‘Boomtown with kids? That’s gonna be messy!’ This was the general response when I told friends and family (e.g. my stepson Isaac, age 22) that I was taking the little lads to Boomtown Fair. Even my husband looked at me funny — ‘isn’t that meant to be quite grown-up’?
Actually, Boomtown Fair began as a children’s festival, with Kidz Town and the family-friendly Whistlers Green zone making up the original site. Over the years, it’s mushroomed into something bigger, bolder and more outrageous.
The Boomtown Fair legend is an unfolding story with a developing cast of characters, and this summer marked Chapter 10!
I was excited to be an Official Blogger** at Boomtown Fair, having read a handful of glowing reviews — specifically by children. Katherine, the fantastic PR officer, told me her kids would live there if they could. My babes have outgrown their early favourite, Just So Festival. And while Camp Bestival remains the family festival to beat, we were ready to try something a little wilder.
Getting to Boomtown Fair
It’s only an hour from London by train to Winchester, then a short shuttle bus or taxi ride to the site. Getting through the gates was a bit of a faff… but, after much trekking (and a small glitch with the barcode scanner), we were in!
We camped in Boomtown Springs, their new theatrical zone, curated by Bearded Kitten. Here you could pitch your tent or book pre-pitched options, and there was a bar and a couple of food stalls, along with nightly discos in the ‘Mansion’ and daily shenanigans by the ‘pool’.
The babes (and mama) squealed with delight when we unzipped our luxury bell tent. After 6 years of camping festivals, this was our first time ‘glamping’ and so worth the treat.
Sleeping under duvets, on a real mattress (not a deflated air bed) was bliss.
We had a disco nap before heading out to explore. Our entry point was Tangled Roots, a throbbing dub/reggae/dancehall mash-up in the woods. Coming out at the hilltop and looking down at the sprawling Boomtown site, the boys and I held our breaths in awe. ‘Woah, this is a BIG festival,’ Jed said (Boomtown welcomes around 65k visitors annually).
The Boomtown Scene
‘Are those real clouds?’ Ezra asked, pointing at the pillowy backdrop. That’s how high we were standing. It’s a stunning view, and that’s before you get deep into the alternate reality of Boomtown’s neighbourhoods.
The festival has 12 ‘districts’, each with its own theme and musical style. From hip hop and grime, to thrash rock, there’s something for all. Kids under 12 aren’t allowed in the ‘Downtown’ areas after 8pm (Ezra felt very cool that he was old enough), so we took a sneak peek before our curfew.
As I stood gawping at the spectacular Bang Hai Towers, my phone went missing. Aaaarrgh… freak out! Then, half an hour later, like magic, one of the attendants produced my phone. Some lovely soul had handed it in. Top points for Boomtown… and human decency!
Boomtown Fair has a raucous reputation, and sure, ‘Downtown’ gets pretty intense after hours. But everyone we interacted with was supremely chilled and lovely, and having the best time. Most were regular Boomers — ‘I’ve been coming for 5 years and I still feel lucky to be here,’ said one.
Our major challenge was the dodgy weather (after weeks of glorious heat — gee thanks, Thor/Shango). A forecast of intermittent showers on Friday turned into torrential downpours, messing up our plans to rave with Big Fish Little Fish in Kidz Town. We huddled under trees in Tangled Roots, nodding our rain hoods to the thud-thud of the sound system. Rain and mud also stopped us from making it to Idris Elba’s DJ set (boo!). When the sun peeped out, we were ‘hands in the air’ raving with the 24hr Garage Girls.
Boomtown Fair: A Musical MashUp
The line-up at Boomtown was mental: around 500 acts, mostly local Bristol or global underground, among names like Limp Bizkit, Die Antwoord, Ghetts, Amadou and Mariam, Bilal, Benin City, Billy Bragg and Jimmy Cliff. It was great to discover bands like the charismatic Royal Sounds jamming in Hidden Woods, one of our favourite areas. Grooving to Soul II Soul in the Town Centre was another festival highlight.
Gorillaz was the Saturday headliner, the biggest band to appear in Boomtown Fair history. The Babe Papa drove up from London that evening and we headed to the Lion’s Den stage, hoping to catch Damon Albarn and friends. But the festival field was RAMMED (about 10 trillion people, it seemed) and we couldn’t get close enough to a big screen, let alone the stage!
Luckily Abiye and I had seen Gorillaz before, so we decided to have an adventure in the city instead. In the Old Town, we lounged in the People’s Front Room, listening to a brilliant vocalist and alt jazz band. Old Town really comes alive at night with roaming actors, buskers, and immersive fun. We were blown away by the sheer scale and creativity of Boomtown Fair — and the commitment to hard-core partying, rain or shine!
We also enjoyed some great (but pricy!) food like yummy noodles from that Pad Thai Guy and amazing beef ribs at Nomad Caravan. Shout out to Bayo at Flavors of Africa, on a mission to bring Nigerian food to the masses.
Boomtown with Kids
Is Boomtown family friendly? Definitely, although you have to pick your moments. It’s not as kid-focused as Camp Bestival, but neither is it as insane as some people claim. Kidz Town is the spot for younger ones (best for ages 10 and under), with puppetry and pizza workshops, treetop adventures, pop-up cinema, Kidz Town radio, and mini music stage.
Kids could set up a ‘piggy bank account’ and write a postcard to give to a stranger — such a sweet touch.
If it’s your first time at a family festival, than you might feel bewildered, as Boomtown is just so HUGE. We were camped on the opposite end of the festival and, for the first couple of days, we only spotted a handful of parents with young children. However, with the Family Camping fields right next to Kidz Town, you could actually enjoy Boomtown Fair’s family elements as a sort of ‘festival within a festival’.
Top tip: plan ahead, manage your expectations, and come with another up-for-it adult. You can alternate for the best of both worlds — intimate family fun in Kidz Town and Whistler’s Green, then total mayhem Downtown after dark!
Boomtown sort of reminds me of Notting Hill Carnival. You’re either the type of person that thinks it’s too loud, dangerous, and would never dream of bringing children. Or you thrive on the colour and the chaos and the spectacle, and happily take your kids year after year.
Babes about Town loves Carnival and we had a blast at Boomtown Fair. Especially when the carnival came out to play.
Boomtown Fair is at Matterley Estate, Hampshire, SO21 1HW (Winchester rail). Recommended travel by coach (National Express), train or car share. Kids ages 12 and under go FREE, but require a ticket. Keep an eye on the festival website for EARLY BIRD TICKETS for Chapter 11.
WATCH THE OFFICIAL BOOMTOWN CHAPTER 10 MOVIE!
**We were guests of Boomtown Fair and Boomtown Springs as members of the press, but covered our own travel and accommodation upgrades.
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