Here's our guide to make the most of the extra day this leap year.
Last weekend Standon Calling hosted its 13th edition. Boasting its biggest year to date, the boutique festival drew a record-breaking crowd of 15,000 across four days. The fun-loving artists headlining the bill – Paloma Faith, George Ezra and Bryan Ferry – attracted hordes of pop fans, but there were plenty of indie, electronic, hip hop and rock acts on the roster for music lovers of all genres to enjoy.
And that wasn’t all. The Hertfordshire countryside’s big summer blowout offered a long list of activities including everything from comedy, yoga and engaging talks, to good eating, a dog show, a costume parade and carnival rides.
We were there on Saturday and got to experience some of this fun. Below are just a few of the cool things we discovered, plus you can see more photos from our visit here.
With this year’s theme being “The Future”, Standon Calling certainly conveyed that it’s set to throw even bigger, more elaborate editions in the years to come.
George Ezra is a fine storyteller, as well as a great singer
Backed by a six-piece band that included a trumpet and trombone, Ezra was front and center as Saturday night’s headliner.
Four years ago the singer-songwriter from Hertford was hardly known, but now having scored his first UK No.1 single with Shotgun, as well as having had his two albums chart No.1, he’s become one of the biggest selling male artists of the decade.
Ezra captivated the packed audience at Standon Calling with his songs, preceding them with stories about what inspired their lyrics. He talked about spending a month in Europe in a rented room and of long days in beautiful parks making notes for what would become his upbeat track Pretty Shining People. A local hero, Ezra kept the crowd warm after temperatures dropped by getting everyone to dance and sing along to hits like Paradise…which captured our boom-boom hearts!
The main stage was totally stacked
Leading up to Ezra’s performance was one incredible set right after the next. Suffolk-born artist Ralph Taylor, who released the single Eyes last March, kicked off the music at noon. Later in the day Scottish singer-songwriter Tom Walker, whose hit Leave a Light On has won him fans all over the world, treated festival goers to two of his newest songs: Dominoes and Angels.
And what can you say about cult garage rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club? The brilliant brooding band, whose name comes from Marlon Brando’s motorcycle gang in the 1953 film The Wild One, was as menacing as ever in a set packed with hits from their career spanning 20 years and eight albums.
Discovering new favourites is a huge part of the experience
Finding fresh artists to love was easy at Standon Calling. The festival has always been big on showcasing new music. This year that was clear in places like the BBC Introducing tent where Ten Tonnes (aka Ethan Barnett, who is George Ezra’s brother) showed off his distinct songwriting talent with indie-disco songs like Cracks Between and Born to Lose.
The Laundry Meadows stage had a line-up of breakout bands to keep your eyes on too. Post-electronic dance group Park Hotel is on the rise with their unique sound. The six-piece not only features three-way vocal harmonies, but also has incorporated a cowbell into their instrumentation.
In addition, making its festival debut was the homey Flying Machine Café, where we enjoyed an ethically and organically sourced waffle while listening to indie folk guitarist Jack Conman.
Aliens and space creatures make for a fun crowd
Few festivals mix music and fancy dress with such excellent results. On Saturday afternoon all sorts of crazy and colourful life forms made their way down a hill and through the grounds during Standon Calling’s annual costume parade. We saw aliens, astronauts, fairies, post-apocalyptic handmaids and much more. The creative attire definitely fostered a fun vibe that carried through to venues like Starbase Standon, where Defect and Little Simz had the good-time beats rolling.
A festival in a valley is a magical thing
Thanks to the rolling expanse of hills and farmlands as well as the River Rim, Standon Calling guarantees beautiful surroundings. There’s even a 16th century manor house in the background, with a sparkling swimming pool that you can take a dip in.
This setting transports you to another world filled with unforgettable experiences. There were wood-burning hot tubs set up along the riverbank for the ultimate in relaxation. A new woodland restaurant called Supernova was also launched this year. In amongst the trees, you could devour a formal three-course meal cooked over an open fire.
You can enjoy it all with a clear conscience
Not only does Standon Calling support charitable organisations like War Child and Mudlarks, but it’s committed to being the most dog-friendly festival in the UK. That meant loads of furry, four-legged attendees were out and about. Many of them wore costumes that were too cute for words in advance of Sunday’s popular dog show.
Standon Calling also has an environmental scruples. In a pledge to get drastic on plastic, they banned straws this year and there are plans to eliminate single-use plastics by 2021.
Through rain or shine (but mostly shine), it was a great weekend with a huge turnout, a well-rounded line-up and a very friendly atmosphere.
Each year at Standon Calling they strive to outdo the one before. Founder and festival director Alex Trenchard said it was one of his favourite Standon Calling’s to date because it felt “like a real coming together of so many people of all ages enjoying some incredible performances across the weekend.”
If 2018 is anything to go by, then that means 2019 is going to be awesome!
Next year’s Standon Calling will be held on 25 – 29 July 2019. Find tickets when they’re available at Ticketmaster.co.uk.
Photos of Paloma Faith and George Ezra by Giles Smith; photo of Supernova dining experience by Justine Trickett