Will Cumbria’s Solfest return in 2020?
Solfest 2019 came with a side order of baked humans due to relentless, record, August Bank Holiday heat in Cumbria.
Whistles, flutes, drums, bass beats, weird strings, bongos and huge guitars abounded.
Kites flew, wine flowed, camps grew and people kicked back.
Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody was sang badly (on purpose) by 100 or so festival goers and members of the “tuneless choir” on the Drystone Stage.
For some, this was the first festival they’d ever attended, and they got to sing on the main stage!
Hot and hazy afternoons lounging around on the grass overlooking the Solway Firth and Scotland beyond, a shimmering blue sea, mountain backdrops and stunning sunsets.
At night, the boom of The Hive across the site, and still warm enough for shorts and sandals!
I first attended Solfest in 2008, and it hasn’t always been warm enough for this attire I can tell you that much.
The beautiful tarn - aptly named Tarns Dub - can be seen from both the campsites and a discreet, relaxing viewing area with roughly hewn seats away from the hustle and bustle of the main arena.
If you get a bit higher, say, on the Big Wheel, you can see even further.
Solfest - located between Aspatria and Silloth in the wilds of northern Cumbria - moved across the road this year onto a new site for its 15th, and, contentiously, final event.
That, however, remains to be seen.
Hollers of “see you next year” from staff as we left the site on Monday morning added to the mystique.
A notably smaller site, access with a car on Friday afternoon was smooth and simple.
Park up, get your wristband from a lock up on the car park, and walk about seven minutes to the campsite.
Initial thoughts - lots of friendly faces, laidback and approachable security, and plenty of space to pitch up our five tents for our group of 10.
Equally good, a view over the tarn from our camp, and just a few minutes from the main arena.
Water was easy to access, toilets were pretty clean, but there were no showers, and the campsite was not lit at night.
Signs of a smaller budget for this year maybe, but who needs a shower at a festival anyway?!
Inside, the main arena rises gently to the top of a hill, where you can see pretty much all of the stages.
There was less site art, fewer stalls, and a much smaller food offer than previous years.
The Drystone is the festival’s main one, then there’s The Melodrome, The Cottage, The Love Shack, The Hive, The Bar Stage and the Palais De Phonix.
All offering something different at all hours of the day and night.
To the bar, first, of course, which presented a good range of ales from Tractor Shed Brewing - a blonde, a pale, and even a stout - plus ciders and plenty of other options too.
A packed programme of music as well, from folk to rock to reggae infused funk from Cumbria and beyond.
Lengendary bass player Bruce Foxton’s From The Jam, nineties electronic music pioneers Utah Saints, Levellers frontman Mark Chadwick, and Scouse psychedelic rock band The Coral all performed to good and appreciative crowds, joining lesser known but equally talented acts such as The Undercover Hippy, Funke and the Two Tone Baby, Dutty Moonshine’s Big Band, and Baka Beyond to create an eclectic, rootsy, and down to earth vibe within the festival.
Old as the trees folk mixed with cutting edge tech.
Equally, highlights came from acts on the smaller stages - Droll Man, Slaves of Venus, Sonic Gypsy, Bad Barbie, Hiroshima Twinkie, Blanty and the Band Inside His Own Head, Jiggy Beast and Soul Junction all adding to the rich tapestry of sounds.
And as mentioned earlier, The Tuneless Choir (bringing an end to the tyranny of the talented) hosted by The Melodrome Mobile Stage on Saturday night and then transferred to the main stage on Sunday afternoon, giving the talentless a chance to shine on stage. Brilliant and hilarious.
And the DJs of course, loads of them.
From dub to techno to house to drum and bass, all corners of the electronic spectrum were explored and unleashed.
But as much as it is about the music, Solfest is equally about the people, the festivalgoers, you.
A lovely couple of climbers from Clitheroe, an Italian lad now living in London with a dance troupe practicing back flips on the campsite, a Bradford contingent, singers, kite flyers, social workers, technicians from Cumbria, Lancashire, Yorkshire and Merseyside all happy to stop and chat and relax.
We also met up with lots of good people who continue to give up their time and energy to curate unforgettable experiences, year in year out, despite the challenges and headaches.
We didn’t have kids with us this year, but those we saw playing in the colourful kids area seemed to be enjoying themselves, equally they were welcome down the front at the main stage.
Sadly, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of recycling options for waste, and the beer cups appeared to be non-recyclable.
Despite this the site remained relatively clean and tidy throughout the weekend.
We were slightly confused about the alcohol policy in the main arena as well, but I think I will let that one lie.
Will Solfest return in 2020? Let’s hope so.
The festival changed its advertising from “Solfest - the farewell”, to “Solfest - 15”, a few weeks before the event, providing some clues.
However, Solfest hadn’t commented as this short review went to press.
I say short because there was so much more I saw, so much more nuance, fleeting glimpses and the tail end of the last song of a band I wanted to see.
August Bank Holiday weekend certainly wouldn’t be the same without Solfest.