Monday, 11 July 2011

Green Man: Good Food

Today I was writing a preview of the Green Man Festival (18-21 August 2011), based on an interview I conducted by email with the festival’s Managing Director Fiona Stewart.

One of the many delights of the festival is eating at the food stalls. Indeed, it is becoming known as a bit of a foodie festival. Hot drinks and hot dogs are sold by the local school to raise funds, the Pieminister van sells a full range of their pies, the rotisserie chicken smells and tastes great, the Moroccan food tent is always interesting, the paella stall consistently good. There's crepes and pizza, fish'n'chips and chinese take-away. A market selling fresh fruit was a welcome addition last year. There are artisan cordials and ice creams, and several bars with a good range of real ales and cider.

This area of the Brecon Beacons has a good reputation for food. Crickhowell has several top restaurants, including The Nantyffin Cider Mill Inn, close to the festival site, as has Abergavenny, which also hosts one of the UK’s best food festivals.

Increasing numbers of people are staying the week on the Green Man Festival site on holiday tickets, to make the most of the area. Fiona Stewart told me, “It’s great to see the pleasure people get from discovering the attractions in the area. From the smiling faces it’s evident that they have a lot of fun, and the opportunity of meeting like-minded people has led to friendships forming and groups now return from year to year. Primarily it’s the incredible beauty of the area which I enjoy exploring on long walks with my dog Walter. During the festival build a group of us walk up to Table Mountain each year, which we all look forward to.” She adds: “There are great places to eat in the area and the welcome and warmth we always receive in Crickhowell when we eat out is a life-saver for bedraggled exhausted crew.”

You will be able to read my full interview with Fiona Stewart in the August edition of Buzz magazine (and below), which will be hitting the streets of south Wales at the end of this month, when it will also be available to read online:

Here’s a time lapse film taken of the main stage area at last year’s festival:

26 July added:
FOUNDED in 2003, the Green Man is one of Britain’s best-loved festivals. It first moved to its beautiful setting in Glanusk Park in 2006, the year that Fiona Stewart became its Managing Director. Green Man won the Best Medium Sized Festival Award in 2010 and aims to be even better this year.

“There are eight stages offering music, comedy, literature, science and film, as well as a great kid’s area so there should be something for everyone,” Fiona tells me. This year’s top acts include Fleet Foxes, Noah and the Whale, Bellowhead, Laura Marling, Explosions in the Sky, Squarepusher and Gruff Rhys. The festival also supports new and emerging talent, with many unsigned artists playing. The opening band will be Will and the People: winners of Green Poll (the festival’s battle of the bands competition).

“Although music is at the heart of Green Man, it is also filled with the kind of unexpected experiences and areas which change a concert into a festival,” explains Fiona. “The people who come to Green Man are very discerning and their ideas are a great resource,” she notes, “Feedback shows audiences want to have the immersive experience that only a festival can offer and getting this right is integral to the success of Green Man.” According to Fiona, “originality, authenticity, eccentricity and the unexpected” are essential ingredients.

This year sees some new features take their place alongside old favourites. “We are developing the Nature and Nurture massage and therapy area,” says Fiona, “so if you fancy a relaxing therapy between acts then it’s definitely worth booking in early. Also there are some great new surprises and bonkers experiences in Einstein's Garden - the art and science area.”

Simon Armitage, Howard Marks and Joe Dunthorne are among the bill in the Literature Tent; Tom Wrigglesworth and Tony Law perform in the Comedy Tent. The sing-a-long {Wicker Man} is a typical happening in the Cinema Tent. Chai Wallahs is like a festival within a festival, which takes place in a massive Bedouin marquee with food and music from around the world. Green Man stays up late, with the Far Out After Dark stage running to 4am. Tim Minchin will be performing on Thursday evening, for those arriving early, while the festival concludes on Sunday night with the burning of the green man.

The Holiday Ticket option, where people came for the week leading up to the festival, is becoming increasingly popular. “It’s great to see the pleasure people get from discovering the attractions in the area,” Fiona says. “Primarily it’s the incredible beauty of the area, which I enjoy exploring on long walks with my dog Walter. During the festival build a group of us walk up to Table Mountain each year.” The area is noted for its range of great places to eat (and the festival itself is also gaining a reputation as a foodie event). “Local accommodation is booked out and more and more businesses offer supplies or other services to the festival,” Fiona notes, “We think it’s great that Green Man stimulates tourism and boosts the local economy.”

The Green Man Festival has grown, while maintaining its independent spirit. It is refreshingly free of big corporate sponsors, even though this makes it harder to finance. “We feel that sponsorship should add to the experience for festival-goers not detract from it,” says Fiona. “If a sponsorship deal brought in something that would really add to the festival from a company that we all felt happy to be associated with, then we would consider it; but that has not happened so far.”

One high-profile festival has been cancelled next year, due to logistical problems arising from the Olympics (portable toilets and suchlike). However, Fiona has few concerns on that front: “All our suppliers have reassured us that they will be supporting us next year and that is good enough for me. So happily Green Man will be back in 2012 and for as long as you want us”.

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