FESTIVAL REVIEW - JUST SO FESTIVAL (Big Un meets Sorbet)

Benedict McManus (and Family)

Sometimes the glove just fits, while I was ready to review Glasto, Leeds/reading or even the Gladstone Beer Festival, having two small daughters, the Just So festival it was...let’s go!  

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Now in it’s 8th year the family focussed festival located just outside of Congleton Cheshire, promises imaginative, intimate one of a kind family festival and wonderland of world class literature, arts, theatre, dance, music, comedy and creative pursuits.  

We had a family weekend camping ticket and three of the four of us were pumped and eager to go. My wife was non plussed but I assured her it would be a dream. First thing I had to do was get a tent. A few successful Facebook posts/pleads later, I had bagged a gem (Cheers Lucy!) Car packed and kids adequately riding a sugar rush that I hoped would last till we got there, we set off ready for our adventure.  

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Skip forward what feels like an age, we finally arrive at the site. Great signage littered the country roads surrounding the festival but then disappears off the face of the earth when you get anywhere close. “This is all part of the fun”, I explain to the family 45 minutes later. For a festival that prides itself on the ‘clean energy revolution’ and carbon offsetting, we might as well have travelled here on a private learjet powered by golden eagle feathers!  

It wasn’t long before the tent was up and bedding out and in place. The sugar had subsided and was replaced by genuine excitement. The girls were desperate to get inside the festival.   Set in over a 4 acres of beautiful woodland in Rhode Hall in Cheshire. The site is transformed into a series of small stages, secluded tents, woodland walks and endless magical discoveries.   Possibly the best festival location I have seen and this was confirmed when I saw a few craft ale camper vans and champagne conversions.  

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I was worried that it would all just be for the kids in a schmaltzy way that perhaps I have been used to. Some spotty teenager in a well weathered Peppa Pig outfit breaking character to discuss love island, but no…..it was something far more interesting and there was something for everyone.  

It is here that I need to come clean, although I eat hummus and correct my kids when they misspell skeuwull (school), I listen to radio 4 and have been known to shop at Trentham, this was perhaps the most middleclass thing I have ever witnessed.  I need to get over myself here but when I overhear a twelve year old boy say “Mummy, Mummy. This sorbet is like a symphony in my mouth!” I start to question my very existence.  If I had to describe the Just So festival I would say think Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome meets the Good Life! This is no bad thing but I needed to have been more prepared.  Imagine if the world had come to an end and was beginning to be repopulated by wonderful people that valued the power of creativity but also were happy to pay £6 for a husk of corn.

This was all my beef and I soon forgot about it when I saw how excited my kids were. Free and safe to roam around site. Explore and direct where they would like us to go next, it was a wonderful freedom that I haven’t experienced in such a large public gathering and was hugely relaxing.  

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The whole festival is underpinned by the Tribal Tournament. This is a big deal. I mean a HUGE deal! Festival goers have the opportunity to side with one of the tribes, Foxes, Frogs, Owls, Fish, Stags, Lions or this year’s new tribe, the Bees. The site is split into it’s relevant tribes and each tribe has a leader that you will occasionally see roaming the site like some kind of Piscine deity with shoal of kids in tow. As a reward for getting involved, good behaviour, sorbet reviews etc you can be rewarded with ‘golden pebbles’. These in turn need to be handed to the tribe leaders and become part of a ‘hunger games’ style leaderboard. Upon entering the festival we were asked by the fish queen whose tribe we belong to, Eve answered “fish” and so it began.

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My failure to own a tent or pack a sleeping bag paled into insignificance when I saw some of the family costumes. Eve was asking why were weren’t dressed up as some of the other families and my response was simple.. I don’t have a degree in stage and theatre costume design or a budget of a small west end production of Cats! As wonderful it was to see such beautiful and detailed family of Fox costumes I can’t help thinking that these guys must have started making these last summer!  Having said this, when Eve recieved her first golden pebble I have never witnessed someone as excited and proud. This was then echoed in myself when later that evening she traded the pebble with a food vendor for a tent load of sweets! Who runs barter town?

The music over the weekend was eclectic, fun and bloody good! We saw folk, acoustic, indie and Bhangra Brass. There was a jelly fight with over 250 people. Talks, workshops and film screenings. Row boats and even a beach. There is literally something for everyone.  

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To conclude, even though my wife had to leave after the first night (work, not my snoring!) and my romantic vision of camping with two beautiful daughters was tested beyond belief, no sleep x slight hangover x constant whining x trying to pack down a tent for the first time = kill me with fire. We all had such a great time with loads of great memories. Look….We all know that I will be back next year, I will be dressed as an ‘end of level Boss’ fish and it will be the best festival I have ever been too.

Just So, I’m a changed man and I thank you. Pass the sorbet and go team FISH!