Freddie Fellowes and his team of gardeners opened their gates for the final time for a weekend of paint fights, night-time woodland parties and yoga sessions (that at no point contained less than one naked man). Over the last fifteen years, Secret Garden Party has overcome significant hurdles; gaining itself a reputation as the leading independent and wholly uncompromising boutique festival.
Set in idyllic Cambridgeshire, the weekend was attended by the bizarre and the beautiful, and no amount of rain could deter the garden’s loyal revellers from having a good time. Records were broken for the number of mud angels left in the ground and, despite the weather, a record still for the total number of glittered boobs left intact.
This final shindig was joined by Crystal Fighters, Metronomy and the legendary Sunday headliners Toots and the Maytals who, it is worth mentioning, have been rocking and grooving since 1961. Music played late into the night despite the occasional trouble with the police and disgruntled neighbours. Amongst the later evening acts, a favourite for me were the Urban Folk Quartet who took to the Chai Wallas stage on Friday night. Typically a time in which DJs would begin to take over, it was in keeping with Secret Garden Party tradition that such a unique, fun, wild folk band did instead. Just three stringed instruments and a man drumming a cajón and people became insatiable for their funky folk. As Freddie Fellowes believes, something wonderful is created when like-minded souls are gathered together in a unique space to celebrate all forms of creativity. And so, it was a pleasure to see how quickly revellers could switch from skank to riverdance with such enthusiasm that it could have rivalled Mr Flatley.
Although the stages saw an exceptional line up of musical talent, Secret Garden Party highlights have frequently been its quirky display of visuals and the one-off party activities you would struggle to find anywhere else. For instance this year, in the same 100m, you can venture from wandering a maze of sunflowers to bouncing along to bassline on a space hopper in front of a giant plastic shark. Meeting real life mermaids, becoming a ‘next top model’, naked mud bathing and watching pugs donning superman outfits win gold all became possible on this enchanting weekend.
Saturday nights at Secret Garden Party have been making headlines for years since 2008 when the pirate ship in the middle of the festival’s infamous lake was blown up. It became the festival’s favourite party trick. Each year attendees congregated on the lakeside for the Saturday Spectacular. This year saw a floating house detonate to reveal a huge flaming heart burning poignantly above a dollar sign inside. The heart continued to burn for the remainder of the festival and carried with it the head-gardener’s message: the anti-commodification of festivals. These unique events are seen by him as a private, magical and self-inventive space. It is a space in which individuality, participation and creativity should be at its heart.
So finally, after fifteen years of testing the limits, Fellowes announced this year to be the final of the Secret Garden Parties and gave the boutique festival an unforgettable send-off. However, something tells us that his plans to party aren’t quite finished as he hints towards his next project. Perhaps there won’t be another bassline bouncing shark arena but we are excited to see what is coming next.
Until then gardeners – you gotta fight! For your right!