Boomtown Fair: a garden of other-worldly delights

Boomtown Fair overloads the senses with theatre tricks and musical delights of all kinds.

12 months agoText by


Boomtown has grown into a city. We know this one always has a buffet of things to see and do and explore – but at this year’s event, they took it to a new level. Nine districts – each with their own their own theme, as usual, hoards of fancy-dress-clad nutters (as usual), a massive 25 main stages and 80 more intimate street venues. There’s so much to get involved with you can’t help but feel like you’re constantly missing out on something somewhere else.

With so many acts playing this year, the crowds were manageable, so everyone had their own little skank space – a prerequisite for happy festival-goers. Hip-hop pioneers Cypress Hill kicked off the first of the headline acts on Friday to thousands of dancers at the formidable Lion’s Den stage. The vibe was universally happy. The Specials didn’t quite hit the mark the following night with a less enthusiastic crowd – but still got everyone singing along to classic hits like the well-loved Ghost Town.

Boomtown is chock a block full of music legends and genre pioneers like Ziggy Marley, Dawn Penn, Toots & the Maytals and the Sugar Hill Gang, but the real charm of the place is encountering smaller acts that often have some bizarre and brilliant musical creation to bring to the table. Like Blue Town Rumble for example, who gave us an interesting mix soul/funk/rock/ska/psych with lyrics echoing the climate among young people today. Then there was the nine-piece Ska ‘n’ Soul band The Meow Meows who had visitors to Chinatown dancing wildly.

As you move into Downtown, the bass gets duttier, with 24 Hour Garage Girls pumping out 90s bangers and the Tangled Roots Forest (great name right?) booming on a GIANT sound system. Though Gold Dubs did have to request that enthusiastic bass heads in the crowd unburied themselves from the speakers and turned to face him, the performer. He left a few disgruntled ravers much to the amusement of everyone else. Once again the ever popular Hip-Hop stage Poco Loco was packed with a steady and committed stream of people waiting for acts like Ocean Wisdom and newcomer Loyle Carner to grace the stage. Boomtown organisers, please make this one bigger next year.

If there’s an act on the list that you like, Boomtown is like a living ‘you may also like’, which makes exploring the festival without a program just as if not more fun than planning the acts you want to see. But as we know by now, it’s not just about the music. This year was Chapter 9 ‘Behind the Mask’, with a storyline mirroring all-too-relevant political discontentment and society’s pursuit of happiness through the media. It’s a real thought provoker. Following on from last year’s theme ‘The Revolution Starts Now’, it focussed on the city’s governance being taken over by corporate giants Bang Hi Industries whose interests are financially orientated.

The thought that goes into these storylines is a real testament to the creative minds that thought up this brain baby. Over the weekend more and more banners popped up advertising next year’s plans for district development, much to the dismay of Boomtown residents who voiced their anguish in protest form – contesting the gentrification of their beloved Old Town. Though some street venues did welcome the plans to ‘Build a Brighter Future’. The ‘Inconvenience Store’ who stock everything you never wanted for example – looked forward to hiking up prices of low cut wellies and cups with holes in. The great thing at Boomtown is this sense of ‘anything is possible’. If you want to embrace your inner child, just approach a performer and ask ‘Do I know you, friend?’ and bam, you’re in on the game. If you want to take it further, dig and find out if they’re part of the underground revolution.

Whistler’s Green is a haven for those keen to escape any remnants of reality. Up the hill, there’s a whole different vibe and perhaps Boomtown’s best-kept secret. Embrace the random with workshops on blacksmithing to jewellery making, or take it in at Speakers Corner where fascinating talks are given on subjects like mental health, fracking and raving as rebellion. For us though the one that really stood out was by a woman named Wendy Teasdill, who was invited to talk about her daughter, Ellie Rowe, who died at Boomtown in 2013 after taking a lethal mix of alcohol and strong ketamine. Everyone listening was deeply moved hearing her family speak so openly about losing Ellie and warn on the risks of polydrug abuse. The raw account coupled with the introduction of The Loop, who offer trained drug counsellors to provide drug safety testing at each campsite, shows Boomtown’s dedication to drug awareness and harm reduction. These initiatives alongside numerous others like the Tent Disposable for refugees and refundable EcoBond ticket are a reaffirming indicator of the organisers’ will to stay on an ethical course.

Boomtown Fair is an immersive experience with attention to detail at every nook. It’s an attack on the senses for all the right reasons, and somewhere that every festival lover or inquisitive being belongs. Be warned, it’s near impossible to visit every venue, see every act and play a part in every mini story line… but we’re not saying you shouldn’t try.

Words Charlie Souter-Philips