Festivals are full of it: politics, the 'green scene', arts community, creativity, music, magic and mayhem.
Watching the more recent growth of this cultural phenomenon in the UK makes for interesting viewing for someone who's been in the mix, working at and attending festivals for decades.
One of the latest is Black Deer, a festival launched last year in 2018 at a time when the UK festival scene, already overloaded, was reaching critical mass. Surely only the foolish or foolhardy would be so bold. Either way, it requires a lot of work, not to mention, wonga.
Power of music
Co-founders Deborah Shilling and Gill Tee are guil-ty (geddit, sorry couldn't help it) only of creating an event borne from musical passion and a great sense of community.
Unsurprisingly they bring a wealth of experience in working with top Americana musicians and are immersed in the related counter culture and heritage, a refreshing core element of the fest. The festival's umpteen gushing reviews helped authenticate the event and its impact, especially for a first fest.
Shilling and Tee's commitment to community, alongside the expressive power of music, shone through with a range of good old- and new-fashioned Americana - an almost indefinable genre encompassing bluegrass, blues, folk, rock, acoustic, electric, gospel, and country music ephemera and craft.
Basically old school 'cowboy stuff', all in a field in Kent. That's UK, not Ohio, USA.
Ensuring well-being was a crucial component. Celebrating and supporting the local community seemingly at its heart, a particularly positive partnership is with SupaJam, an organisation giving disadvantaged kids another chance at education through music.
The students are responsible for everything from booking bands to stage management. They're equipped with much needed skills for when they leave school or college.
'Black Deer' provided students with an all too rare educational experience, by giving vulnerable and disadvantaged young adults their own music platform to manage. The 'SupaJam Stage' is where students are responsible for everything, from set design, curating and managing talent.
It featured daily performances from some of the best emerging and established Americana music acts. The stage was an unmissable chance for young adults to participate and possibly 'find their passion'. It only helps that renowned 'old school' veterans of the industry such as Bob Harris OBE, is a guiding light with his Under The Apple Tree Sessions.
Black Deer Scholarship
SupaJam co-founders David Court and Nick Stilwell consequently set up the 'Black Deer Scholarship', funding one student’s education for a year.
People who are no longer eligible for government funding - if above 19 years of age and without an Educational Health Care Plan - but who desperately want to finish their full Diploma course, have a chance to complete their education, something that Black Deer and SupaJam will collaboratively look to sustain for years to come.
Court said: “Black Deer Festival was incredible. The students had such a great time and it really helped some of them realise what they want to do as future careers which is just fantastic.”
They also raised donations of £4183.20 at the festival to aid young and old. Eridge Park Estate’s nominated charity, Rotherfield St. Martin, is a community-led and award-winning charity supporting older people to prevent social isolation and loneliness in Rotherfield’s rural community. The charity was a key partner for Black Deer’s 2018 festival, SEMM (SupaJam Education in Music and Media).
Count me in for some outlawing, even if this is a nostalgic, temporary antidote to urban living.
The weekend is a chance to 'escape' and participate. The festive sported story-telling from cultural pioneers, bespoke custom motorcycle showcases, chef master-classes, tailored kids activities, including arts and crafts, sing-along guitar lessons, face painting and dressing up tents.
At the 'Outpost' children can meet the likes of JC and his crew of cowboys, and have a go at lasso practice, horseshoe pitching, camp-fire sing-alongs. Move over kids....
The mechanical bull, friendly wild revelry and 'adult' axe throwing area are just a few activities to bring out the worst in the best of us. Surely a fantastic alternative stress-buster for those who cant handle 'mindfulness'. Watching the wild side in all ages manifest unabashed is always life affirming.
It is this element that encapsulates the essence of the fest. In combination with truly quality performers spanning an almighty genre, the event accomplished a monumental music task successfully and wholeheartedly.
Among several stand-out musicians were the Treetop Flyers (SupaJam) and Sonic Gypsy at the 'Roadhouse'. But it was Fantastic Negrito whose outstanding performance and musicianship, delivered a unique, inclusive and provocative set. The site was super organised, accommodating and retained a 'family friendly' feel and easy-going atmosphere.
For UK fans of Americana, it's unmissable, accessible, and an alternative to visiting the States. Black Deer is authentic Americana, lock stock and barrel, attitude and mood. Safe for kids and adults alike.
Co-founder Gill Tee dedicated the Haley’s Bar stage to her musician brother, tragically killed aged 19. It seems the empathy, nostalgia and care that runs through the festival is sincere and for a first year, all told, it's certainly made its mark.
Wendyrosie Scott is an anthropologist and journalist focusing on design and creative communities. She looks at the positive partnerships between lifestyle trends & the natural world.
Black Deer Fest took place in June 2019. Early Bird tickets for 2020 are now available to purchase.