Have you heard of the Just So Festival? We certainly hadn’t until we entered and won a competition to go! It must be one of the north’s best-kept secrets. In Just So’s own words…. “The festival provides a magical experience where art, music and literature are embedded and entwined in a beautiful and wonderous landscape” …. it is a weekend-long camping festival for families and we think it is fantastic!
Firstly, a disclaimer. We were at the festival from 2pm on Friday until 9pm on Sunday. During our time there, we were busy (but not rushed) doing various activities all day every day. And yet, I think we must have only seen around 15% of the entire offering! This is because there are so many different things going on all the time in the various ‘regions’ of the festival – you simply cannot see everything! The great thing is, if there are two things on at the same time that you want to see, there is usually a second or third performance some time over the weekend which ensures you do not miss out! Hence, this review is solely based on our experience as first-time festival-goers – we hope some of you find it useful. For info, we are a family with 3 children aged 4, 5 and 7.
Rather than describe every single thing we saw and did, below is a very brief list of the things we got up to (aside from cooking, eating and sleeping!), whilst also finding time to just sit down and relax! We describe some of our favourite parts later on.
- Friday: Arts Explorers Tent and Journal, Hand-drawn Photobooth, Stone Balancing, Stick-Writing, Playing a Musical Saw, Bullzinis’ Tightrope Show, Actiooon! Argot Theatre, Spellbound Forest – Campfire Stories and Bands, Jitterbug Retro Disco, The Marie Celestial.
- Saturday: Princess and the Pea, making fairy houses, Bureau de Change, Footlights (David Gibb), Abi Elphinstone Dreamsnatcher session, Two Parts Mischief launch, Bullzinis Tightrope Workshop, Paper Plane Making, Physics Experiments, Bullzinis Tightrope Show, Campfire Stories, Midnight Feast.
- Sunday: Explorer’s Tent, James Campbell Stand-Up Show, Museum of Curiosities, the Bubble Hour, Hula Hooping, Circus Skills, Tearoom, Footlights (Biscuithead and the Biscuit Badgers), more Bullzini Tightrope Show, more Actiooon! Argot Theatre, Campfire Songs and Stories.
Interviews – 10 Questions
Note, as well as all the activities listed above, as competition winners, we were afforded the opportunity to interview various performers, asking them our list of 10 questions – see how they fared by clicking their names!… Abi Elphinstone, Geoff Bird, Rowan Hoban, The Bullzinis, James Campbell.
Some of Our Highlights
- James Campbell – James writes children’s books (the ‘Boyface’ series), but also performs as a stand-up comedian for kids. He is fantastic. It was a brilliant experience to be in an outdoor woodland ‘theatre’ with masses of children and grown-ups alike laughing out loud – see the photo gallery below for evidence.
- The Bullzini Family Tightrope Show – this was a very entertaining session from the Bullzini husband and wife team, combining fun and skill on both a tight wire and a slack rope. Multiple sessions meant that we took the opportunity to see this more than once and our children signed up for a workshop to try their hand (or feet) on the wire!
- Biscuithead and the Biscuit Badgers – the Footlights stage featured bands aplenty all weekend. We made a point of seeing B&tBB’s as we have their first album. A surreal group with catchy tunes, comedy lyrics and audience participation – everyone was on their feet – especially to ‘song of the festival’ – “David Attenborough”!
- Actioon! Argot Theatre – this trio from Barcelona is very hard to explain, but hilarious to watch. They ‘drive’ around the festival site in their eccentric pedal-powered old car (a la the Anthill Mob), stopping here and there to shoot the latest ‘scene’ from their movie. The director barks orders at his Colin Farrell lookalike actor and crowds gather round. There is quite a bit of audience participation due to the various requirements eg cameraman, clapperboard guy, oh yeah, and the cast!
Our Photo Gallery
Below are just some of the snaps we took on our weekend…
Any Tips or Feedback?
