Until very recently I was fairly festival naive. I had been to Greenbelt as a teenager and Hay Literary festival (not really sure that counts) as an adult. However, on a glorious sunny bank holiday weekend at the end of August, all that changed. I became a fully-fledged camping festival goer. Me and my Mr packed our car with sleeping bags, wellies, flip flops and loo roll and headed to Laverstoke Park in Hampshire for our first experience of Carfest South 2017 and festival life.
For those that don’t know, Carfest happens twice a year; once in the North and once in the South. It is billed as “A FABULOUS MIX OF MUSIC, CARS AND FUN,” and a weekend of “entertainment for all the family.” Carfest raises money for BBC Children in Need; and, since 2012, has raised over £7.4 million ($9.9 million).
We arrived without any traffic queues on a Friday afternoon, made our way to our tent (we had hired one), rolled out our sleeping bags, had a quick cup of tea, brewed on our single gas burner, and then headed to the main stage. 4:30pm, blazing sunshine and Deacon Blue were belting out their greatest hits. We grew up with Deacon Blue and we loved them when we were a carefree courting couple in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and we love them as a mostly carefree long married couple in 2017. It was joyous. Also performing later in the evening were Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abott and they were equally brilliant.
A deflated airbed incident and a hard night on the ground meant that I didn’t wake up exactly feeling rested. Despite this, spirits were far from deflated and we began Saturday by taking part in the Great Festival Dash. A 5km fun run around the grounds and along the car track. We ran beside a group of Elvis’s, children of all ages, a man playing a guitar and even Chris Evans at one point. It was lots of fun and set us up for the day ahead.
Although there is music on the wigwam stage and in the vintage village, music on the main stage doesn’t begin until around 4pm, leaving loads of time to see and do everything else on offer. I’m not a huge fan of cars but watching some pretty impressive sports cars career up and down the track was lots of fun. We were priviliged to watch a wonderful display by the red arrows. We wandered around the brilliant steam fair, drooled over camper vans, and planted our rug on the ground every now again to people watch, eat ice cream, or both.
Music on the main stage is a mix of old and new, and on Saturday night, we bopped along to Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Seasick Steve (unstoppable), KT Tunstell, and The Jacksons. All were fabulous and clearly understood the carfest festival spirit.
Sunday was our day for doing everything we hadn’t done the day before, starting in the show ground and the sheep show, closely followed by The Dog and Duck show and Ferret racing! Who doesn’t want to sit in the sun and watch farm animals do clever things at a festival? Sunday was also carnival day. A wonderful parade of floats, cars, and marching bands paraded up and down the car track. We had a front row view and loved every minute.
The rest of the day was spent in The Vintage Village. This felt like a whole other show. Full of vintage vehicles, stalls of gorgeous clothes and paraphernalia, and some brilliant music, it was a very chilled place to spend Sunday afternoon.
Sunday night on the main stage is party night. Earlier in the evening, Texas, Marc Almond, and The Manic Street Preachers had all strutted and belted out their best. Headlining was Rick Astley, not everyones cup of tea I know, but boy he can sing, and he does know how to fill a stage. He finished the festival with a bang as did the firework display which closed Carfest 2017 for another year.
Carfest is for families but is great for couples too. As a family of 2 we had been a little concerned it would be very child focused and not quite the right fit for us. We needn’t have worried, of course there were lots of families but there were lots of couples of all ages, groups of friends and everyone else. It may not be the the biggest festival (although it felt more than big enough to us), but it is full to the rafters of things to do, see, take part in and listen to. It is a country fair, a music festival, a food festival, a vintage fair, a village fete and car show all rolled into one. Carfest is also all about raising money for Children in Need. Maybe this is what gives it such a positive and joyful atmosphere? I don’t know, but the feeling of good will and fun is evident immediately. It comes from those who are performing, to those who are serving food, to those who are selling things, exhibiting things and everyone else in between. It was quite extraordinary.
I know that had it been raining or cold or both my experience may have been a little less positive. But thankfully it wasn’t and we had the best time. We came away feeling relaxed and happy, and glowing with sunshine and good health. As a first festival experience, I think it would be hard to beat.