Review: Boomtown Fair

Sarah Fortescue 14 August 2012

Set in a secret location each year, 2012 saw Winchester host the annual spectacle of Boomtown Fair – the music and arts festival claiming to be ‘the UKs maddest city’.

Based on a fictitious urban city which has suffered multiple recessions, a hugely uneven distribution of wealth and several bouts of rioting (sound familiar?), the concept is remarkable. To implement a festival structure which reflects its creator’s bizarre vision of a troubled metropolis is an incredibly ambitious endeavour, and one which may not have been entirely successful.

The problem with executing a plan which was almost certainly conjured up while stoned is that it may not make much sense to anyone other than its creator. Reading the garbled ‘Town History’ section of its website, Boomtown apparently “fell into dystopian ruin; and became a society characterised by misery and oppression, disease and overcrowding.” Its recovery is questionable. Harbouring an exceptionally filthy crowd, Boomtown triumphed in attracting inhabitants which are perfectly cast for its dystopic vision.

At some stage during its ‘long’ history (in reality, the festival is only in its fourth year) significant funds were sporadically injected into certain areas of Boomtown, resulting in some of the quirkier venues on Mayfair Avenue such as Funkington Manor, which plays host to Cambridge’s own arm of the Electro Swing Club. The city centre thrives, too, with an enormous main stage showcasing some of the best Dub, Reggae and Ska from the UK and US; Asian Dub Foundation, Reel Big Fish and the Dub Pistols all played to vast and appreciative crowds- the latter being the highlight of the weekend. The majority of Boomtown’s inner streets, alleys and even roads are filled with bars, cafes, shops and venues which sport uniquely elaborate set design and a distinctive selection of entertainment. Granted, even the Bearded Kitten stage is one of the best in the country, with a full amphitheatre hosting the best of their eccentric antics.

Why then, does this incredible concept fail to meet expectations? Firstly, a festival which promises music, theatre, comedy and art should deliver – Boomtown is a music festival, and should advertise as such. Secondly, it has triumphed in attracting a distinct crowd – a peculiar mix of Kappa-clad teenagers and 20-something hippies – one which will unfortunately deter many others from attending. Finally, for a town which supposedly benefitted from some much needed cash not too long ago, the sparse facilities are more than questionable: by Friday afternoon, all of humanity (or at least those residing in Boomtown) could be doubted as a result of entering one of its Portaloos.

If the idea of visiting the ‘UKs maddest city’ of the South West appeals on the basis of dub, weed and parties, the £130 entry fee may be better spent on a night out in Bristol.

Sarah Fortescue