When I realized that our trip to London was going to coincide with last weekend’s Isle of Wight Festival, I knew immediately that it needed to be part of our itinerary.
I had already hoped to visit the Isle of Wight because I had heard it was an idyllic seaside getaway and also because it has a rich musical history. Bob Dylan recorded “Like a Rolling Stone” and other songs that ended up on the album “Self Portrait” on the Isle of Wight, and the Beatles referenced renting a cottage there in “When I’m Sixty-Four.” It is also the setting for many books and movies.
The festival began with a series of festivals between 1968 and 1970, considered by some to be Europe’s answer to Woodstock. In 1970, a five-day lineup included one of the last performances by Jimi Hendrix and was said to have drawn 600,000 people to the 100,000-resident island. The festival was revived in 2002 as an annual event and has hosted a range of performers including the Rolling Stones, Amy Winehouse, Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam, Jay-Z and Blondie.
This year’s lineup included Fleetwood Mac, Blur, the Black Keys, the Prodigy, Pharrell Williams, Paolo Nutini and Counting Crows, which just happen to be my favorite band. Most people who attend the festival camp, either in their own tents or camper vans or in adorable multicolored teepees, yurts and cottages that you can rent as part of your festival experience.
Because I was traveling with my two young daughters, 6 and 3 — kids are free at the festival and welcome; like ACL, there’s even a dedicated area with fun activities for them — we planned to just go for one day, despite several people warning us against it. Three hours into what would become our six-hour odyssey to the Isle of Wight, I understood why. In theory, it should take two hours to get there from London, but because the trip involves taking a train to a bus to a ferry to a bus to the festival, there’s a lot of waiting around. The final shuttle bus alone took an hour to get us from the ferry to the festival gates, only a few miles away, because of traffic and rain.
No matter. We arrived just before Counting Crows took the stage for a compact but satisfying set that included a mix of big hits like “Mr. Jones,” “Long December,” “Rain King” and “Round Here” and newer tunes like “Palisades Park” and “Scarecrow.”
I’ve seen this band live a million times, but it was the first time for my daughters, who vacillated between being dutifully enthralled by their first live Counting Crows performance and chasing the copious bubbles blowing through the crowd from ever-churning bubble machines.
Here are some other observations from the fest:
TURNOUT: The sprawling grounds felt pretty packed with approximately 60,000 visitors. In comparison, ACL draws around 70,000 daily.
FOOD: The food truck scene here was almost as impressive as Austin’s. Trucks were located throughout the grounds, serving a mix of international fare that included fish and chips, crepes, curries, sushi, hot dogs and Domino’s Pizza. As you’d expect, and also similar to Austin festivals, the line for beer was the longest.
ATTRACTIONS: Carnival rides surrounded the festival, creating a rainbow-lit backdrop for the main acts. There were numerous smaller stages for other performers as well as arts and crafts vendors and carnival games throughout the grounds.
ATTIRE: Much like our Austin festivals, we saw it all in terms of fashion, from frat boys in skin-tight Ninja Turtle costumes to 20-somethings channeling Woodstock with flowers in their hair to a man in a full-body turkey costume. The most popular accessory? Galoshes, because, as I was told, it always rains. And it did. About 20 minutes after You Me At Six took the stage, an inescapable downpour started. First we tried to find cover, and then we had no choice but to just embrace it, splashing in puddles as the band continued to play. (Side note: I’m not sure you’ve experienced your low as a mother until you’ve squashed into a Porta Potti with your two small children in the pouring rain and actually encouraged them to take their time so that you can feel dry for a few minutes.)
FINAL THOUGHTS: I can’t believe we didn’t camp so we could stay for Fleetwood Mac. My girls can’t believe we missed Pharrell. Granted, it was not the best planning we could have done. But it was still worth every second we were there. If you’re considering a summer visit to the London area, I highly recommend timing it with this festival. Learn more about the it at isleofwightfestival.com and view photos and videos from this year’s event on Instagram, #IOW2015.