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Clyde Macfarlane on why The Isle of Wight’s Rhythmtree Festival is perfect for young music lovers.

Family friendly festivals are a great way to spend a sunny weekend away with the kids. In addition to the excitement of camping, the right festival allows little ones to take part in workshops or simply run riot to a backdrop of live music. There’s something wholesome about this kind of homemade fun that has become lost in our digital age.

As a long time festival enthusiast and very recent dad, I’ve been considering what an appropriate age would be to take my girl on her first experience. Is she going to get anything out of it? Am I selfishly using her as a fashion accessory? What do I do if she explodes with poo or vomit? All big questions. 2018’s Rhythmtree Festival in Calbourne¸ with its promise of small crowds and a beautiful woodland setting, seemed a perfect venue to put my five-month-old to the test.

Rhythmtree has been going since 2010, and whilst being dwarfed by the Isle of Wight Festival and Bestival it holds a special place on the Island for its alternative ethos and commitment to music from other cultures. Its hippy origins as a didgeridoo festival are still felt in spirit, evident in everything from stalls selling organic food and colourful baggy clothing to a circus skills zone. These days Rhythmtree features old-school headliners like last year’s Brand New Heavies, Morcheeba and Space, while the daytime slots endeavour to support local acts from the Island and England’s South Coast.

With a kids-go-free policy, an impressive pirate ship stage for children’s entertainment and a carnival procession, Rhythmtree is the ultimate family festival. It proved to be a huge success as a baby festival too, you’ll be pleased to know. And so with my new authority on the subject, here are my 6 baby festival tips:

Baby festival tip No 1: Set up a base.

Rhythmtree’s shady Jill’s Woods answered our calling here. A forested path led from the sun-scorched grass of the main festival field to an enchanting maze featuring yoga sessions, a ramshackle bar and two open mic music stages. The main woods stage played host to some crazy brass/string/percussion acts to capture young imaginations, while the Little Woods was a quiet haven; perfect for nap time/ breastfeeding time. A highlight was Merlyn Johnson’s stunning harp set, which had the entire audience spellbound in a wave of Celtic folk melodies.

Baby festival tip 2: Follow your animal instincts.

In more ways than just the act of sleeping outside, festivalling is a return to nature. Think of your family/friendship group as a pride of lions; some go out to gather food while others sleep in the heat of the day, and a strength-in-numbers approach should be employed to protect the aforementioned base from predators. When a window of opportunity arises, pop your baby in your pouch (sling) for exploratory trips.

Baby festival tip No 3: Prepare as if you’re going to climb Mt Everest.

Spending three days away from a kettle, a microwave and a washing machine is a daunting prospect for many parents. Think out each meal, and never underestimate the amount of nappies/outfits an overstimulated baby can get through. The big spaces of Rhythmtree make it easy to watch bands at a baby-friendly volume, but a set of baby ear defenders are a sensible investment.

Baby festival tip No 4: What babies find interesting may differ from what you find interesting.

This is a sore point for anyone who has bought a kid an expensive birthday present only to see them spend hours playing with the bubble wrap. My moment of revelation came during a cracking set from Quimantu, who mix South American folk tunes with West African rhythms. Just when I thought I was giving my girl a first-class cultural education, my wife pointed out she’d spent the last hour hypnotized by a mirror reflection on the tent roof.

Baby festival tip No 5: Do a camping dummy run.

For a baby, sleeping in a tent is akin to being zipped up in an oddly lit bag with flapping walls: either soothing or terrifying, depending on your disposition. I put our success here to our red flysheet which, together with the regular beats of a distant DJ set, made the interior of our tent uncannily similar to a womb.

Baby festival tip No 6: Tie-dye baby outfits both look cool and can conceal bodily fluid explosions.

What started out as a joke became a reality. Luckily, it was the off-yellow pattern around the neck rather than the khaki splodge on the crotch that made a perfect camouflage after a swift wipe down.

More information can be found on the Rythmtree website. You can follow Clyde on Twitter @ClydeMacfarlane.


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