Hostile security gates, the entrance to a few acres of fortified space holding thousands. A hyper efficient, supersized beer tent selling watery cat piss lager. Food stands selling mean portions of overpriced food. Bright, incensed scented stalls flogging the same old alternative choices. Buzzing, fetid toilet areas and idiots throwing cups filled with dubious liquid over fans. For a price, this experience can be yours, packaged and thoughtfully logo’d by a corporate sponsor with a demographic to tap. I like music and I don’t mind a bit of mud, just not delivered like this. Perhaps it’s my age, but I am happy to pass by most music festivals.
Driving north up the A1 on the August Bank Holiday, passing by the Leeds festival is exactly what my family and I did. You see, we know a little secret. Tucked beneath the Howardian Hills north of York is the small and perfectly formed Galtres Festival.
My wife discovered Galtres a few years ago while looking up tour dates for the Bluetones. They were playing the festival and as it was over the bank holiday we decided get tickets and make a weekend of it. It was a curious, but enjoyable affair, more a happy marriage between village fete and beer festival than a music festival. Since our first visit the festival has grown and moved from the host village cricket ground to nearby fields. However, it has lost none of its friendly lo-fi charm so we keep going back.
You arrive down a country lane. Galtres has a security gate, you get a wrist band and amble through with a smile, no empowered officious pricks here. Hedges are preferred to high metal fences. You first enter the family area and in this case it genuinely is a family friendly area. Neither is it shoved off to one corner like the unwanted relative at a family party, it is a vital part of the festival ground and our girls loved it. Naturally they had their faces painted and the story telling kept them quiet. There was also jousting, falconry and various craft and music activities, more than enough to keep them entertained. I learned how to make a balloon dog, as a handy trick that I’m hoping will see me through a few years of children’s parties.
Further down you get to the beer tent. Galtres started as a beer festival with music, now it is a music festival with beer and being Yorkshire this is a tradition treated with some serious respect. There were a several dozen local ales ranging from porters to blondes and if the tasting notes were not enough to guide you, the serving staff were knowledgeable and happy to let you taste. Best of all, you get to drink from and keep a real pint glass, no flimsy plastic beakers here. You can drink cider and wine too, but if Tuborg and Carlsberg is more your thing you will be disappointed.
This is a festival which gives back to the local economy. The food is mostly good fare and is locally produced and supplied. Sponsorship is by local business, the event is mercifully free of phone and energy drink company hoardings. A share of the profits, not sure how much, is donated to local charities.
Although a relatively small festival Galtres consistently pulls in well known acts as well as supporting good regional talent. There was plenty to entertain this year, I just wish I had had the energy to head back for some of the later sets, but I guess that is the compromise we make in taking the girls.
I am a sucker for a fast fiddle so highlights for me included folk combo Sarah Horn & James Cudworth (sorry to have missed their Aelfen set) and Seth Lakeman. I had a little shuffle along with my youngest daughter to an acoustic set by gypsy/jazz/swing band Manière des Bohémiens. It was great for her to see the musicians playing close up. What I saw of Ash was good and loud, but it is hard to jump around when you’re carrying a sleeping 2 year old on your back!
Billy Bragg was the last act we saw. He promised us a reflective set and opened with The Space Race is Over, a tribute to the late Neil Armstrong. Between anecdotes, songs and occasional heckler rebuttals it was a winning performance and whatever the crowds politics, by the end of A New England everyone was singing along. A good note to end on. Kept it up Galtres!
Finally, this is a cycling blog and I always have half an eye open for riding opportunities. The Howardian Hills look like some good rolling cycling country so hopefully next year I might sneak up my bike to blow away a few early morning festival blues.