Review: Deer Shed Festival 10

We bypass the rain and review the Sunday programme as the family music, science and arts festival becomes a fully-fledged three-day event

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Festivals come and go. Often a symptom of over ambition or over spending, there’s been an endless number of one hit – or more aptly miss – wonders on the summer schedule over the last decade. That Deer Shed, the family festival in North Yorkshire, hosted its tenth instalment this year, then, was something to celebrate. Slow and steady wins the race, it proved, by only this year upping the game and becoming a fully-fledged three-day festival.

In previous years the action has wound down on Sunday, giving parents the chance to pack up and get home at a reasonable time without missing any of the fun. This year, the Sunday at Deer Shed was just as action packed as the Friday and Saturday and it even went one better – it barely rained.

The day kicked off bright and early – 8am in the Bookends Tent – where bleary-eyed parents settled down with entertainment-hungry children for Japanese anime film Mirai, about a young boy who encounters a magical garden that enables him to travel through time and meet his relatives from different eras. That central idea chimed harmoniously with this year’s theme – Generation XYZ, reflecting Deer Shed’s ambition to entertain all ages.

Nevertheless the rest of the morning’s activities did revolve around entertaining the kids. Craft tents opened their canvas doors at 10.30 and families queued up to make sock puppets or try their hands at weaving. Volunteers were helpful but more tuition would have been helpful to mums who inevitably ended up sewing buttons onto socks for impatient children.

Comic James Cook did do a good job of keeping parents in good humour while entertaining children with Games with James in the Big Top. His live-action versions of classic games such as Buckeroo and Hungry Hippos were silly and simple fun but his compering was slick and engaging.

The Sports Arena was the hit of the day with crazy golf, quidditch, BMXs, badminton, space hoppers and – most popular of all – a pile of hay bales for climbing. Given this area was so popular with the children it was a bit of a shame that it was kept quite separate from the main festival arena. There was no live music for parents to point themselves at and no bar to make watching the kids run around more bearable. Disney-themed yoga by Kidding Around provided a welcome wind-down after the excitement. The session was busy and could have benefitted from moving outdoors since the sun was shining.

The Science Tent is where Deer Shed really sets itself apart with an aspect of entertainment that most festivals don’t explore. Vintage games consoles and Meccano killed an hour and there was plenty more to explore but by now mid-afternoon, and after seven hours of kids entertainment, it was definitely time to watch some music with a beer. The main stage didn’t disappoint with riot grrrl sounds from Dutch singer Pip Blom and her three-piece band who played an hour’s set to a chilled but sizable afternoon crowd.

After a go on the helter-skelter we explored the Wilderwild, which promised a back to nature experience but offered a lot of opportunities for parents to part with their money – £4 to make a dream catcher, £10 to throw a pot, for example. The same applied to fairground rides, and some science workshops and crafts.

The dinosaur leading ravers in their silent disco looked a bit caught off guard when the procession gatecrashed his party

Money can’t buy the kind of experience offered by the New York Brass Band, however, who popped up throughout the festival for impromptu sets. At 5pm we joined them as they marched from the Big Top through the whole festival arena. Kids were given flower garlands to wear, encouraged to grab a cardboard Minecraft head, guitar or saxophone from the craft tents (presumably resulting in one or two upset kids who were planning on picking them up later) and sing and dance along to covers of the White Stripes and the Jackson 5. The dinosaur leading ravers in their silent disco looked a bit caught off guard when the procession gatecrashed his party but the clash only lasted a confusing minute before we continued on towards the main stage, picking up more recruits en route.

The Pop Quiz led by Shed Seven drummer Alan Leach was another highlight and, though geared towards adult musical tastes, had a fun atmosphere and interactive tablets to keep kids interested. It was great to see one young mum, playing with just her son in her team and her sleeping baby strapped to her chest, overtaking teams of middle-aged blokes.

It’s always going to be difficult to balance the entertainment of generations but it’s one Deer Shed takes a good shot at. Even during the biggest gigs the festival feels safe but a few more facilities for families – a sheltered picnic area during downpours, a few toilet blocks with sinks for parents who don’t fancy cramming into Portaloos with a toddler and a babe in arms – and a few less hidden costs would go down well.

As evening arrived Scottish electro-folk singer Steve Mason kicked off the main musical events of the Sunday night line-up, followed by hip-hop artist Akala on the Dock stage and a headline set from queer art rocker Ezra Furman, who reinforced Deer Shed’s message of inclusivity and fun for all.

Deer Shed Festival 10 was at Baldersby Park, Topcliffe, North Yorkshir,  26-28 July. Early bird tickets for Deer Shed Festival 11 (24-26 July 2020) are available from 10 Sept. Visit deershedfestival.com

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