Sunday 18 August 2013

Review: Just So Festival

I first found out about Just So Festival when Ebony was a couple of months old. I really wanted to take her that year, but Laurie thought she would be too young to enjoy it. This time, I wasn’t going to let him talk me out of it. I booked our tickets months in advance. We decided to get day tickets because camping seemed like too much of an investment. We don’t have a tent or any camping equipment, so we would have ended up spending a small fortune.

The festival programme looked amazing, and there seemed to be lots of things to entertain toddlers. The festival opened at 9am, but we decided to go later to allow Ebony to nap in the car. She fell asleep almost as soon as we set off, and slept the whole way there so was full of energy when we arrived.

We headed straight to Peekaboo, the area designed specifically with babies and toddlers in mind. We went into the tent to see Carla Henry telling a story. We’ve seen her perform before, at Manchester Museum, and she’s really good. She really engages with her audience and uses lots of different techniques to hold their attention. Singing, instruments, puppets and props are all introduced as the tale is told. I would definitely recommend going to one of her sessions if you can.

Ebony usually eats after her nap, so we decided to walk to the food area and see what was on offer. Most of the stalls seemed to have vegan options, and there was a good selection of food types available. As we were trying to decide what to order, it started to rain heavily. Luckily for Ebony, she had a waterproof mac and wellies to keep her dry. I had a bedraggled umbrella, and Laurie had a short sleeved shirt. There was an eating area set up in a barn, but it smelt of wet dog (because of the wet people, there were no dogs) so we didn’t stay in there long. We found somewhere to sit, and ate our lunch by the stage. The stage had bands performing throughout the day. Ebony LOVED a band called The BarrowBand. They had songs about fruit and vegetables, I wouldn’t say Ebony has the most sophisticated musical taste at this point.

After eating, and watching Ebony enthusiastically dance to a song about broccoli, we decided to walk around the festival site. The whole festival is so beautifully decorated, and there is whimsy and magic to be found around every corner. All I could think was, I bet the people who designed this festival had very beautiful weddings. The trees are filled with birdcages and lampshades, each area is themed and decorated accordingly, even the signage is beautiful. There are picture perfect photo opportunities to be found around every corner.

I took my camera out of my bag, ready to capture some of the magic, and discovered that I had forgotten the memory card. I was so disappointed to have to take crappy iPhone photos, because they really don’t do justice to the wonder and amazement of the festival, but I’m afraid they will have to do.

One of the absolute festival highlights was taking Ebony to see her first show. A friend had recommended “Shiny” a few weeks ago, but we were unable to go when it was in Manchester. I was thrilled to discover it would be on at Just So Festival, because it sounded amazing. Shiny is a show designed for children aged 0-2, and it was amazing. We arrived early because I was worried the tent would fill up, and it soon did. People were peering from the back of the entrance, desperate to get a glimpse at what was going on. I’m pretty sure we had the best seats in the house so I was glad we got there early. The only downside to being eager beavers, was that it gave Ebony plenty of time to be weird on the stage. At one point she was simply lying down on her back, right in the middle of the performance area, I have no idea why. 

All of the kids in the audience were captivated by the production. There was dancing, audience participation and plenty of shiny things to touch, and Ebony loved it. At one point, one of the actors gave Ebony a prop to hold, and Laurie and I both held our breath in anticipation of Ebony refusing to return it. Luckily, she handed it straight back and the disaster was avoided, but they really took a risk with that one. As the name suggests, there were lots of shiny props involved in the production. Ebony had been eyeing up a mirror the whole time, and when she finally got her hands on it, she looked ecstatic. It was such an amazing production, please go and see it if you can!

Another highlight was clay babies, in the Peekaboo area they had a clay tent. Ebony was able to have a go on the clay wheel, and it was so lovely to watch her getting stuck in. Yeah, it would have been an ugly vase, but she seemed to really enjoy playing with the clay and trying to get it into the right shape. I’d love to take her to try pottery again sometime, so will have to look into clay classes for toddlers.

As I said before, the whole festival is beautiful. There was a beach with buckets and spades, dens filled with cushions and a maze of hand made flowers to explore. Ebony didn’t get bored once, she was really engaged and enjoying the festival. There was a yurt for bedtime lullabies, so we walked there for some songs. Unfortunately the yurt was tiny, so there wasn’t enough room for us to squeeze in, but a few metres away there was some singing by a campfire so we went there instead. Ebony loved the singing and actions, and pointing at the fire saying “hot!”.

After the singing was finished, we went back to the food area to get some dinner. Ebony had some pasta, and we sat down in the barn to eat. After that, we went to the stage and watched some more music performed by live bands. Ebony was having fun dancing, until she tripped and hit her nose on a rock. After a bit of a cry, we decided to go for another explore to cheer her up.

We ended up at the Jitterbug tent, and Ebony wanted to go inside for the 70s disco. She was still dancing at 8:30pm. After busting her moves on the dance floor, rolling around on the grass outside, and watching in amazement as the lantern parade passed, we decided it was time to head home.We finally left the site at 9pm, and Ebony slept the whole way home, exhausted after her exciting day.

The festival doesn’t have any huge sponsors, and I’m assuming this is an ethical choice because the whole festival seems to be run in an ethically minded way. I absolutely loved the festival. It’s such a great way to introduce your child to the arts, and we’ll definitely be attending again next year.

Did you attend Just So Festival this year, what did you think?

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