Almost every performer at the Barn On The Farm festival makes comment about this being their favourite festival to play.
This almost certainly springs from the intimacy of the event. Spread over three stages, the wooden barn stage, the outdoor stage and the magnificent new main stage, the festival spreads over three days if like me you are lucky enough to get tickets to the intimate Friday. Otherwise there are two days of magnificent music for all to enjoy. Anyone who has read reviews of mine in the past will have grown bored of the line “ I first saw them play at Barn on the Farm” but it is this unerring knack of finding and supporting the big names of the future that has created the fabled BOTF family. That family includes Hozier, Ed Sheeran, Ben Howard, Jack Garratt, James Bay, Rhodes, Amber Run, Sunset Sons, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Bastille, and many others. More importantly that family includes an adoring fan base, many of whom have been going since the first festival in 2010. Somehow the organisers of the festival have managed to create an event that still feels as intimate as it probably did six years ago despite this year being the biggest number of festival goers, at 2500, since the first Barn on the Farm.
Intimate Friday tickets are snapped up in minutes when they go on sale nearly a year before the event and before there is any hint of musicians playing. They number only 200 and the lucky few get to spend the late afternoon and evening in the wooden barn where bands play at floor level and at close quarters to the audience. There is the added excitement that the name of the headliner is kept a big secret even when the rest of the line up is known. Even without the headliner, I would have been happy as the bill included the incredible Amber Run. I first saw Amber Run when I saw them support fellow BOTF family member Lewis Watson at Shepherds Bush and then at last year’s festival. They lit up the evening with a tremendous set which included long awaited new music alongside favourites from their debut album. The band has been through a tumultuous last six months, according to lead singer Joe Keogh, and the positive reaction from the crowd seemed to genuinely move him. At times of trouble families pull together and the BOTF family is no different. Sadly I missed the start of the night as I spent nearly six hours on the motorway from Kent so the first act that I saw was Prose who stepped in for Tom Walker, maybe he was also lost somewhere on the M25! Prose were excellent, in fact the enthusiasm and emotive lyrics literally moved the guy next to me to tears. A new album has just dropped and they are worth checking out. The band played again on the main stage on Sunday and were around all weekend enjoying the festival to its fullest. Kyko were next and were excellent, another band that played and then stayed the whole weekend. Barns Courtney literally brought Barns to the Barn and his powerful performance combined with some amusing chat has prompted me to snap up tickets to his full band Borderline date later this year. This really is a festival as much for the musicians as the bands. So much so that I spotted Lewis Watson cheering on Amber Run who were up next despite his not playing this year. The secret headliners were Bears Den, although the eagle eyed amongst us had spotted the band name on one of the amps on the stage, and they proceeded to finish the evening with real style. The intimate Friday had certainly set the bar very high for the next few days.
Saturday started for me with a barnstorming set from Judas who rocked the outdoor stage and really entertained the growing crowd. From that high octane start, I then started the task of trying to get from stage to stage to see as much music as possible. The wonderful thing about BOTF is the proximity of the stages; even with the wonderful new main stage being a little further away, having moved from its usual home of adjacent to the wooden barn, it’s a simple task to get from stage to stage without any panic and always easy to find a good spot in the crowd. Saturday’s headliners were Oh Wonder, new to BOTF, who finished the day with enormous style and really lit up the main stage with songs from their debut album. Before that there were many highlights; Brothers and Bones followed by Samm Henshaw on the main stage was a personal favourite and I will be trying to catch both acts again as soon as possible. Kent’s own Will Joseph Cook on the outdoor stage was fantastic and his hugely enjoyable set was accompanied by brilliant sunshine. However, no festival is complete this summer without a downpour and BOTF had its own late on Saturday afternoon when the skies opened. This didn’t dampen the wonderful atmosphere one little bit and just gave people a chance to try out some of the incredible food on offer this year. With a different set up to last year, there was a designated food area and much bigger main bar that complemented the offerings in the beautiful courtyard next to the wooden barn. This year saw BOTF offer it’s very own festival ale alongside local ciders if you wanted to have something different from the lager, cider or Pimms on offer at the bar. Drunk alongside the excellent made to order pizza, or superb vegetarian and vegan spices of the Bhangra Bus or the wonderful Burgers with their brioche buns it was a recipe for a well spent afternoon, come rain or shine. Back on the music front on Saturday, the wooden barn’s headliner Gavin James was simply excellent and alongside his own well written music and charming chat, the rendition of ‘What a Wonderful World’ and ‘Dancing in the Dark’ will live long in my memory. Saturday had one more trick up its sleeve, BOTF had its very own Farm Band made up of Joe Keogh, Gabrielle Aplin, Hannah Grace and Hudson Taylor. If this wasn’t the perfect example of the BOTF family literally coming to musical life, what is?
Sunday was headlined by BOTF favourite Jack Garratt who has worked his way up the bill over his three appearances. Last year he supported headliner James Bay but was obviously excited to be the main man in 2016. This BOTF performance comes after a year of what seems like a meteoric rise but is simply the latest triumph of years of hard work and wonderful music. His performance on Sunday even had the security man next to me standing on a chair cheering. The euphoria of the set seemed the perfect crescendo to the joy that this festival brings to fans all ages.
However, before the headline act on the main stage, Sunday was packed with high quality music. The wooden barn played host to the entertaining Jessarae who brought California to Gloucester. Rationale is surely a huge star of the future and I have already booked to see him play Heaven in London later this year on the back of an inspirational set. Fickle Friends always deliver and it was a shame they had to cut short their set due to some technical issues; it was great to see them tucking into food afterwards and cheering on other acts. Seramic was soulful class and even tempted Jack Garratt out to watch and support from the back of the main stage. Sandwiched in between on the main stage were Port Isla who played excellent new stuff to much applause and Frances whose music and lovely personality was perfect for a warm Sunday evening. On the outdoor stage Tom Walker was a revelation, another act I’ve booked for later in the year when he plays the Waiting Room, with an almost impossible to pigeon-hole set of songs and just before Jack Garratt’s main stage finale, ‘Rag’N’Bone Man’ was outstanding.
For me, the highlight of the whole festival was Eliza and the Bear who were also on a third trip back to BOTF and on the back of the way they played the main stage must be future contenders for a headline slot. They are lucky enough to have a debut album jam packed with anthemic songs and after opening with ‘Light It Up’ never really took their collective foot off of the pedal. Watching Callie Noakes on keyboards is probably as joyous as it gets and he and his band mates obvious joy at playing is so infectious that by the end of the set the main stage was filled with bouncing happy people atop each other’s shoulders. Please BOTF give them longer!
After the event Josh, one of the organisers and a driving force at BOTF, said that he and his fellow organisers, Alice, Oscar, Abbie and Matt, had deliberated long and hard on whether the festival would feel as intimate this year with some of the changes but that afterwards they felt that it was the festival goers, the growing band of ever loyal BOTF family, that had once again made the festival completely different to any other. I couldn’t agree more and will be buying tickets for next year as soon as humanly possible, my only fear being that this festival is so good it just might get too popular. Bring on BOTF 2017!