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It’s not that common for me to really enjoy something but never want to do it again.
But that was the impression that I came away with after attending Wild Fields, one of the UK’s only music festivals to take place in 2020.
Held at Norwich’s Norfolk Showgrounds, Wild Fields was a two day (I attended just one of them) ‘socially distanced’ festival held this September. There was no camping, no big queues for the toilets (in fact the toilets were a permanent bricks and mortar toilet block on site) and no big-name headliners to pull in huge crowds. In fact the crowd was conspicuous by its absence – the event only looked half full at best. But for the several hundred people who attended it gave them the opportunity to at least a chance of watching live music outside on a decent sized stage with a good quality sound system once in 2020.
Wild Fields was very well organised. Each group of punters (a maximum of 6) purchased tickets for their own ‘pod’ – an area marked out by rope barriers measuring approximately 3m x 3m. Surrounding each pod was a gridded walkway system approximately 1.5m wide, ensuring that each group was able to keep at least 2m apart. Within each pod was a table and some bench seating, although you could bring your own chairs.
There was no requirement to remain seated, but you had to remain in your pod unless you were going to the bars, for food or the toilets. Many punters did remain on their bums though until later in the evening, giving the place the atmosphere of watching bands in a pub garden rather than a typical festival. As Lauran Hibberd commented from stage: “This reminds me of my uncle’s 50th birthday”.
There was certainly an element of novelty to proceedings and perhaps everybody had to try that little bit harder to make it seem anything less than odd – but for those of us who hadn’t seen a band since March it was a welcome relief to just be doing this again. "We haven't done this for a while," became almost the standard band comment to the audience for the day.
Wild Fields was a very civilised event. The only moment of real rock n roll behaviour was when some somewhat drunken girls broke out of their pod and started dancing in the aisles, but they are reasonably quickly escorted back to their area by security. There was no crowd surfing or getting on shoulders. By just after 9.30pm a hot chocolate seemed like the most appropriate drink.
In terms of music half the day was made up of local bands of various quality – my favourite being Mega Emotion in their smocks and flower hair bands playing what I can best describe as out there indie electronica with treble drumming. But it wasn’t until evening though that the quality rose up a notch.
Another Sky provided the undoubted highlight. They might have been second from top on the bill but they played like headliners. Widescreen, cinematic, full of quiet tenderness and cacophonous noise their songs delivered goosebump after goosebump. They were the one band of the day that managed to fill the (socially distant) space. Technical problems spoilt Gengahr’s slot meaning that they started 20 minutes late and had to cut their set short just as they were finding their flow. They threw in a surprise cover of Underworld and managed to get people grooving a little but it felt a little too late. The hot chocolate had more appeal at that stage.
Earlier on in the day Lauran Hibberd amused everyone with her banter and threw out some new rough and ready indie guitar bops whilst Indoor Pets got some small groups bouncing as they invested what looked like a whole year’s energy into one show - but ultimately the lack of punters on the barrier and the spacing of the crowd did take something away from their performances.
Ultimately Wild Fields was a very well organised event, and as good as it could be – but whilst social distancing kept us safe, and everyone could see all the bands play without someone taller than them blocking their view, it meant the event lacked the human connection we all want from live music, particularly festivals.
Let’s hope that in 2021 we can all be shoulder to shoulder on the barrier together again.