Thursday afternoon. Phone buzzes. Urbanista.
“Two press passes to Boomtown tomorrow, can you cover it?”. The answer, of course, a resounding YES. Within a couple of hours and a few phonecalls, we were packed and ready for the rolling hills of the Matterley Estate. Turned for four days into the UK’s craziest city, the Winchester woodlands & valleys become a metropolis of colour, music and theatre, whose citizens are anything but run-of-the-mill. Think dreadlocks, disco-tits, painted faces, vintage chic & a sheer dismissal of anything normal.
The lineup boasts the absolute classics (Cypress Hill, The Specials, Toots & The Maytals, Arrested Development & The Original Blues Brothers), through to established modern acts (My Nu Leng, Monki, Newton Faulkner) and the lesser known (Binbag Wisdom, Hotsteppas, Cut Capers). Check the schedule and you’ll realize it would be impossible to write a review encompassing the breadth of what’s on offer.
More to the point, that’s not all Boomtown is about. It’s a 360 degree, 5-dimension, kaleidoscopic spectacle of music, art, theatre, spoken word and community. Plan to be at a stage for 4pm and you’ll have to wander through several districts, being distracted on the way by the likes of Shotgun Willies Whiskey Bar, the People’s Living Room (sofas, beanbags, intimate gigs) or whatever else this festival cobweb can throw your way.
We fell victim to Boomtown’s generous offerings on our way to catch Dub FX at the Windmill stage. Approached by a wild-west hooker, we were offered entry into a secret room for the price of some “moonshine or tobacco”. As the door opened, two cowboys with missing teeth grabbed and pulled us inside for an experience best defined as Sweeney Todd meets Brokeback Mountain.
“Why you boys a-lookin mighty fine. Get yo’selves in the chair. Big Willy’s ready for ya”. I’d paid the cigarette so it was me first. The cowboys pushed me into a leather barber chair, crept behind me and sniffed the back of my ears. Fortunately, he pulled out a charcoal crayon, not his penis, and drew me a fake moustache, monobrow and beard.
“Much better. Now let us take yo’ picture so we can touch ourselves later on. Make a face like you been fucked by a pig.”
Set free, unscathed save for slight mental trauma, we rushed to the Windmill Stage and caught the last half hour of Dub Fx. With the trademark loop pedal, beatboxing, and Mr Woodnote on the sax, the place was buzzing. A thousand odd bass enthusiasts skanking to the drum-beats of Ben Stanford. Towards the climax of the set, three ten year olds ran past with walky-talkies, allowed into the busier parts of the crowd by their parents, who kept in touch on partnered handsets. To our right another family watched over a group of toddlers, forming a human shield around the young’uns, informing those near to be careful. A perfect example of Boomtown; newfound freedoms, young and old, drunk and sober, and an Australian on a stage in Winchester calling out for a moment of respect for Africa, “the birthplace of music and dance”.
Over the course of the weekend we joined the 15,000 plus screaming the lyrics to Cypress Hill’s back catalogue, skanked to The Specials, soaked up the sun while Arrested Development provided perfect summer beats at The Town Hall. We danced in the Vamos tent to numerous DJs, including Dusky, Boyz Noize and a killer Sunday closing set by Joy Orbison, Ben UFO and Mr Scruff, going back to back and finishing the weekend in perfect carnival style.
Most nights, the main stages stop around 2am, but many smaller spaces splashed across each district stay on til 4 & 5. Don’t go to bed early, have a wander and find something to suit your taste, whether it’s a 12 piece jazz band, a tech-house DJ or a calm indie gig. During the days, most are found lazing at The Lions Den or up on Whistlers Green, reggae beats being shared while bodies recover before it all starts up again. Sunday, due to licensing, everything is off at midnight, but it’s by no means the end.
We went up to watch a bonfire and circus performers for an hour before heading back with new friends to a small den inside our campsite bar. A tiny Alice in Wonderland entrance door led into a small comfy chill-out zone where we could share drinks, smokes & conversation. When those tired and needing bed left, others would pop in. A myriad of accents, skin-tones, backgrounds and ages, joined together by the need for freedom from the mundane; a need for escape from the trivialities of the nine-to-five and the strange world that’s handed us Trump & Brexit. We’d only met that night, but we chatted as if lifelong friends. Can I remember names or where they were from? Of course not. Will I ever see them again? Probably not. But this is the magic of festivals, and specifically Boomtown: the pure, unadulterated fun with people you’ve bumped into on a whim and ended up spending some of the best minutes of your life. The bubble has burst for now, but next year, it will no doubt be back, bigger and better than ever before. See you there.