This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. Learn more

Summer Festivals

Who to see this season

Summer Festivals

The time is 11pm and the warm, damp air lends comfort to the night. You have a pear cider in hand, wellies on your feet, and it’s by no means time to go to bed. So what should you do? Sit around some campfire embers throwing childhood taunts at your best mates? Make some instructive small talk with teenagers worse for wear on mushrooms? Or go and eke out the weird and wonderful in the lesser-known tents and fields? We know which option will make the better story — and so do you, although the hallucinogenic youths are, admittedly, a strong second. Here’s ShortList’s guide to alternative festivalling.


Seaclose Park, Newport, Isle Of Wight, 10–12 June

  • Life’s A Beach

This year’s festival will feature its very own urban beach, with deckchairs, beach huts and a full programme of holiday activities. At night, the rest and relaxation will turn into rock’n’roll with live music, DJs and fire jugglers.

  • The Hipshaker Lounge

Travel back to the days of the original Isle Of Wight Festival in this retro venue. Here, you’ll find DJs and live music paying tribute to the best of mod, ska, punk, indie, funk and soul.


Worthy Farm, Pilton, Somerset, 22–26 June

  • Strummerville

An area dedicated to the memory of The Clash frontman and Glastonbury fanatic Joe Strummer. Strummerville regularly provides modern musical treats around its legendary campfire. The line-up isn’t announced in advance, so you’ll need to check the chalkboard on the day, but it’s bound to be worth the trip: last year the likes of Frank Turner and The Drums turned up. Don’t forget to pay your respects at Strummer’s memorial stone on the way out.

  • Bourbon Street

While the techno heads party away in the sweaty dance tent, the more sophisticated gentlemen will make a late-night beeline for this homage to New Orleans’ famous entertainment strip. Organisers promise jazz and blues, and at least 20 of the world’s finest bourbons behind the bar. Beats a mug of dubious-looking tea any day.

  • Poetry & Words

The original festival poetry arena, this field has provided a spoken-word platform at Glastonbury for more than 20 years. Comic poet John Hegley is this year’s big name but wander in at any time and you’re bound to see something or someone interesting. Make sure you get a spot for the tent’s annual poetry slam, which has become an influential launchpad for new performers. A quality spot to relax after the hedonism of the dance tent. Or to escape the Stone Circle hippies.

  • The Wall Of Death

You’ll find all sorts of decadent delights in The Common, the Glastonbury area most likely to rival Shangri-La for all-round oddness. But pick of the bunch has to be old-school attraction The Wall Of Death, where riders on vintage Indian motorbikes risk everything by hurtling around what is, essentially, an overgrown salad bowl.


Balado, Kinross-shire, 8–10 July

  • Fairground

As with almost everything at T In The Park, its funfair is not for the faint-hearted. You can test your burger bloated stomach on the likes of the bomber and the bungee balls and there’s even a log flume, which should help you cool down in the unlikely event of the sun actually shining. And if you can’t face all that, the ferris wheel offers an amazing view of the festival carnage below.


Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk, 14–17 July

  • Never Mind The Buzzcocks

Missing TV while you’re camping? Well, here’s your chance to see the nation’s favourite pop quiz unfold before your eyes in the Comedy Arena. Regular captains Phill Jupitus and Noel Fielding will be there, along with guest host and Perrier Award-winning comedian David O’Doherty. As for the other panelists, well, they’ve got a great musical bill to choose them from.

  • Adam Buxton

Joe Cornish is probably over in Hollywood now, but the other half of BBC 6 Music’s award-winning radio duo will be keeping it real in Latitude’s Comedy Arena. There, Buxton will be showcasing a series of hand-picked internet comedy clips, interspersed with his own improvised brand of whimsical wit.

  • The Trip Q&A

Presented by Bafta no less, expect some amazing anecdotes when Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon hit the Film & Music Arena to discuss their roles as celebrity restaurant critics in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip. Plus, it will also give you the perfect excuse to re-enact Coogan’s “Gentlemen! To bed!” speech before retiring to your tent.

  • Stargazing Workshop

If Brian Cox whetted your appetite for the wonders of the universe, then go to the Curious Directive’s group star spotting sessions at the Waterfront Stage. Local astronomer Professor Martin Hendry will point out the constellations, allowing you to then talk about “a truly cosmic experience” without sounding like an old hippy.


Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, 21–24 July

  • The Pagoda

In the shadow of the site’s Peter Foster-designed pagoda, you’ll find the UK festival circuit’s most unusual club. Not because of the top-secret guest DJs likely to feature, although they’re always worth a look (last year the likes of Zero 7 and Annie Mac turned up), but because of the dancefloor, which is actually floating in the lake. A word of caution: it may be best to lay off the Pimm’s before busting out your best moves…

  • The Guild

The place to be if you’re looking for intellectual stimulation over the weekend. You’ll find discussions on everything from philosophy to conspiracy theories, with speakers including Ben Goldacre, The Guardian’s Bad Science columnist, and Miles Hilton-Barber, the man who hauled a sledge across Antarctica, despite being blind. Which will put your trek back to camp into some sort of perspective.

