Hops are a crop commonly used in the making of beer. They have been grown in Kent since the 16th Century. In the Victorian era hop picking was a day out for Londoners, away from the noise and pollution of the city. Every September when the plants were ready to pick, workers from London would come to pick the crop. Hop Farm in Kent now holds an annual music festival, Hop Farm Festival. Although this event is not in London I felt the history of ‘hopping’ meant it qualified.
I had the best day at Hop Farm, truly memorable. After a short train journey from Charing Cross I arrived at Paddock Wood station to join the crowds of excited music lovers. The little, usually quiet, Kent village was transformed into a magical musical Mecca. This year the legendary Bob Dylan was headlining, my idol and a musician I admire more than any other.
The weather was gloriously hot, and I began to feel like I was at Newport Folk Festival back in 1965 when Dylan famously ‘went electric’. The Festival, which spanned over Friday and Saturday boasted some impressive acts. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the Friday show so missed out on Blondie and Van Morrison. Saturday had the real crowd-pleasers though, with the likes of Laura Marling, Seasick Steve and the very now Mumford & Sons who evoked such energy from the crowd, jumping, dancing and singing almost throughout there 40 minute set. The musicians at Hop Farm illustrate a new young group of folk artists, talented and incredibly passionate, but humble with it. Ben from Mumford summed it up as he spoke to the audience of 50,000 – ‘I don’t know what we have done to deserve this... playing alongside the best festival line up of the summer'.
Performer of the day would have to go to Seasick Steve who put his heart and soul into his show. For each song he picked up a new instrument, sometimes strumming vigorously on a plank of wood with strings or a makeshift guitar. Steve and his dedicated drummer commanded complete attention from the audience. I also enjoyed the preacher-like speech between songs, as he spoke frankly, but comically about his past.
At lunchtime our little group sat in a sunny corner to munch on our vast picnic, which included freshly picked strawberries, raspberries and cherries. Absolutely delicious. After lunch a friend and I started our quest to make it to the front of the crowd by the time Dylan arrived on stage. After seven hours on my feet, I watched, with tears in my eyes, the man I have listened to obsessively my whole life. It was an hour I will never ever forget. It’s true Dylan isn’t such a singer anymore, but his band made up for it, all clad in matching outfits. It reminded me of a story my granddad once told me of a memorable night at one of Dylan’s birthday parties in the 60s; he was unable to recognise Dylan because everyone at the party appeared to be dressed up as him.
Although Hop Farm has only been around for three years it is surely one of the best festivals out there both musically, and ethically (it refuses to have sponsors, branding or VIPs). This is a festival of music lovers for music lovers, and I’m counting down the days until next year.
More info here.