feature

bardfest -crowd shot from previous festival ANL-150623-170031001
bardfest -crowd shot from previous festival ANL-150623-170031001

Midsummer. Great music. Fans packed into a field, soaking up the sounds and the sun with fingers crossed it won’t rain.

Are we talking Glastonbury – the festival so iconic some people go just to say they’ve been?

Well, not quite. But Somerset is not the only county that knows how to put on a show.

Suffolk is fast earning a place on the outdoor music map.

Every year thousands of people are drawn to events at venues from playing fields to pub gardens to the grounds of stately homes.

They include Sudbury’s ever-popular LeeStock held in memory of Lee Dunford, a 21-year-old musician who died from cancer.

It raises money for the Willow Foundation which provides special days for seriously-ill young adults.

In May, in the glorious setting of Melford Hall Park, it made £12,500 for the charity.

This month the crowds will be heading for Bardfest, which takes place at Bardwell near Bury St Edmunds on July 10 and 11.

It may be tiny compared to major players in the national festivals league, but it is a small event with big ideas.

In five years it mushroomed from “a couple of bands and a few barrels of beer” to a magnet for more than 2,000 music lovers from all over the county.

“Last year we were blown away by the amount of people who turned up, and we believe we will get 3,000 this year,” said Gary Howard, one of the organisers.

“Wouldn’t it be great if one day we were thought of as Suffolk’s answer to Glastonbury?”

Some way to go, as the big-G pulls crowds of 175,000. But Bardfest is still a relative beginner.

Even so there is one aspect of Glasto they have no wish to imitate ... the legendary mud that can leave festival-goers wading through a quagmire.

Included in their festival site is a patch of hallowed turf that is strictly off-limits to music-lovers in wellies.

Bardfest was born out of cricket – and it takes place on the playing field where the village teams stage their home games,

So the wicket is not the place to settle down and listen to the bands.

The festival started life six years ago as a party at the end of a children’s tournament.

“We put on a couple of bands and a few barrels of beer,” said Gary, 49. “Each year since it has grown bigger.

“There were a maximum of 200 people at the first one and that grew to 2,000 in five years.”

Even the organisers are not quite sure how it happened.

This year they have put together their strongest-ever musical line up, with funk, rock, country, folk and more.

“We have managed to attract two very big local bands - Walkway, who have supported Status Quo, and Speedometer featuring James Junior, who were supporting Earth Wind and Fire at the 02 a few weeks ago,” said Gary.

Steve Larder, 48, is a key driving force behind Bardfest. It was his idea in the first place.

He still plays cricket for the first eleven and fellow players have nicknamed him the Michael Eavis of Suffolk, after the Glastonbury founder.

Coincidentally, Steve, a father-of-three who works for a technology firm, grew up in Somerset and went to school with the real Michael Eavis’s daughter.

Bardfest is now run by Bardwell Sports and Community Club, a joint venture between the cricket and football teams.

A couple of days before the festival starts, two dozen volunteers descend on the site to help set it up.

Real ales are a feature of the event, which means there is another vital job to be done to make sure everything goes smoothly. It’s called sleeping with the beer.

Gary explains: “Because we are in the middle of a field, and the beer has to settle after it’s been moved, we have a rota of people to keep a constant eye on it.”

The festival costs more than £10,000 to stage. Last year it made £14,000 profit – around 70 times what they took at the first one.

The money helped buy land to extend the playing field. The next goal is replacing what is known as “the shed” with a proper pavilion.

Organisers are determined Bardfest will go on after its fundraising for the sports field is done, to help other community projects.

Bands perform this year from 6pm till midnight on Friday July 10, and from 4pm till midnight on Saturday July 11.

For more information go to www.bardfest.com.