  • The Feast Of Fools

Most British funfairs involve paying astronomical prices to win some cheap plastic tat on the hook-a-duck stall while a bloke with tattoos chats up your girlfriend on the dodgems. But the SGP’s Feast Of Fools promises more of a vintage, old-school mood (think the travelling circus in Heroes), complete with Victorian fairground attractions, snake oil salesmen and tarot card readers.

  • The Never Ever Land Theatre

School theatre trips were never like this. The SGP features a mix of drama and cabaret this year, with the most intriguing event the Tax Deductible Theatre Company’s Sh*tfaced Shakespeare. This involves a potted version of one of the Bard’s great works, with the audience invited to speculate as to which cast member hit the bottle before the performance.


Hylands Park, Chelmsford, Essex/ Weston Park, Staffordshire, 20–21 August

  • The mansion

Had enough of being cut off from the real world yet? Then Virgin Media’s hi-tech haven will re-connect you with modern life via multiple laptop stations, super-fast Wi-Fi, gaming and DJ sets. And, if you don’t want to miss any bands, the site has been cabled so you should be able to access Wi-Fi even from the heart of the moshpit…

  • V-Style Camping

If your tent was last used for camping in your back garden when you were 10, then this year’s V Festival gives you the option to upgrade. You can choose accommodation from beach hut-style ‘pod pads’ to luxury teepees or even gypsy-style caravans and, yes, there are hot showers and clean toilets.


Eastnor Castle, Deer Park, Herefordshire, 4–7 August

  • The Bullitts

Normally, the only glimpse you get of film stars at a festival is when they stand at the side of the stage to watch their rock-star boyfriend’s set. But Lucy Liu — yes, her out of Kill Bill: Vol 1 — will actually be performing on the

  • Deer Park Stage

This is no vanity project — Liu will feature alongside Jay-Z protégé Jay Electronica as part of acclaimed producer Jeymes Samuel’s audio-visual project The Bullitts.

  • Electric Hotel

Hi-tech performance art comes to the Chill this year courtesy of acclaimed theatre group Fuel’s Electric Hotel production. The audience will sit around a purpose-built ‘hotel’ structure, watching the occupants through the floor-to-ceiling windows and listening in via headphones, as the story unfolds through dance and sound.

  • The White

Rabbit Lounge Expect a wealth of psychedelia at this new stage for the 2011 festival, produced by Glenn Max, who previously curated the Meltdown and Ether festivals. He promises a consciousness-scrambling mix of live bands, DJs and mind-expanding speakers and, yes, beanbags are provided.

  • The Big Chill Arts Trail

Details of this year’s art programme are still being finalised but, if it’s anything like previous editions, you can expect cultural stimulation on a grand scale. Last year’s Big Chill featured everything from a towering jelly fruit pyramid to a live ‘nude landscape’ from artist Spencer Tunick.


Richfield Avenue, Reading/Bramham Park, Leeds, 26–28 August

  • Tim Minchin

With recent projects ranging from writing a musical for the Royal Shakespeare Company, to touring with a 55 piece orchestra, anything could happen with Minchin — but it will almost certainly be funny.

  • Henry Rollins

As a speaker, Rollins brings plenty of his intensity to his combination of politics and personal philosophy but is also, rather surprisingly, laugh-out-loud funny. Just don’t shout out requests for any Black Flag songs.

  • Saul Williams

Rap hasn’t always gone down well at Reading (hence 50 Cent getting bottled off a few years back), but Williams has the credentials to make his blend of hip-hop and poetry an Alternative Stage hit. The likes of De La Soul rate him highly, so expect conscious politics rather than gangsta posturing. Take note, Fiddy.

  • Popcorn Comedy

Holly Walsh and Jon Petrie’s pioneering comedy showcase features live comedy and amusing videos. Acts are still to be confirmed, but Peter Serafinowicz and Graham Linehan have been past guests.


Robin Hill, Isle Of Wight, 8–11 September

  • Wishing Tree Field

Featuring the world’s smallest bar, crazy sculptures by Block 9 and the Swamp Shack — a Louisiana voodoo joint, with music and far-out performances.

  • Boom Boom Club

Compere Dusty Limits will introduce acts such as striptease unicyclist Count Adriano Fettucini, fire perfomer and showgirl Kitty Bang Bang and ‘chav-burlesque’ pioneer Kiki Kaboom.

  • Blackout Gigs

Celebrated acts will play in complete darkness at the Countryside Centre. The acts won’t be revealed, so unless you’re au fait with the riffing techniques of every guitarist this side of 1970, you’ll leave none the wiser.

  • The Ambient Forest

David Lynch! Well, not really, but his foundation has curated some of the spoken word acts performing here alongside leftfield musical stars — we’re hoping for backwards-talking dwarfs and rabbits with a penchant for domestic violence.

(Image: Rex Features)