United Kingdom | 20 May 2009
Following an onsite tornado, the self-proclaimed 'village fete gone wrong' could've lived up to the prophecy, if it wasn't for calm, well-considered organisation says Suzanne Knight.
Bearded Theory began in 2008 as a one-day small gathering of 400 people in a field on the side of a pub dancing in silly beards for charity. One year on saw it take an ambitious step up to sales of around 2300 tickets and into a full three-day festival. Short listed for Best Small Festival at the UK Festival Awards in 2008, the result of scaling up the beardy madness is aptly described by the slogan on the back of their t-shirts: ‘a village fete gone wrong’. It’s fun, cute, crazy and makes little sense, and it’s easily the most chuckles a person could obtain for the mighty bargain price of £45.
Getting there and back 6/10
‘Set your sat nav to this postcode and follow signs closer to the site’ was the general guidance to drivers, who promptly spent 30 minutes of their lives engaged in scenic drives around Derbyshire, peeking into fields: “does that cow look festival-y?” But signs were eventually there to be found and, as with the entire weekend, marshalls were cheery and helpful, so it was generally easy to access. Mysteriously the shuttle bus from the local station only ran out to the site on the Friday and returned on the Monday and with local buses running at a rate of three or so per day, this made visiting the festival for the day somewhat of a mission involving, in one case, a two and a half mile walk in the rain with two children. So the basics were strong, with some tweaking required.
The site 9/10
The all-new much larger festival necessitated an all-new much larger site. Set in the rolling Derbyshire hills, it was easy to access and picturesque, but also well drained and relatively flat. Everything is pretty much exactly where and how it should be in a small festival. Car parking was just off a good road with excellent marshalling, wet weather temporary track and the genius provision of a cart of straw to throw over the muddiest bits, making even getting a 16 year old metro out of a muddy field utter simplicity.
The Bearded organisers have much to teach far larger corporate festivals on how to deal with poor weather – as became particularly evident as the weekend progressed. The car park led through wristband exchange and down a path with camping situated on the right and the arena to the left. With a main stage, substantial dance tent and second stage, as well as cute ad hoc little cafes and the return of the legendary tea tent with open mic sessions, the festival finds with ease the tricky balance between well laid out large stages whilst still maintaining cute areas to discover. Even in literally the worst possible of weather it retained a pleasant feel.
Bearded Theory is the antidote to all the corporate pimped, badly laid out, poorly supervised, Gucci wellie wearing, ligger attracting, pay extra for a ‘VIP-IP-IP’ area festivals out there. And guess what, it makes people smile. These are people who have their tent almost taken by a freak storm and keep camping, see the main stage destroyed and keep dancing, in the mud, in a false beard. The festival calendar needs festivals like Bearded Theory, to remind everyone it’s not always about being at the front for your dream band line-up, sometimes it’s about having a laugh in a field and silly dancing for charity with crazy facepaint on your wellies.
With three good stages, for the tiny sum of £45, Bearded Theory delivers a mighty punch with the quality of the music. The dance stage quality wouldn’t have embarrassed were it placed in the middle of Glade and the main stage manages a few strong names, whom would’ve charged a third of the entry fee at their own gigs alone. The Campfire Stage housed smaller acts and gave local bands a shot. There’s a varied mix of folk, comedy music, rock, dance, acoustic, open mic, poetry and lots of changes of pace to catch the attention of fans and provide something for every taste.
The Re-entrants – 8/10
Ukulele duo The Re-entrants take to the stage, brandishing their rawk weapons of choice and large grins - and man can they rawk on those little ukes. With great precision they turn out 40 solid minutes of pants wettingly hilarious covers, everything from ‘Living On A Prayer’ and ‘Ace Of Spades’ to ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ and Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’. Not ready to end the silly dancing, the crowd eagerly bay them back for a full length version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, a feat difficult to impart verbally, but visually illustrated perfectly by one festival-goer who re-enacted the full dance routine, using all available space whilst attempting not to spill his cider. The Re-entrants are not only hysterically funny showmen, but as another onlooker observed, “they can really play can’t they.”
