Barn on the Farm: Keeping it real

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why I thought Barn on the Farm was probably the most exciting festival of the year. This was based mainly on the well-balanced and progressive line-up, and the feeling I'd got from reading the organisers' posts and other people's reviews. There was a certain and definite vibe coming through: fierce independence coupled with down-to-Earth, genuine friendliness.

Having spent almost three days at Over Farm in Gloucestershire, where the festival has been held since 2010, I can confirm my instinct was right. It was an incredible experience: a relatively small festival featuring some big names and rising stars, playing to an appreciative crowd who shared the same goal: to enjoy great music together. Every one of the acts was clearly loving their experience, too, whether opening the Outdoor Stage at the slightly unkind time of 11.15am, headlining Main Stage as the sun set, or joining everyone else watching their fellow performers.

As an aside, you can see the best of my photos from the weekend here: Saturday and Sunday.

Unfortunately, other commitments meant I couldn't be there for the festival's intimate (500 capacity) opening Thursday, but I've heard great things about it, including the secret headliner who turned out to be Mahalia. Check out Belwood MusicClash and Bristol Gig Guide for some insights. I'm a bit sad to have missed none other than Sam Ryder on Friday, listed on the line-up as "Cam Aspen", but the rest of the festival was so awesome that there's no time for regret.

My festival began on Friday evening when, after a long drive down, I managed to catch the latter part of Dylan's set on the Outdoor Stage. 

She was great - full of enthusiasm, perhaps a touch surprised at her reception and the energy bouncing back from the crowd (this was a recurring theme through many of the festival sets) and really down-to-Earth. She's a pop star (one of the most exciting) through and through, but not afraid to be self-effacing, which helps make a real connection with the audience. I hope that this doesn't change as her fame doubtless gets bigger and bigger. 

Gang of Youths were typically chaotic and fun on the Main Stage, playing a full on set to a quickly warming crowd. Many will have started not knowing much - or anything - about the band, but by the close that had dramatically changed. 

SATURDAY brought one of those infamous early starts: one of my long-term favourite acts Carpark were first on the Outdoor Stage, rocking out as only they can. Their brand of grungey-alt rock - performed with full on headbanging, playing-guitars-on-the-floor panache - seemed to go down well, helping to wake people up and setting up for the rest of the great day ahead. The trio meld well together - there's a feeling of watching a group of good friends having massive fun with their music - and produce a good sound between them, particularly when Scottie plays bass as well as sings.  (You can catch them headlining a show in London on 29 September)

Irish alt-folk group Kingfishr were up next (the first of many acts which were new to me - thank you to Josh and the other organisers for introducing me). Theirs was a joyous set, guitar, banjo and bass played with great skill, taking traditional Irish influences to a new level and enchanting the growing crowd. Frontman Eddie made a foray off the stage to sing directly to the front row at one point, his face a picture of passion and contentment at being able to do this, here, right now. The core trio met while studying engineering in Limerick ("That went well", quipped Eddie) but have found their outlet somewhere entirely different. I'd love to see them again.

From there, I headed to the Wooden Barn Stage to see Beren Olivia. It's a beautiful setting, the only drawback being its limited capacity; on the positive side, the stage is high -- very high -- so it's easy to see the artist no matter where you are in the room. She looked thrilled to be there (that's the last time I'll make that comment; you can take it as a given from now on), and smashed through her upbeat set, the highlight being the fabulously buzzy alt-pop banger 'Stranger on Fire'. It was only just gone two in the afternoon, but the crowd sang the words back at full volume as if it was 11pm.

After catching a few minutes of a dreamy Rachel Chinouriri performance on Main, it was back to Outdoor for Cassia, and their well-honed brand of upbeat, feel-good (without veering to cheesy territory) indie rock. This couldn't have been a more perfect slot for them - late afternoon in the warm sun, with audience full of energy and excitement for the approaching evening. The audience reacted heroically to the band’s call to get people up on shoulders towards the end - that was a great sight.

I stayed where I was to see Flowerovlove (although missing Thomas Headon was a painful result). Her vocals were sublime, and she acted like an absolute star - living up to her frequent billing of "one to watch", but without appearing in any way cocky or entitled. Charmingly, in some ways she seemed still to be getting used to her status, which led to some great moments: such as when she asked the security and photographers in the pit if it would be safe to stand on the speakers ("Go for it, everyone else has"); or when she invited a young fan, Isadora, to sing part of the chorus to probably her biggest hit to date, 'Coffee Shop'. 

Next up, on the same stage, was Caity Baser - a ball of pure energy from start to end of her set, pulling some brilliant faces and singing her heart out. Her NSFW lyrics were untamed, but no one really seemed to care. She's the kind of singer that just owns the stage, uses all of it, and is completely unperturbed by anything that happens along the way.

It was a quite a contrast back over on Main for The Big Moon - a more restrained sound, blended. As with their Glastonbury set this year, I felt they took a couple of songs to get warmed up, but once they did, there was no stopping them. ‘Wide Eyes’ and ‘Your Light’ sounded particularly good, and the band radiated relaxed positivity.

Then, more sublime vocals with Olivia Dean back on Outdoor. This part of the day really highlighted to me how unapologetically eclectic this festival is. Josh and his fellow organisers clearly care about one thing more than anything else: great artists playing great music. They're genre agnostic to the max; and the people that attend buy into that vibe fully. This is reflected in the general atmosphere throughout the relatively small, grassy site: on the hammocks, in the orchard areas, at mini-club Grandma's House, by the field of ostriches …

And finally, Bleachers headlining Main. Frontman Jack Antonoff appeared on stage last, and owned it immediately. 

