Having been promised beards, beards and more beards, there was an air of anticipation of how much beard one could take at the start of the Bearded Theory festival experience. Set in the grounds of Kedlestone Hall, an 18th century neo-classical mansion, and now in its 6th year, Bearded Theory is a place where steam punks, can can dancers and trolls can wander freely around the arena taking in dance music, skiffle, folk and punk whilst chowing down on vegetarian jerky and supping on warm mead.
Friday started with the usual setting up camp frolics, meeting our new neighbours and then heading down to the wonderland like arena fit to burst with festival delights. From play areas for the children (and adults) to a boutique selection of brightly coloured market stalls selling everything from proper old fashioned fudge to sequined garments and of course beards, yes the theme for the weekend is beards, but we said that earlier didn’t we? There were food stalls, booze filled bars and music of an eclectic variety. From the Magical Sounds dance tent to the Tornado Town stage and of course the main stage and even a busker’s corner situated in the middle of the arena there was plenty of choice for the discerning music lover.
With our taste for music and settling down around the main stage we witnessed Ned’s Atomic Dustbin bringing back their zany yet stylish fusion of punk funk riffs, nostalgic sighs for New Model Army and headliners Reverend and the Makers assault the crowd with their brash plethora of tunes including Bass Line and Heavy Weight Champion of the World. Having launched their own Summer Ale, a collaboration with local brewers Thornbridge, earlier in the evening the heavens soon opened and rain fell throughout the night. Yes, R&TM’s stole our sunshine but left the crowd feeling warm with their wielding performance.
Saturday was a bit of a soggy mess, weather wise, it was pleasing to see that the Bearded Theory team had prepared for this and walkways were covered, protecting the ground and reducing the need for wellies. May isn’t the usual month you’d associate with a festival and on approach it was pleasantly surprising to see what a great turnout the festival pulled in. Speaking to some of the stewards, who come back year after year, we were informed that the overcast clouds and chilly temperatures were all part and parcel of the festival. The weather didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits and with a great split of ages there were activities for all, from drumming to clay model making to a good old fashioned sing along and even wood turning classes. Alongside all this the stages were packed with music ,for some the tents were shelter from the wind whilst at the main stage people were just ready and set to enjoy themselves no matter what the weather.
Taking in the sights and sounds we rockabilly style with Zombie Met Girl and then pull off a well rehearsed rock fist with The Quireboys and admit to bashing out the lyrics of Hey You. We then went a little folkie with Far Cue and then revealed out inner punk with the rabid Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons. There were many a hearts a flutter to the tender sounds of Seth Lakeman and the amazing Asian Dub Foundation headlined the main stage, whilst over at Magical Sounds A Guy Called Gerald brought out his voodoo ray and raved into the early hours.
Our final day and despite a few weary heads, there was an uplifted vibe throughout Bearded Theory, maybe it was due to the days theme being Australia or perhaps it was because the sun was shining and it was the last day to let the hair in any shape or form down? With the attempt for the world record for the biggest number of fake beards in one place at one time it seems that the fancy dress fashionistas are out in force. There are robots with beards, beards made out of bottle caps, flip flop beards and even a pseudo Dame Edna supporting a beard, a good effort made by all and a lot of fun for those involved. Aussie band, The Beards hop on to the main stage after playing Tornado Town and pick a winner out of a selected few beards and soon announce that the robot beads are their winners in the fake beard award, a popular choice amongst the crowd.
As the main stage settles down to a good old sing-a-long with the smartly dressed Lancashire Hotpots, it’s brought back into chaos as Goldblade step up. With John Robb launching back and forth between the stage and into the crowd, they revved things up to another level and captured the audience within minutes. There are mosh pits, fist pumping and a lot of warm cider being spilt.
One of the highlights of the day were The Farm, many people couldn’t work out what they actually did back in the day and as their set progressed memories reappeared. Joined onstage by, the previously mentioned John Robb, for a cover of the Clash’s Janie Jones and followed by a simply beautiful trip of nostalgia when it came to The Farms biggest hit, All Together Now.
As we prepared to wave our final goodbyes to Bearded Theory, we were accompanied by the sounds of The Levellers. If ever there was a true headliner for this festival that it’s certainly this band. Playing tracks from their 26 years together was a wondrous occasion, as their own track goes, ‘it’s a beautiful day’ and throughout their set and with recollection of the weekend, it all truly had been three beautiful days.
Bearded Theory is not your usual type of festival; it’s 100% family friendly and doesn’t have that oppressive teen feeling that many other festivals do. Music wise it’s not about the latest fad it’s more a celebration of culture and kinship where anything goes. Being a small festival on the outside, Bearded Theory on the inside boasts a grandeur that many festivals seem to miss out on. The weekend as a whole is filled with a close knit community vibe, strangers became friends, families became extended and the unfamiliar well became familiar.