Ian Scarbro – 7/10
Somewhat buffeted by winds, Ian Scarbro still manages to deliver intricate guitar tracks such as the driving ‘Bite The Hand’ with precision, pausing to blow onto his chilly fingers. As the old boy in the sound gazebo comments over a mug of tea "his sound fills the stage," with original acoustic rock that carries you at pace through Dave Grohl style hard edged neck straining delivery to feather light sweetness in pleasingly surprising twists.
Dreadzone Sound System – 8/10
Dreadzone Sound System’s lively set was a comedy juxtaposition to the gazebo location on the side of a country pub at Bearded 2008, but they take full advantage of the substantially sized dance tent of 2009 with a blazing set. It’s dirtier and bassier then their usual laid back style, with crowd pleasing breaks. It’s grin inducing stuff and inspires a full on moshpit, and even a minor stage invasion for a moment by one particularly enthusiastic punter. Not their usual style, but they rocked the shit out of it. Excellent work.
Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs – 8/10
Timed to appear on the main stage on Saturday, due to some over-running Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs pleasingly were moved to the second stage, the impossibly cute campfire stage. Playing into the face of literally the full range of weather during their set – “thanks to our manager for booking us a gig in a wind-tunnel,” - they were utterly at home in the more intimate setting and played brilliantly in it. Galloping through a non-stop set of comedy covers on a soap-box bass, guitar and washboard, they throw in their own theme song, ending on a particularly ripping version of The Levellers ‘Only One’, yelled back to them by a large, loud, enthusiastic crowd banging along on pots, pans, tin trays and general junkyard detritus they distributed to the crowd from a large trunk - storming skiffle punk in every sense of the word.
Monkeyrush – 7/10
On the campfire stage, Monkeyrush play in driving rain, but brighten it and inspire dancing in the mud with truly individual guitar pop ska. It’s catchy, sometimes political, but pace-y and intelligent. Playing in difficult conditions their quality still stands out strongly and they are well worth further investigation.
Stockholm syndrome 2/10
Stockholm Syndrome crank out a meaty metal roar. Musically the guitars are well delivered for a covers band, although, fronted by a somewhat intimidating buxom lady in a cowboy hat, they give the impression that Dog The Bounty Hunter perhaps ate Evanescence. The singer is in an all new magical key of her own, but in any instance would have always been left straggling in the wake of her band as they merrily storm into an ill-advised cover of ‘Enter Sandman’. Ill advised not because they can’t play it, they clearly can, but because they clearly didn’t stop to think should they cover it.
Beardy Dreary – the story of the tornado
Okay, so it’s stormy, but it’s just a storm. It’s windy, but it’s just wind, there’s been plenty of that and that’s fine.
None of this is remarkable in any way, until, without warning, for perhaps five ground-shaking minutes an actual tornado passes right through the site. Qualifying surely as not only the most random moment of any festival, but of most onlookers lives, the freak wind cuts a swathe through the centre of the site, battering everything in its path with winds substantial enough to throw around pretty much everything in its way. Mercifully its route predominantly takes it along the path between the camping and arena, although unfortunately it also runs over the main stage, which it manages to take out of commission for the rest of the festival.
The organisers leap into action and show their grit, and what could have been a hugely distressing and devastating event for any festival, is dealt with a truly heart-warming display of calm, well considered organisation, well planned emergency provisions and professionalism. Emergency services are on the site in minutes, and thankfully, contrary to some poor reporting by other agencies, there are just three minor injuries. Everything was rapidly cordoned off, made safe, tidied up.
And then, beards are straightened, and the festival carries on. The Saw Doctors deal with the lack of stage by playing an impromptu set in a tent and the following day, power is returned to the second stage and a scaled down but still excellent line-up continues there, as well as in the dance tent for the remaining hard-core festival goers. The most random of possible events, but the Bearded Theory team should be utterly proud of themselves and how they managed a tough situation. Clear thinking moments after almost doing a ‘Mary Poppins’ across a Derbyshire valley frankly should be commended.
By Suzanne Knight