Wired and wellied, I stepped off the bus into a beautiful sunny Hay day. Walking through the winding book-laden streets, across a bridge over the River Wye - waving to the canoeists below - I arrived at the Riverside site of How The Light Gets In festival. Here I was wrapped in wristbands and pointed in the direction of a field. This was yurt country. My festival dwellings came in the form of the most well-furnished tent I'd ever seen. Not only could I stand up inside, but there was a real bed frame, hand-embroidered textiles, electricity and enough room to bust some yoga moves should the wellbeing levels need to be raised even higher.
The festival was a ramshackle blend of philosophy, music and relaxed management with a countrified bohemian vibe. Undeniably though, compared to my other festival experiences it really were dead posh. You could get lobster from the BBQ tent, tea & crumpets from a cute little van and the mobile toilets were nicer than my bathroom at home. What lay before attendees was bands playing day and night, topical discussions, film screenings and comedy performances dotted across a broad set of venues which spanned two sites, meaning that even when you thought you had the schedule down, you still came across surprise after surprise.
Here are some of the greatest things that I uncovered when exploring the festival:
- The Stage. The imaginatively-entitled main stage on the festival's Globe site was the tent that I spent most time in. It was like a wondrous casbah; by day hosting drop-in gigs and the festival bookshop (where I picked up a copy of The Philosophy of Walking); by night an intimate gin-drenched speakeasy. Acts that struck my fancy here were the lovely, delicate Seron The Heron and Hoxton heart-throb Kimberly Anne.
- A Rule of Tum. Almost mirage-like, propped-up well designed blackboards led us through the village to Rule of Tum's pop-up burger restaurant. A temporary venture to feed the straying festival bods, the experience of chomping down on their lamb burger with seasonal slaw and rosemary chips was special, if a little sloppy; the disposable boxes and tiny venue a reminder that it was an ephemeral experience to be savoured.
- Son of Dave. Watching Son of Dave perform was my absolute festival highlight. He layered beats, multiple mouthfuls of harmonica, and seriously funked up some killer blues. It was sexy. It was dirty. It was Breaking Bad meets a 70s cruise ship. He even threw an inflatable banana into the panting crowd which always livens things up.
- Headspace. No, they're not a new electronic outfit from the Netherlands; I mean I discovered the importance of some room to let your brain breathe. The picturesque surroundings, clean air and freedom to roam was the ultimate cure for my drained soul. I let go of my to-do lists for a little while and even got a good night's sleep.
- The People's Front Room. On our last night, as the disappointingly average skiffle band were winding down and the churro vendor had shut up shop, we heard beautiful sounds coming from a tent that had been shut up in the daytime and ran over to investigate. Through the crowds we saw The PFR jamming away with all manner of oddities adorning their tented living room; audience melding into band, with both a microphone and a bottle of tequila passed around for anyone to join in. What followed was a musical orgy of absolute improvised splendour.
Overall, I found the How The Light Gets In community to be made up of eclectic thinkers looking for a wonder-filled escape, but not one devoid of enquiry, personal development or cultural aptitude; nor one which claims to have all of the answers. Frankly, I think that could be seen as a pretty well-rounded, adaptable, model for life. And so; dream on, dreamers. Play on, players. Learn on, learners. Because there is a crack; a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.