The dramatic and picturesque Brecon Beacons makes Green Man one of the most striking music festival settings. The undulant landscape on all sides makes a mind-blowing backdrop for the rich offering of music and activities on offer for the 20,000 capacity crowd. It’s just the right size to create the festival atmosphere without making you feel completely overwhelmed. It’s a gorgeous space with a sense that’s there’s more to discover around every corner.
The Mountain Stage is the heart of the festival. A glorious natural amphitheatre with sloping banks around a huge field one could happily spend the day in one spot allowing band after band to keep you happily occupied from morning to midnight. It’s not far, though, to gently amble – through a myriad of inventive distractions of which more shortly – to the other big platform, Far Out a stage big enough to just about get away with hosting The Waterboys on the opening night.
But as with all good festivals you feel like you have to split yourself into pieces to hear everything on offer in the gorgeous settings of The Walled Garden, Babbling Tongues, Chai Wallers and the highly-watchable up-and-coming artists on Green Man Rising.
The lineup is never disappointing at Green Man and highlights for us this year were Philadelphia rock band The War On Drugs, Jonathan Wilson with his scorching West Coast sound, acoustic guitar virtuoso Michael Chapman and a few new discoveries in Norwegian indie poppers Highasakite, Jordan Lee’s expanded project Mutual Benefit and alt-folkies Tunng.
Away from the music, perhaps the most striking aspect of Green Man is the imagination behind many of the sundry happenings which really make the festival experience. You didn’t have to go far to encounter actors engaged in unexpected activities around the place. Ladies in pink wending their way about in a stylized dance and hilarious golfers playing their game through the crowds regardless of where their imaginary balls landed. Were these were actors from the National Theatre of Wales so eagerly talked about in the programme? It wasn’t clear but entertaining nevertheless, but sadly we never really figure out what or where they’d be performing. We were supposed to follow on Twitter or Facebook for the updates, but internet and phone were deeply unreliable in this mountainous setting.
Children are particularly well catered for with excellent family camping facilities (with ping pong tables, volley ball nets, games and space hoppers to while away the time) and a magical children’s area with high-quality arts and crafts, story-telling, games, drama workshops, hula hopping dance offs, stop-motion film making and more from 09.30 in the morning until 6pm.
Most have this kind of thing, but what sets Green Man apart is the range and quality of what it was offering the whole day and capacity for all the Little Folk they had set out to cater for. Much thought had clearly gone into the family audience with details all over the site to please youngsters from Einstein’s Garden to a tree of hammocks and ropes to swing from.
NoFit State Circus put on a jaw-dropping display of skills in a mesmerising and innovative outdoor show and there was a sense that wherever you went there was something to discover or do on the way. Einstein’s Garden included a butterfly house, brilliant neuro-scientists giving engaging one-to-one demonstrations and explanations of highly entertaining optical illusions and tricks of the brain, ugly animal roadshows, the chance to get some hands-on surgical insight and wildlife walks around the ponds and woods of the Glanusk Estate which plays host to the festival.
The Babbling Tongues area is a wonderful diversion away from the rest of the festival. Giving space to watch a comedy performance, hear impromptu sessions from Green Man Rising artists in mobile bookstores or listen to a talk in the seated tent. We got to catch Green Gartside in conversation with Pete Paphides .
We loved Green Man and the more festivals we visit (to review) we find that there are few that stand out from the rest. Some things you might have to remember are clothes for unpredictable weather, we went from thunder and rain storms to blistering heat to what felt like freezing cold nights. When you are opting for the port-a-loo at 5am in the morning with the low mist shrouding the camp and the mountains peaking above you, know you are somewhere special, what more do you need.
Words by Victoria Bevan at Green Man Festival 2014. Photos by Simon Jay Price and Connie Jean.