Big Feastival 2023: A feast for the ears and tastebuds in the Cotswolds
With festival season in full swing, it must be said that the UK is getting quite spoilt for choice. Though the range is wide, each has something special to help discern the best option, whether that’s a feel-good atmosphere, unmissable headliners or family activities for the enjoyment of both adults and little ones. For over a decade now, Alex James’s farm has provided the space for a feast for the ears and the tastebuds during the August bank holiday, and 2023’s rendition features not only a fun lineup on the music side, but also appetising menus for the gourmet seekers and newbies to the hospitality industry.
The weekend began with an upbeat injection of pop. The weather kept up to welcome Natalie Imbruglia, who was off to a bumpy start with a delayed arrival and missing instruments, but that’s when a musical host – i.e. James – comes in handy. He provided the tools, and while the time was lost, Natalie made up for it with an enthusiastic performance including Shiver and Torn, the latter’s vocals strongly supported by the crowd. With committed lyrics and low tunes, Baby Queen excited young attendees with the rhythm of Internet Religion and Raw Thoughts; Buzzkill, on the prosaic side with words delivering a strong message, turned into a resounding singalong.
The afternoon turned brighter and brighter with the flashy bangers of Jake Shears. His bombastic performance was soulfully enjoyable as he paced up and down the stage with the beat. Laura (by Scissor Sisters) was a fitting warmup song, providing the opportunity for him to take off his sequin jacket to reveal a shiny outfit. Last Man Dancing nicely transitioned into Don’t Feel Like Dancing – essentially a dance bonanza in full.
Donning flower-studded mics and sunglasses just as the day turned to night, The Vaccines’ enrapturing show was among the highlights. Justin Hayward-Young’s expressive movements manifested the mood in each and every one of their numbers, from the guitar-led Wreckin’ Bar to the smooth Wetsuit, and from bouncy Jump Off the Top to new single Heartbreak Kid. The band ramped up a gear with If You Wanna. A shining light in the now dark sky, headliner Sigrid pleased fans with her gleaming smile and comfort pop.
Before and in between the acts, festival goers enjoyed mouthwatering menus at the surrounding stalls. Some offerings were more “street food” than others, but all paid particular attention to their products and delicious combinations. The Cheese Hub was a must – a hub indeed for non-stop dance music. It was flanked by a 60-second steak counter (serving sirloin and sandwiches), and a cheese corner with cheese board featuring Blue Monday from Alex James’s very own pastures, as well as a selection of fries. Among other standouts were Anna Mae’s Mac n Cheese, DJ BBQ, Nanny Bill’s, Truffle Burger and Terroir Tapas, of many.
Beyond the main area, there was more to discover and savour. The Smokery invited revellers to whet their appetites with charcoaled courses from The Fire Pit, amid the sounds of the Sundown Saloon, where Dolly Parton fans would have found a treat. Over at The Exchange there were karaoke sessions, with famous and not-so-famous music bringing campers together. Another pulsating centre was the Village Green, with plenty of children’s activities, cooking workshops and more events. At the Wine Flyer Table Sessions it was possible to participate in short workshops (all free, but with booking required) with some household names of the UK restaurant scene. On Friday afternoon, Irish chef Anna Hough kicked off, sharing the techniques of layering flavours as attendees prepared an ever-useful vinaigrette. Over the weekend the tent hosted the likes of Asma Khan, Ching He Huang MBE and Lisa Goodwin-Allen. Right next to it, AO Big Kitchen was the multifunctional platform for demos, inaugurated on the first day by the very Alex James and family: the five teenage kids and their father prepared their home bhajis for guests Matt Parker and Katie Steckles, who, together with other science experts, had been roaming around, busily building a sundial and getting involved in talks – another interesting addition to this year’s edition.
Open countryside, exciting music and a galvanising food selection: Big Feastival makes for a varied combination in a gratifying end of the summer weekend.
Photos: Virginie Viche