Entertainment & Arts

Sunrise Celebration shines light for free festival spirit

Festival-goers play with fire at the Sunrise Celebration
Image caption At Sunrise, the main stage may not always be the main attraction

Anyone looking for a festival to fill the Glastonbury-shaped hole left by Michael Eavis's decision to let his land lie fallow and lend his loos to London in 2012 need look no further than nearby Bruton, in Somerset.

The hilly Gilcombe Farm - organic, naturally - has been home to the six-year-old Sunrise Celebration since 2009.

Image caption Sunrise Celebration won the 2011 Green Parent best green festival award

The organisers, who are based in the town of Glastonbury, had to relocate the festival site to higher ground after finding out in the worst possible way that its previous address occupied a flood plain.

In 2008, flash flooding caused the third annual event, at Bearly Farm, Tintinhull, to be abandoned just after the gates had opened, leaving hundreds of festivalgoers stranded.

In 2011, however, the clouds parted and the sun shone on the 5,000-odd hippy campers who comprise this determinedly small-is-beautiful gathering's crowd and crew.

The distinction between artists and audience is pretty blurry at Sunrise, with paying guests and performers alike encouraged to participate in DIY workshops on renewable energy, pick up instruments and play at the jam tent, seize the open mic at the have-a-go cabaret, or, at the very least, raid their granny's wardrobe and play a part in the collective performance artwork that is the Saturday night "steampunk time traveller dress-up".

Walk-in dream catcher

A wise Manc once said - Mark E Smith on The Fall's 1979 debut album Live at the Witch Trials - that free festivals were "like cinemas without films".

Image caption Fly-pitchers like nine-year-old Ash (right) and his friends would be barred from most UK festivals

Run on a not-for-profit basis, Sunrise is the closest the 21st Century gets to the counter-cultural spirit of the UK free-festival movement that reached its zenith when 70,000 people attended the 10th annual Stonehenge Free Festival on 21 June 1984.

And it is certainly true that the gathering lacks the blockbuster acts who will be wowing their adoring fans from Glastonbury's Pyramid Stage in two weeks' time.

Traditionalist festivalgoers preferring a more passive role were entertained by circuit favourites The Orb, System 7 and Banco de Gaia as well as the Correspondents, Lamb and headliners the Beat.

But to spend the weekend waiting for big acts to burst on to the main stage would have been to largely miss the point of what is without doubt the greenest and most ideologically driven event on the summer festival circuit.

No fewer than 13 smaller stages and a 24-hour music licence mean there's absolutely no need to be caught in a mosh waiting for this year's next big thing to grace the arena.

Image caption Is this the way they say the future's meant to feel?

But the real attractions of the Sunrise Celebration are the hidden gems, whether it's the fly-pitch market - unlicensed traders are banned at almost every other UK festival - the well-being field with its walk-in dream catcher, the wood-burning make-your-own vegan pizza restaurant or the portal-for-the-immortal tepee hosting talks on everything from why Hamas hate the freemasons to how to make the most of your pineal gland.

And not to worry if you can't find a babysitter for the weekend; just bung the kids into a barrow and wheel them along to the children's area, which this year came complete with sandpit, soft-play area, sack race, storyteller and, for the older young 'uns, a skate park.

Anyone who complains about the commercialisation of corporately sponsored festivals, crammed with music industry executives, or the overpopulation of moneymaking outdoor events where crowd members denied access to certain select VIP areas are herded around like cattle, should get on their bikes, or alternative means of sustainable transport, and head to Bruton.

But weekend eco-warriors be warned; Sunrise makes Glastonbury's Green Field look like the World Economic Forum at Davos.

A second Sunrise event, Off-Grid, will be held at Fernhill Farm, in Somerset's Mendip Hills, on 18-21 August 2011, with a greater emphasis on green energy and creative workshops and a strong family focus.

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