“Truck Festival? What’s that?” This has largely been the response when telling the tales of my whereabouts on the 18th-20th of July. With our music calendar at saturation point with all the festivals happening during this popular time, you can easily be forgiven for knowing nothing about this harmonious little gathering on a farm in Oxford.
But Truck is not your usual festival. It started 17 years ago as a small alternative to the big names such as Glastonbury, Reading or Leeds; all of which have become corporate, money-spinning beasts. Truck has a refreshingly low ticket count, which means that even though it was a sell-out, there was still plenty of breathing space and an obvious lack of hippies and try-hard rockers.
The weekend vibe was completely laid back and inclusive. It was in no way about wearing the right clothes or being seen, but rather about kicking back and enjoying the atmosphere while soaking up the vitamin-D. There was no fancy VIP area: backstage was purely functional. Instead, everyone mingles. The artists roam the site, picking up beers at the bar just like us “normal folk”. A distinct bohemian quality; Truck is clearly about the people and the music.
Typically claiming the third weekend in July, this year the two-dayer kicked off its Friday with the ‘Tropical Groove’ and Indie vibes of the four-piece HABITATS, making their Truck debut on the festival’s Main/Truck Stage. One of the fabulous things about Truck is that it’s a showcase for the area’s local scene at the same time as bringing in acts both small and big from further afield.
It’s a proper all-round arena: the same stage sees the popular rock back, The Dreaming Spires, with their clashing drums and almost-shouting-but-you-think-I’m-singing vocal sound (resulting in constant sound), immediately preceded by the relaxed and more feminine vibes of Fickle Friends singing to their soft keyboards and jingling tambourines.
Wider afield, the festival plays host to five stages, all very different in the music they were churning out over the fun-filled weekend. The Barn Stage was focused on psychedelic noise rockers, such as Canterbury and Blood Red Shoes. Set against a corrugated steel roof, and with the scent of manure easing its way up the nostrils, it soon became obvious that we were watching psych-punk wraiths perform on a stage erected in a working barn. It was a surreal experience to say the least.
A mix of haunting sounds, hypnotic, pounding drumbeats and winking strobes were the enticing aspects which drew you into the stage amusingly labelled as The Veterans and Virgins Stage. Hosting bands such as Ralfe Band and the Brickwork Lizards, both of which offering unique experiences, often involving banjos and tambourines, the stage was both unique and alluring, tantalising the musical tastebuds. Similarly, the close-by Saloon Bar lured people in with its refreshing western atmosphere. Set up as something out of a cheesy western movie from the 50’s, this stage offered a different experience from the other stages with a more acoustic and folk feel to all the acts, which included sets from BMW and The Buffalo Skinners.
Finally, often described as the ‘Second-in-Command’ to the Truck Stage, the Market Stage was a stage which offered a whole range of musical genres from Dance a la Plage with their Indie-Rock ambiance to the folk-electro solo artist, Dan Croll.
With every act, bar the day’s headliners, allotted a half-hour performance slot, it’s nothing if not fair. You can power through bands and stick with sets you might otherwise leave, meaning you get a great idea of each carefully edited set list designed by each band to show themselves at their best.
Friday’s headline act, the much loved The Cribbs, take to the Truck Stage at 10pm, delighting the crowd with a medley of their top hits – they’ve more than you remember after realising five studio albums – before their spectacular closing song, which left the crowds begging for more and sadly dispersing back to the camping site, or for those more eager to other stages, such as the Market Stage which offered an all-night “Silent Disco”. There is no doubt about the fact that this band knows how to rock a festival and plays a pitch-perfect set to a crowd that appreciates their longevity and experience.
When Saturday comes, eager festival goers await Truck Stage sets from M+A and As The Elephants Are. As the day goes on, things get really lively.
When the final act at the Truck Stage for the weekend, White Lies, take to stage they muster an infectious energy. People from outside the tent file in and there are heads nodding right the way to the back of the assembled throng. As they launch into the fast-and-furious first song, all pulsating drums, rumbling bass, blissful synths and deep vocals wrapped up in lyrical genius, the London trio ignite a flame within the audience which refuses to die out until the early hours of Sunday morning.
Truck is unique. Mellow, friendly and under-crowded. It’s like the best village fete you’ve ever been to. Complete with a diverse selection of bands, this is how festivals should be. You can’t help but hope Truck never gets big and becomes the commercialised spawn of the modern music industry.