Memories of Carfest South 2019
Sore feet and sunburn testament to a great day out
You can tell that the organisers of Carfest South have gone to great lengths to deliver entertainment to appeal to all members of the family. It’s as if they’ve taken the festival equivalent of a graphic equaliser and dialled it up across its three core themes – music, food and cars. Each designed to hit a perfect pitch with it target audience of mums, dads and kids of all ages.
Now in its eighth year, 2019 saw the introduction of several new features, each competing to divide family attention. In a good way of course.
I popped along last Friday afternoon as well as all-day Sunday to soak up the atmosphere and take in the sights and sounds at the three-day bank holiday weekend event. Here's what I found...
New to the mix
The first notable addition was Starfest, billed as an opportunity to “get up close and personal” through fireside-style chats with stars of music, motorsports, television and food programmes.
I managed to catch two sessions, one with comedian and actor Rob Bryden, aka Uncle Bryn from Gavin & Stacy. The other with the Who’s Roger Daltry and Sharleen Spiteri from the band Texas. Chris Evans led the questions in each session, before opening up the floor to the audience.
Unlike television interviews – where there is limited time and invariably a book or film to plug – the Starfest chats were genuinely entertaining and more free-flowing. All the celebs I heard had great stories to tell, with Daltry a stand out for me. We heard about his early pre-fame days as a metal sheet worker, which led to building DIY Stratocaster guitars that weighed half a ton, but set him on the trail to become musician.
We also got to hear his anecdotes about drummer Keith Moon, including Moon's attempts to befriend his neighbour actor Steve McQueen while living in California. Apparently McQueen didn't take too kindly to Keith turning up to introduce himself dressed only in his underpants. Not realising who he was, McQueen understandably chased him off the premises with a Magnum handgun!
Another new edition was Clubfest - a series of celebrity DJ sets interspersed with hugely popular silent disco sessions. With sets from the likes of Eddy Temple-Morris, Norman Jay and Craig Charles, Clubfest provided a worthy alternative to the music acts on Carfest’s two live music stands.
As a key pillar of the Carfest concept, there was much to “amuse the bouche” in the tented food village. Artisan cheeses, pastries and pickles vied for space with craft gins and ales. I managed to sample my way through a healthy chunk of produce, before taking a break in one of the many celebrity food demos – in my case a lesson in Indian Paratha flatbread making, from Vivek Singh, founder of top London restaurant the Cinnamon Club. No doubt a lesson from such a famed chef would cost many hundreds if available commercially.
In automotive terms Carfest is a fraction of the size of mega car festivals like Goodwood, but it still manages to pack in an eclectic and quality mix of vehicles. Most genres were represented from classics, supercars and movie-cars, to stars of motorsports, including Rally, NASCAR and Formula 1.
This year also saw a notable shift towards curated exhibts, with Carfest South celebrating Grand Prix through the ages, in a hand-picked list of around 30 race-cars selected by former F1-championship winner Jody Sheckter. A key supporter of the event, Shecketer who turned to farming after a career in motor racing, also provides the grounds that host Carfest South.
Punters had the opportunity to get in amongst the metal in the paddocks, as cars were fired-up and fettled. You could also see them in action, as they took part in a series of demonstrations on the central roadway, running in a sinuous track through the centre of the Carfest site.
Alongside the exhibition cars there were a series of stands from manufacturers like Mercedes, MG, Peugeot, Subaru and Jaguar, with each handing out a fair heft of merchandise. You could also join the queues to take part in driving experiences with Subaru and Jaguar around purpose build obstacle courses.
As the afternoon gathered pace, attention turns to music. The main stage bands kicked-off around 4.30pm and ran back-to-back right up until midnight or thereabouts. That said, up and coming acts could be seen throughout the day and evening on the smaller, so-called wigwam stage. While across the venue there are various pockets of music in areas like the Vintage Zone, where swing bands provide a backdrop to twentieth century nostalgia.
With glorious - in fact baking - sunshine throughout last weekend, the crowds were afforded the spectacle of three-days worth of sultry sunsets while listening to live music. As the temperatures settled down you could almost hear the collective sigh of 50,000 people thinking "this is the life", reclining in their deck chairs and knocking back the first of many glasses of wine, beer or dare I say craft gin (again)
Reflecting the family nature of the event, Carfest's range of music has a distinctive retro-feel. While the likes of Jess Glynne, Clean Bandit and Tom Odell have brought a more contemporary air to recent years, most people are there to see the big name acts from the 70s, 80s and 1990s.
Last Sunday those big names included 80s legends Culture Club and the Human League, who joined an evening roll-call that also included Roger Daltry. The latter performing as part of the Carfest Supergroup.
To this old 80s devotee at least, they brought back many a fond memory. They also seemed to impress the hoards of older folk miming the lyrics in unison as I looked around the venue, before frantically realising: blimey, they're the same age as me!
Carfest proved an occasion to relive my youth, as well as introduce my kids to a festival vibe that delivered on every front. It is a safe, family friendly day-out. One in which you can leave the kids to absorb themselves in fairground rides and craft-building activities, while you broaden the mind sampling food and wine.
As the evening sets in you can feel part of a project that has seen over £13.5 million raised for UK's children's charities since its launch in 2012. It's also an occasion to remind the kids how music was so much better "back in the day", as the Human League and Boy George so perfectly demonstrated!