Beatherder 2019: Shepherding in The Party

A festival where every elongated corner continues to surprise you with a secret tunnel entrance to another undiscovered land of the Beatherder universe. Taking you more and more into the immersive and carnivalesque experience that Beatherder becomes.

The festival was originally founded in Toil Trees as a free party of a humble 1,500 people by a group of friends who went to school together. Now it has become the soulful 12,000 capacity festival we see today and is still run by the same group of friends. There is a real appreciation for the growth of the festival by the crowd, as well as from the artists who perform here. Toil Trees saw the likes of Disco funk legends like Purple Dance Machine to more house inspired artists like Hannah Wants. The festival is full of loyal regulars creating a real atmosphere of family, a pretty wild family at that. It is a festival where you do not stop exploring or wondering, either to the fire breathing pit that is amongst a fortress full of corrugated metal and house heads, or down to the Working Men’s Club. At Beatherder it is okay to be lost because there will always be a stray party shepherd to herd you up and welcome you. In our case this year it was all shepherds were dressed up as rainbows due to Saturdays theme being the letter R.

My very first sighting was the Beatherder main stage, embellished with an array of groovy butterflies and flowers which saw legendary names like Groove Armada and Basement Jaxx perform over the weekend. The first act we saw on Friday evening was The Dub Pistol, who have been regulars on the British festival circuit since 1996 with their fusion of dub, big beat and alternative hip hop. The bowtie wearing party legends have been involved with Beatherder since 2009 and were the perfect way to start off the sun-blessed Friday with their own cover of The Specials Gangsters. The crowd was, I thought, small at first but eventually grew into a larger energetic pool of dancers who were yet to be tarnished by the Saturday hangover. Barry Ashworth even leapt off the stage multiple times during the set to break through to the raised arms of his loyal fans shouting the lyrics to Mucky weekend, of which I was of course one of.

One of the most unique elements of Beatherder is the metropolis of whacky stages, although some are difficult to find they are well worth the exploration- that is if you still have the capacity after one too many Lemon Hooches. There is the underground tunnel through the broken wooden door of the forge offering a mini selection pack of what I can only describe as areas for every type of mood. You could, for example, visit the washing machine themed stage ‘The Laundrette’ if you’re particularly missing your laundry cleaning facilities. As well as this if you would like to see how many twigs are in your hair after rolling around in the lit-up fairyland of the Toil Trees, you can stumble into the room of mirrors- a somewhat more glamorous dance area of the tunnel.

Our favourite stage hidden away gem was the light-up floor disco haven that was Julies Barn. Covered in various antique ornaments the music varied heavily from gold glittery disco to gabba remixes of the Lion King. The stage was small but continued on until the moon eventually had to call it a night and let the sun take over. We did too eventually but not before going to the smoky realm of Smokey Tentacles to desperately purchase rum, but eventually settling for chai tea.

I do wish I could say that I found the secret swimming pool, which would have been a perfect activity for the somewhat ropey Sunday morning when we were at our most fragile. We wandered helplessly through the tiny shops and broken cars of the garage stage area until eventually we found a small side door which blessed us with the Beatherder Sunday service. We found ourselves stumbling into the saviour of the parish Church to sing along to the medicinal eighties classics of artists like Queen and Madonna along with the live choir ravers. The packed out crowd voices sang along to Bohemian Rhapsody religiously, Confetti was flying and our souls were restored.

On Sunday night we were treated to fireworks and from one sparkly display to the next we had the glorious Sister Sledge performing head to toe in rhinestones. After their set, we were able to catch up with them for a few minutes. While wearing the most fabulous rhinestone boots I personally have ever seen they expressed their love of the Beatherder crowd and the UK crowd in general. ‘We love it! It’s great, oh my goodness amazing, that crowd is lit.’ ‘The UK crowd, you get the feeling that this is just more than a concert with the UK crowd, I mean there’s so much passion and so much joy and energy just whoosh it’s just powerful. The US crowd are very happy, but this is serious fun’.

We could see the love between the family who sung every note angelically and in perfect harmony. Debbie Sledge was joined by her daughter Camille Sledge, who expressed the high emotion felt onstage during their performance of their fellow family members. ‘People started going so wild when Thaddeus was singing his moms song, that almost made me cry because I think everybody understood and appreciated that moment. I’m my mom’s biggest fan. I love singing with her it’s my dream and she is such a good teacher, mentor’. Debbies daughter began singing with her mother at an early age ‘when she was tall enough,’ and after much performing in ‘church choirs and kitchen tables’ she took initiative to perform alongside her mother as well as being the main singer of the sixteen-piece band Phoenix Afro Beat Orchestra AND running her own hip hop school. We also met Tanya who has been performing in the band since 2012 and was left in a chorus of ‘Tanya is amazing’, you heard it hear first.

We asked how they felt about how disco has changed since 1971 when they first began. They clearly expressed their appreciation of disco and when asked what they think of its ever-growing evolution stated ‘I think there’s a real appreciation now when you look back at these artists, the music, first of all, was so great and now your appreciating it, I see more appreciation for it, its totally different from the music today there’s great music today but that music just stays with you’.

There was something very prominent within the last few minutes of sister sledge performance, after dancing hysterically to ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer’ by what can I only described as an equally hysteric fan onstage wearing a sequin jacket, and hugging everyone in near sight to ‘We Are Family’ everyone’s hands shot up to wave in unison as they sung to us to choose love. We saw love being expressed onstage between the sledge family, between the crowd and of course for Beatherder.

You can get your tickets for next year’s mysterious adventure here!

Header Image and all watermarked images by Festival, other images by author.