For years I’ve been searching for the ideal boutique UK festival, with that magical mix of location, size, facilities, bands and sideshows. Just when I find one – like The Big Chill or Wilderness – it gets a little too big for comfort. Too many queues, tents crammed in together, lost friends… So this summer, Standon Calling Festival came calling to me and my festival friends. How did it fare?
At under 50 minutes from London, this Hertfordshire festival was the easiest trip to a festival I’ve ever made. My husband even cycled the whole way there, though grabbing a lift with a friend seemed like the simpler option. Car parking was under 10 minutes’ walk from the campsite we chose, which was on the level rather than the slopes down to the festival fields itself.
Standon is set in the gorgeous grounds of Standon Lordship, and comprises just a few fields. Just over 8,000 people attended this year, which turns out to be the right size for bumping into friends rather than spending endless hours trying to get phone reception. There’s something freeing about skipping onto the next stage in the knowledge that you will find your group afterwards. Probably.
For such a small festival, the acts at Standon Calling Festival are surprisingly well known: Little Dragon, The Dandy Warhols and Basement Jaxx headlined this year and we loved seeing The Magic Numbers in a little tent, even finding a table and chairs right near the stage, cabaret style. Very civilised. Those after quirky sideshows are also well served: I saw apple bobbing, caught a Dog Show, strained to hear a lovely acapella group in the town square and sadly failed to join in rock-aoke after losing my voice on day two. Too much fun.
While not compulsory, fancy dress is encouraged with this year’s theme taking in the Wild West – cowboy hats and shorts were de rigeur, which worked well in the blazing sunshine. My husband had the presence of mind to put our phone numbers in our cowboy hats, which fell off my backpack within minutes of arriving on the site. I soon received a call from a couple of girls – aged around 8 and 10 – who happily waited for me by the entrance so I could come and collect them. Bless!
By night, punters got more creative – the families go to bed and many of the grown ups dart around fields in crazy clobber. Interesting hats and sparkly jackets made us new friends – Standon is a cheery kind of place.
One thing that assumes huge importance when you’re camping in a field is the state of the toilets, and I was delighted to find that Standon has proper, flushing toilets and running water in honey wagons throughout – no porta-loos here. They were cleaned regularly and I never had to queue for more than five minutes, although if you want a shower in the morning, be prepared to wait a bit longer. You can also splash out on a bell tent, tipi or yurt or indeed a local hotel.
Most of the staff at Standon were really friendly, although as with many festivals, only a small portion seemed to be able to point us in the right direction of more specialised areas like the press tent. The Welfare tent guys were positively lovely when we dropped in, making me a honey and lemon for my ailing voice and treating us to a nice bit of behind the scenes gossip.
Paying for stuff
Here’s something else that makes Standon stress-free: no money changes hands. Seriously! You rock up with your debit card and charge up a wristband with whatever you expect to spend on food and booze, and they simply swipe it at the bar, showing you your remaining balance. You get the rest back at the end by queuing up or emailing the festival but canny punters will spend almost exactly what they plan to. I’m not expecting much change from £150.
Food and drink
Standon Calling Festival has a good sprinkling of food stalls and plenty of benches and tables to eat on. Highlights included the macaroni and cheese with jalapeños and a very authentic tartiflette – all solid staples for for a day of roaming and partying. They also serve Crabbies and cocktails. All this and running water… Sold – Standon is the small festival for me!