Taking place over five days in the quintessential Oxfordshire town of Henley On Thames, Henley Festival is an event like no other. With a focus on fine dining, high end art and a carefully selected line-up of musical acts it offers a very unique experience to a certain audience who otherwise might not attend your typical ‘music festival’. With a strictly black tie dress code the event oozed sophistication with absolutely no wellies in sight- in fact, people may complain about rain at glasto but if it rained here it wouldn’t just be spirits that are dampened but some serious designer clobber.
With the sophistication of the BBC Proms and the boozy clientele of any festival there was a real party atmosphere from the off set, the only difference being, instead of swigging from cans of warm strongbow, attendees quaff from champagne flutes and pints of Pimms. The sophisticated nature of the festival was probably best represented in its art agenda. Although nearly all UK festivals promote themselves as offering a certain degree of ‘art’ at their events, the Henley Festival really steps this up a gear. There are numerous temporary art galleries set up throughout the site all offering pieces for sale with a pretty hefty price tag.
Although there was other musical performances put on during the night, the main focus was quite clearly Jessie J’s headline set on the iconic floating stage- literally a stage that sits floating on the water of the Thames. From the offset Jessie faced a challenge playing to a completely seated crowd- that was of course until she bounded on stage and threw herself straight into an explosive set that gradually had everyone up on their feet dancing by winning over the crowd with her cockney charm and relentless enthusiasm.
Photo courtesy of Henley Festival
Throughout her set she played all her biggest hits, with short interludes where she would engage with the crowd, at some points even offering motivational tips on how best to pursue their life. Although this might have been partially lost on some of the older members of the crowd, as she pointed out even if she positively affects one person with her set she would be happy. This was a fun addition to this headline set instead of simply walking on stage, belting out the hits and scurrying off.
An obvious highlight for the crowd and also for Jessie was her first ever hit Do It Like a Dude, which pleased and confused the masses in equal measures at its time of release. No matter how people felt about the song in the past however, it went down a storm with the Henley crowd who embraced the dancing encouraged by Jessie and got even the most stand offish audience member swinging their hips from side to side.
Jessie J is clearly a well practiced performer who knew exactly how to win the crowd over to her way of thinking, including adapting the lyrics of her hit song Bang Bang (which she ended on) to “You need a girl from Henley to blow you mind”. Jessie was certainly a great choice to kick off this years festival.