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Morrissey of Morrissey & Marshall perhaps summed up Deer Shed Festival best when he quipped, ‘This has gotta be the youngest moshpit ever!’ Referencing the fact that the majority of the people at the front for their set on the tent-wrapped Obelisk Stage were less than ten years old, he revelled in such reality, the kids appreciatively lapping up the Irish duo’s uplifting acoustic-based music.

Deer Shed proudly promotes all-inclusiveness by default, welcoming people of ages to the festival. Employing the beautiful, rolling grounds of Baldersby Park, a plectrum’s throw from the River Swale-hugging village of Topcliffe, the festival takes place over three days at the end of July.

Fully equipped with more than enough to keep children of all ages entertained for the weekend, there are tents galore teeming with workshops, enabling youngsters to get creative by making anything from a cardboard robot-head to a bright yellow minion model. The largest, busiest tent was given over to science experiments, allowing ‘Little Einsteins’ to put their theories into practice. Meanwhile, for the adults, there were four different stages dedicated to music, comedy and theatre, with fantastic Leeds trio Actor having the privilege of warming-up the Main Stage as the first band on. Delivering a breathtaking set, it’s surely only a matter of time before they make it big.

Saturday’s lineup of music included Anna Calvi and Richard Hawley, the latter artist headlining the Main Stage. Formerly of the Longpigs, Sheffield’s Hawley has carved out a name for himself as a solo artist par excellence, his trademark singing style and prowess on guitar a hit with the masses.

Sunday’s unparalleled music highlight came courtesy of Ed Harcourt’s set on the Main Stage. Backed by a three-piece band, he sounded divine, his set consisting of a mixture of old and new songs, ‘Furnaces’ giving us an earful of his latest material. When he’s not playing keyboard, Ed hesitates not in picking up a guitar, his thrash-through of ‘Immoral’ having him confess, ‘It’s like having a tantrum on stage!’ Such rock-drenched darkness couldn’t have contrasted any more sharply with the next song that he played: entitled ‘Hey Little Bruiser,’ it was a truly beautiful number inspired by Ed’s experiences as a father.

Chasing Ed’s set, Sam Lee & Friends took to the Lodge Stage, their folksy brand of music a joy to hear. A short distance from where they were playing, a three-ride-strong fairground kept the thrill-seeking contingent of kids happy, the Ferris wheel and helter skelter perpetually packed. Adjacent to the helter skelter was the Big Top, a tent that more often than not featured offbeat theatre productions. There was also a healthy dose of Spoken Word performances throughout the weekend, ‘local girl’ Kate Fox as entertaining as ever with her uber-slick wordplay. Even Undertones bassist Michael Bradley turned up for a riveting “In Conversation” event on Sunday, his slot perfectly coinciding with a particularly sharp rainstorm, a downpour that encouraged a formidable number of people to rush for cover. It helped that the Obelisk Stage upon which he was speaking had a well-stocked Beer Tent attached!

With Beth Orton Sunday’s Main Stage headliner, the festival was hardly short of big names, yet it was the joy of discovering brand new, previously unheard acts that held the most appeal for me.

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Unable to resist odd servings of big-screen action, I strayed into the Cinema Tent whenever I passed, catching snippets of The Goonies and Inside Out, standing at the side of the tiered seating as a result of not having ‘signed up’ for a seat in advance.

One of the best places for kids to unwind was the tented sandpit and soft play area, with hordes of children playing with one another, forging new friendships while their parents invariably chatted amongst themselves – at least when they weren’t consulting their pocket-sized festival planners to decide which stage to make a beeline for!

In regards to festival accommodation, the best option was to camp, the majority of families having seemingly brought just about everything but the kitchen sink with them judging by the largeness of the loads being conveyed between the car parks and campsite. Fortunately, to make things easier, blue pull-along trollies were available to hire, which helped enormously. Such trollies could also be converted, ‘pimped out’ if you will, into ‘vehicles’ suitable for transporting young children around the site, fitted cushions and arched roofs having them resemble tiny old wagon trains straight out of a Western.

For those desiring a more comfortable festival experience, glamping tents (huge tepees with quirky hats) were the best option. Still, for anybody preferring to stay ‘off-site,’ there was a plethora of campsites, caravan parks and guesthouses within a ten-mile radius, the closest caravan park literally on the edge of Baldersby Park.

In truth, I’d never experienced anything quite like Deer Shed Festival. Meticulously organised, it proved a gem of a festival, possessing an unbeatable lineup. As safe and welcoming in reality as it sounded on paper, the festival genuinely was a sanctuary for families of all ages, and even though alcohol was widely available, there wasn’t the slightest whiff of any booze-fuelled trouble.

If only it lasted longer than three days! On the upside, ‘early bird’ tickets for Deer Shed Festival 8 will soon be available…

(Steve Rudd)


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