Thousands celebrate joyful return of Oxfordshire’s Wilderness Festival

AFTER a year of cancellations and postponements, Oxfordshire’s festival scene is back on track this weekend with the return of the county’s most colourful music event – Wilderness Festival. The three day feast of music, dancing, theatre, literature, country pursuits and food got properly underway yesterday at its site at Cornbury Park, near Charlbury, with thousands of revellers arriving. Covid restrictions are necessarily tight.

After a year-and-a-half of cancellations and postponements, news that the glamorous, three-day, high-end festival was to go ahead was warmly welcomed by fans of the event and the music and events industries which have been among the hardest hit sectors through the pandemic. The festival, which prides itself more on ‘experiences’ and the thrill of discovery than blockbuster headline acts, features a mixed line-up of music, banquets catered by top chefs, spoken word performances by surprise guests, and activities such as wild swimming, boating, foraging and running among the lakes and woodlands of the Cornbury estate – a vestige of the ancient Wychwood Forest.

Headline sets come from rapper Loyle Carner and live drum & bass act Rudimental, who follow last night’s star Jamie XX. The festival follows last weekend’s successful Latitude Festival in Suffolk, and precedes The Big Feastival, held on Blur bassist Alex James’s farm in Kingham, near Chipping Norton, and Reading Festival, both on the August Bank Holiday weekend. Virtually every other Oxfordshire festival this summer was forced to cancel.

They included Truck Festival, in Steventon; Cornbury, in Great Tew, Riverside, in Charlbury, Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, near Banbury, and Oxford’s Cowley Road Carnival. Rory Bett, chief of organiser Mama Festivals and VIP Nation Europe, said: “We have been thrilled throw wide the gates to the stunning Cornbury Park Estate once more to a sold out show. “The response to this year’s line-up has been humbling, making the team even more determined to make this10th year of Wilderness, the very best yet.

“We have been hand in hand with the Chief Medical Officer and the Government in terms of what measures we will need to undertake to keep everyone safe.” Thousands celebrate joyful return of Oxfordshire's Wilderness Festival And he said the festival was the perfect opportunity to relax and finally come together in the Oxfordshire countryside.

He said: “We have endured a pandemic, we are mostly vaccinated, now it’s time for Wilderness and the rest of the live events industry to play our part in the process and deliver the social ‘antidote’ and bring us back together. “We are so excited about this year’s line up and cannot wait to see the amazing headliners and a host of incredible talent take to the Wilderness stage. Music of all genres, wellbeing of all styles, extraordinary dining in beautiful locations and world class street food, theatre, spoken word, dance, games, wild swimming, workshops and the stunning landscape of Cornbury awaits.”

Also on the bill are Kidlington reggae selector David Rodigan and his Outlook Orchestra, Irish dance music stars Bicep, London disco-funk duo Franc Moody, multi-instrumentalist Georgia, jazz talent Alfa Mist, Irish rockers Picture This, Americana artist Katy J Pearson, Holly Humberstone CMAT,Weird Milk and singer-songwriters Charlie Cunningham, Jodie Nicholson, Joseph Reuben and Lyra. Famed for its DJ sets, this year’s parties are presided over by funk and soul lover Craig Charles, Grammy-nominated house and techno DJ Nic Fanciulli, and Portuguese tropical jazz and soul DJ Mafalda. The bill also features sets by Worldwide FM DJ Luke Unabomber, London’s Dom Chung, The Blessed Madonna, Jayda G and Eats Everything.

Thousands celebrate joyful return of Oxfordshire's Wilderness Festival Rudimental The festival’s strong programme of intellectual pursuits and spoken word performances will continue, including a repeat of its popular Letters Live shows, which have previously hosted A-list stars Olivia Coleman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Kingsley and Russell Brand.

As previously, the line-up is kept a tightly kept secret. Also returning is its gastronomic line-up, with long table banquets, which this year have gone fully vegetarian and vegan with feasts cooked by Helen Graham, Robin Gill, Lee Westcott and wild food restaurant Native. A smaller Chef’s Table restaurant is catering for just 26 diners at a time in a venue overlooking one of Cornbury’s lakes.

Chefs include Michelin-starred Mei Mei founder and ex-Masterchef Elizabeth Haigh, Osip founder Merlin Labron-Johnson, and Brad Carter of Michelin-starred Carter’s of Moseley.

There will also be shows by the 47-piece Wilderness Orchestra, cabaret, comedy, an unusual Miss Wilderness event and talks and debates – with a line-up including His Dark Materials creator Philip Pullman in conversation with BBC producer John Lloyd.

Tickets have sold out.