He is a hugely charismatic character, and he used that charisma to the full, appearing lost in adrenaline-fuelled euphoria at times, shuddering and grimacing alongside his two saxophonists and multiple other players as he took us along for a wild ride. I confess they weren’t a band I knew much about beforehand, but I was impressed by that passion and the huge, enveloping sound. 

SUNDAY started in a similar vein to the day before - an early start on the Outdoor Stage entrusted to a rising alternative, guitar-based trio. This time, Swim School, one of my absolute favourite groups at the moment. They stormed through a mixed set of older and newer songs, including the barnstorming ‘Delirious’ and my current favourite, their latest release 'Bored', with its deliciously satisfying riffs sounding even more hard-hitting and energising in the open, fresh Sunday morning air.

I had to take a food break at this point, but returned to see the Farm Band on Main. I had been excited to find out who would be making up the band this year, and it turned out to be a pretty stellar line up: for most of the session it was Minnesota singer-songwriter Ber (who had just finished her set on Outdoor), Flyte and Billie Marten. The group ran their unrehearsed set in a "writers' circle" style, taking turns to sing together. It was chilled, intimate, and very real - a great section of Sunday afternoon respite. A popular moment was when Ber invited Charlie Oriain to join her. As Ber explained, the two sang together online during lockdown, and eventually met in person when she travelled to the Isle of Wight. There, they wrote 'Meant To Be' in the garden of Charlie's parent’s house. Their live rendition of the song was a tender and beautiful moment. Then, Billie left the stage to make way for Sigrid, whose inclusion kind of gave the game away to those still speculating about who might be the secret Wooden Barn headliner. The group's decision to cover Neil Young’s ‘Old Man’ was surprising, and inspired. It sounded sublime, providing a kind of anchor to the past. Can we have a recorded version of that, please!?

Then I had time to transfer back to Outdoor to catch The Royston Club - this band are always great value and entertaining, and also very tight and well-melded as a group - the kind of band who obviously enjoy each other's company, and translate that into relatable performances. They rattled through an upbeat set, with plenty of opportunities for mic-sharing harmonies.

Special guests Fizz were on Main next. I had high expectations for this new super group, having seen Dodie at a festival in 2022, knowing how interesting the performances of the other members (Orla Gartland, Greta Isaac and Martin Luke Brown) are, and also based on the fizzy energy of their first single ‘High In Brighton’. To say their set was fun would be a huge understatement - the group bounced around stage, constantly drawing energy and inspiration from each other. Dodie's changes of instruments were particularly impressive (as was her hand puppet moment). I felt privileged to see the group at this early stage of their time together - most definitely watch what they do next.

Stone played probably the loudest set of the festival on Outdoor, before Flyte returned. They were a bit unfortunate to clash with Sigrid, whose "secret" appearance in the Wooden Barn led to huge crowds straining to catch a glimpse of her through the doors. Whether you could see her or not, hearing her was an immense treat. She has a very special voice, full of under-stated and relaxed charm which nevertheless seems to squeeze emotion out of every word. There were many damp eyes around me that evening.  

After some pizza (eaten at a table just vacated by Fizz!) and one of the now legendary duck wraps, I got back to Main early to stake out a pitch at the barrier. The Staves performed an accomplished set, using their harmonic skills to the max in the last golden rays of the weekend. Another group I’m keen to see more of.

And then, at last, it was Holly Humberstone's moment to shine. She was with a full band (Loda from Carpark doing the drumming honours), and this gave her songs a very welcome organic dimension, allowing for some interesting arrangements and more experimentation in presentation. It also seemed to give Holly a real confidence boost - those extra bodies behind and around her pushing her on as she played to a sea of adoring faces in front, and also allowing her to move around the stage to interact more. 

She seemed happy and at ease, continuing to push aside the nerves which have bothered her in the past, and her vocals sounded at their best yet. 

Holly opened with 'The Walls Are Way Too Thin', and the crowd singalong almost from word-one set the tone for the rest of the set: everyone, from the fans at the barrier right to the back of the impressively-sized crowd seemed fully engaged. I really enjoyed the extended outro to this song, with her guitarist veering into funk-inspired chords. 

The rest of the set flew by for me, with just about every item on the setlist sounding absolutely right. Holly moved between electric and acoustic guitars, and also piano (particular mention goes to 'Falling Asleep At The Wheel' where that instrument came to the fore, accompanied at times by heady synth arpeggios). The band backed her firmly at all the right moments, and the lighting design provided neat cues to the ambience of the various songs. One of her newest, 'Antichrist' sounded particularly good, heralding the slightly edgier new direction she's moving in, but not straying from the warmth and intimacy that Holly tends to exude.

Another highlight for me was 'London Is Lonely', Holly’s voice hitting just right notes in those higher sections. And then there was the fragile and evocative ‘Haunted House’, almost acapella for the most part and then exploding into heartfelt intensity. (I've put her whole setlist below.) 

She came on stage confidently, and left practically walking on air, after the much anticipated encore, ‘Scarlett’ - that one went down indescribably well, and it felt like the whole crowd was joining in. A superb end to the weekend.

And that wrapped up Barn on the Farm for another year. Huge congratulations to Josh, the other organisers, and all of the staff, for what they achieved. Getting things right like this takes a lot of planning, bravery and foresight; it paid off, big time.

Don't forget, the best of my photos from the weekend are here: Saturday and Sunday.


See you next year!

Holly Humberstone's full Barn on the Farm setlist:

The Walls Are Way Too Thin
Please Don't Leave Just Yet
London Is Lonely
Deep End
Falling Asleep at the Wheel
Can You Afford to Lose Me?
Haunted House 
Friendly Fire
Sleep Tight

Encore: Scarlett