Three brill and alternative festivals: book now for our top picks – Nova, Just So & Voewood

OK. Festivals. Is there a weekend this summer, when there isn’t one? Most of them have really good music line-ups, which is great, but this summer, for various reasons (namely a toddler in tow), we can’t stay up late rocking the night away. And yet we still want a festival experience – just in a smaller, calmer, artsier, more family friendly form. And yay, it turns out there really is a festival to suit everyone. Here are our three top picks.

First up is the Nova Festival in July. Organised by two of the original creators of the Big Chill, this is an arts and music festival, inspired by bringing art – all kinds of art – outside. And so as well as great music, theatre, comedy, film, food, workshops, talks, loads of stuff for kids,  they’ve got original, specially commissioned (often interactive) pieces by artists such as Damien Hirst, Rankin, David Shrigley, Jake Chapman, Doug Fishbone, Gary Webb, Andrew Logan and many others. This is a festival that will be full of surprises – a mini golf course with each hole designed by a different artist, hot tubs under the sky in a zen garden, theatre by the Battersea Arts Centre – but one thing we know for sure is that numbers at Nova are limited to 5,000, so the festival will feel intimate and easy to navigate rather than overwhelming and sprawling. Good.

Got kids? Then the Just So Festival in mid August is for you. Taking place in the beautiful grounds of Rode Hall in Cheshire, this festival combines music, theatre, cabaret, workshops, performances, instillations, and great food, but rather than adding on kid-friendly activities, family fun is this festival’s M.O. You and your family can perform in an opera rather than just watch one, take trapeze lessons, listen to stories or lullabies, have a pillow fight, learn to belly dance or jive, take part in a wild barn dance, dress up for a retro disco, listen to music around a bonfire, or explore a fairy glade. There are things to do, see and listen to at this festival to suit every age, mood and whim. Plus there will be baby changing tents, a breastfeeding boudoir, baby bath time and lots of things to do with under 2’s (including spinning clay pots on a wheel, which they love), as well as older kids. But don’t worry – there is also just plain brilliant music (e.g. Fiona Bevan and Common Tongues), and other performances, so adults can revel in their time at Rode as much as the kids. This is a festival of enchantments and them some.

Finally: for an all-round cultural festival, Voewood is chic, cosmopolitan and quirky: less of an overwhelming mass of events sprawling through field and forest, more of a carefully curated arts party in the beautiful gardens of a stately manor house. The main theme has a literary and arts thrust, with talks and activities by authors including D.B.C Pierre, Kate Mosse, Esther Freud, Diana Athill, Gavin Turk and Ali Smith, but we also love the sound of the more left-field happenings – bibliotherapy sessions (where reading lists are prescribed as a cure for problems), bat tours with insect specialist Bridget Nicholls, Latin lessons with the Idler Academy and a puppet operetta adaptation of In Cold Blood. See you on the lawn for a G&T!


Nova Festival of Arts & Music; Just So Festival; Voewood Festival
Nova: 5 - 8 July; Just So: 17 - 19 August; Voewood: 24 - 27 Aug 2012;
Nova Festival, Bignor Park, Pulborough, West Sussex RH20 1HG. Just So Festival, Rode Hall Parkland, Cheshire ST7 3QP. Voewood House Cromer Road, High Kelling, Norfolk NR25 6QS.
Nova: £60 - £139; Just So: £35 - £85; Voewood: £25 - £100
Nova: 0844 888 442; Just So: 01625 410 885; Voewood: 020 3592 5439
— Daisy
3rd May 2012