as headliners. Their tried and tested combination of spiky, post-punk guitars and barbershop harmonies go down a treat with an excitable crowd at the Main Stage.
Fenech-Soler - 7/10
The much-hyped Northamptonshire outfit do a sterling job of headlining the second stage. Resplendent in matching sequinned tops, their high-energy electro anthemics have the audience moving from the outset.
Mean Poppa Lean - 4/10
These Brighton funk-rockers get full marks for energy, but there's only so much luminous lycra, slap bass, and shameless banding around of the word “motherf*cker” a man can take.
Who should have landed lowly litter-picking duties for the day but Lee's long-suffering father Colin. Having had his garden deflowered twice in the early years of the festival, Mr Denny is spotted clutching a bin bag while wearing a fetching yellow bib as he scours the rain-dampened fields of suburban Kent in search of empty beer cans.
However, evidence that Lee had found a way of compensating his dad for undertaking this thankless task can be found in the name of the festival's new second stage. The ingeniously-titled 'Colin Denny Lava Lounge' must surely be one of the best monikers for a festival tent ever!