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About This Festival

Just what exactly is the Wilderness Festival? With live music, theater, yoga, sports, gourmet food, dancing, and craft workshops, this all-in-one-festival can be pretty much anything you want it to be. But if the event were a beverage, it would be more akin to an enchanting herbal elixir than a six-pack of Coors.

Wilderness Festival has a reputation for being a hippy-dippy soirée for the middle class, which has earned it the moniker “Poshstock.” This critique is light-hearted, but in the festival’s defense, the professionals that turn up each summer are happy to trade in the time-as-money mentality for four days of time-as-art: Think lawyers doing downward dog, and doctors blowing bubbles.

The festival setting—the vast Cornbury Park—is an essential part of why this event enchants so many. Although described as a “wilderness,” you probably won’t need any survival skills in these manicured climes. Heaps of wide-open space with waterfalls, chestnut trees, and lakes simply means there is plenty of room to don your huge fairy wings, turn cartwheels, and decompress whenever needed.

It is in this earthly kingdom that days are wiled away drifting from one sensory pleasure to the next. Indulge in yoga classes and sip chai lattes, attend seminars, films, and concerts, play a game of cricket, or try your hand at fly-fishing. For the more whimsically inclined: How about a blind-date boat ride, or a spin around the roller disco? If the idea of following-your-bliss has always appealed to you in theory, here is the perfect opportunity to put it into practice.

Music is not the centerpiece of the festival, but figures heavily into the program with large-scale artists added each year.

A Gourmet Ghetto

The main pleasure of the event is undoubtedly mealtime. The Daily Telegraph dubs Wilderness Festival “the foodiest festival of all,” and London’s top chefs are on hand to prepare some seriously thought out meals. Expect three-hour processions of delights—selections along the lines of ginger-coriander martinis, beetroot-leek-walnut or bone marrow salads, and roasted baby aubergines, or barbequed lamb shoulders. For dessert, anticipate sweet creations like blackcurrant blancmange with shortbread, or cardamom cream with fig and hazelnut semolina and orange cake.

Whether this all strikes you as pretentious or progressive will depend on your worldview, but if it’s too wacky, seek refuge in the festival stand-bys: well-executed fish-n-chips and mushy peas, lobster rolls and pulled pork and appleslaw sandwichs leave a lasting impression. If you do happen to encounter something as pedestrian as a hotdog, expect it to be organic and free-range.

Night Moves

The civilized vibe of the festival is nicely countered when corsets come off for some mass skinny-dipping sessions, or adult-themed theatrical performances. Nighttime delivers its share of debaucheries, as well—especially on Saturday night when the masquerade ball ignites. The party is hosted at a secret location in the park, with directions to find it such as, “look out for a beautiful, naked, red-headed lady riding a horse.” The more staid late-night revelers can opt for an astronomy class.

When it’s time to hit the sack, you have a choice: the general, family, or quiet camping area, which include fresh drinking water, baby changing areas, toilets, and showers. You can also step it up a notch and pay extra for boutique camping. Here you can choose from tipis, huts, yurts and other structures.

An outgrowth of The Secret Garden Party, Wilderness began in 2011. With its high costs and rarefied tastes, it might not be the most democratic of festivals, but a touch of gentrification has its benefits when it comes to the festival scene: The hassles that make mass-gatherings a put-off—dirty loos, long lines, and crowding--seem to be eliminated here with good bathrooms, showers, and even a spa. No need to cover your sweat with patchouli oil! Here is a festival that leaves you edified and recharged.

In the end, Wilderness Festival deftly accomplishes what all good festivals do: it creates an alternate reality, delivering its attendees a break from the daily grind into a la-la land that simply glitters.

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