I like reviews to be open and honest, rather than just gushing reams of compliments. However, it is very hard to find anything wrong with Just So! We’ve listed a few tips below, and then have tried to come up with some possible improvements in a perfect world:
- Buy a programme – often programmes are more of a ‘souvenir’, but the Just So programme is really useful. It details each performance clearly, with a helpful key (eg whether it is ‘noisy’ or ‘audience participation’). Perhaps the most useful part is the timetable section towards the back. You can simply read a time along the top of the page (eg Saturday 3pm) and then read down the page to see exactly what is going on in all the different areas of the festival. Very very handy.
- Gents – take a loo roll – the toilets are made up of a large number of portaloos along with two or three more ‘luxury’ temporary toilets, which were really good quality and were kept clean. The only downside to them (and it appears that this only applied to the Gents) seemed to be that the stocks weren’t replenished often enough and with so many visitors, this is quite an easy thing to fix. Hence, I would always ‘take your own roll’, which I’m sure many experienced campers do as a matter of course!
- Go with the flow – as the vast majority of things don’t need booking (and there are a lot of ‘drop-in’ activities), I think it’s worth pencilling in a few things that you’d like to go and see, but then just going with flow when you get there and simply going where the mood (or child) takes you!
- Take waterproof trousers or rug – it’s worth saying that whilst we were there, tropical thunderstorms rained down from early Saturday evening until Sunday morning, but this didn’t dampen our enjoyment or spirits, just our seats!
- Have a camping strategy – the car park is a good 5 minute walk from where you’ll be camped (which can seem longer when you’re carrying things!) Trolleys can be hired and there is a plentiful supply, so that is one option. What about if you are trying to carry a couple of inflatable double mattresses which use an electric pump from the car?! Either have a plan, or turn into a human yacht like I did! Also worth deciding what you are doing re food – ie cooking by the tent, or buying straight from stalls, or a combination – take everything you need.
- Explain “The Tribes” – It becomes clear very early on that there is a ‘tribal theme’ throughout the weekend. Many campers turn up with a fox tail sticking out of their trousers or some stag antlers on their head. These are clearly not first-timers. I’m still not completely sure how it works, but I think you just align yourself to a tribe (eg the Frogs, Owls, Foxes, Stags etc) and during the weekend, you may get rewarded for doing good things (eg even just handing in lost property) with a gold pebble – this means points for your team! There are also lots of other activities in which you can earn points, but as I say, I’m still not entirely sure how it all works. A full explanation in the programme would be useful.
- One or two more ‘convenience’ shops close to the camping areas would be great – selling eg bread, milk and general groceries.
- Slightly better signposting in the camping areas. It wasn’t totally clear where you were allowed to pitch your tent, and there were only a handful of stewards around.
- Having a ‘sandwich board-walker’ wandering around the site could be quite useful to announce upcoming performances in the various areas.
- Just So is advertised as a 3-day festival, and it goes on until quite late on Sunday (we didn’t leave the site until 9:30pm) – however, it isn’t totally clear whether you are allowed to stay over on the Sunday night as well. Given the number of tents still erect when we left, I presume you are allowed.
Whilst we have highlighted a few improvements above, please do only read these as the tiny minor niggles they are. We had an ABSOLUTELY AMAZING time at the Festival and we’d highly recommend you go if you have the spare cash. Whilst it is pricey (the weekend ticket for our family would have cost just over £400), it does represent great value for money and is such a unique weekend of family fun and escapism where you are completely free to do things at your own pace. The unforgettable experience of listening to amazing storytellers and musicians around a campfire in a magical wood is not something your kids can get at a softplay centre!
Early bird tickets can already be booked for 2016 here.
We’d like to sign off by giving a few thank yous –
- Michelle and the Book Elves at Guardians Childrens Books for running a competition enabling a family like ours to have the opportunity to go to the festival!
- Gemma and the Just So team for being so welcoming and helpful both before and during the festival
- All the performers who gave up precious time to allow Maelor to interview them – Abi E, Geoff B, Rowan H, Chris B, Phoebe B and James C – thank you all!
Did you go to the 2015 Just So Festival? Let us know you comments below – or if you have any questions about our experience, just ask!