Set in the stunning grounds of Eridge Park, deep in West Kent, Black Deer Festival has quickly gained a name on the festival circuit as a main contender in Americana in Country Music. After it’s impressive debut last year, crowds were clearly looking forward to the return of the groundbreaking festival. As were we, especially when we heard talk of expanding the capability of the site to cater to 10,000 people.
Coupled with an impressive plethora of acts which included Jessie Buckley, Kris Kristofferson, Band of Horses and the mighty John Butler Trio to name but a few. So with our pass for Friday we took a trip to the English countryside to sample some quintessential Country and Americana.
Black Deer Festival clearly couldn’t have asked for better weather for their 2019 outing. Venturing into the site the natural amphitheater really gives a stunning view of the grounds of Eridge Park. It should be said we’re venturing in over an hour later than expected due to chaos with the shuttle buses from the station (we watch with a long queue of festival goers as two drivers hold a long discussion as to when their breaks should be ) but with such a beautiful vista in front of us. all thoughts of travel chaos quickly fade and quickly we feel far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The festival site layout is also well thought out with a healthy mix of bars and food vendors. You’re most certainly not stuck with just a couple of burger van options here. We particularly enjoyed fare from the Cornish cider company (we’re in Kent home to the hop right?) and the ground’s own pizza van. There’s also a huge amount on offer for traditional Americana wares to buy and activities for children to get involved. Something often overlooked with festivals which we thought was greaet.
Friday’s acts are also impressive. We enjoy the magnificent melodies of Morganway and Mountains whilst seeking shade from the blazing hot sun. Later Kris Kristofferson offers a rousing set and clearly goes down a treat with the eager crowd who are evidently dismayed when his set finishes all too soon.
Our only bugbear (akin to many other festival goers we speak to) comes with the rigmarole of the contactless payment scheme. In theory, this should be great – a quick and easy way to pay for your drinks and food which is connected to your wristband. However in practise, this isn’t the case and queues for bars (of which there are several) quickly grow with irate people dashing off with their drinks not to miss acts. This isn’t aided by the fact that drinks are being pulled at the bar rather than prepared ready to pass out as with many other busy festivals. The cups themselves are reusable (great!) but unlike other festivals using this method once you pay for them you can’t sell them back at the end ( huh?). Don’t get us wrong, it’s a great way to keep the site clean (which it truly is) but the foresight for people arriving late after work on Friday only to have to pay a large amount for just a few drinks just isn’t a cost-effective way for an audience to enjoy a drink.
The other issue is the fact that actual contactless payments (via card) aren’t accepted. Lots of live events such as Secret Cinema and multiple festivals around the UK are now taking card payments so this seems a real back step as it certainly would speed up proceedings without the need to keep charging your wristband. As of this review, we’re still awaiting my wristband refund from the third party handling the festivals RFID – so therein itself lies the problem…
But it should be said main headliner John Butler Trio (or should that now be quartet with their new keyboardist?) plays a fantastic set to finish off Friday. As their only UK date this year it’s every part epic that it should be and the tent the play is rammed. JBT is followed by the sensational Hayseed Dixie who as always go down a storm with a crowd – but we can’t help but be surprised at the programming, having HD follow JBT (whilst the main stage remains noticeably empty?) Several people around us also express their surprise, a missed opportunity on both counts for ending Friday with a bang.
All in we had a great time at Black Deer. It’s true there’s still some teething problems with payments and shuttle buses and programming but it’s early days and no doubt the team have a chance to remedy all this in time for next year. Keep an eye on 2020’s lineup at