For the last music festival of summer 2014, I was lucky enough to get a press pass to the obscure Festival No. 6 in North Wales. Magical, beautiful and awe-inspiring, it is set in Portmeirion, an Italianate coastal village set on a cliff over an estuary.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful locations I have ever set eyes on, the festival is packed with food, music, arts and literature – as soon as I arrived, I started planning out an itinerary for a weekend full of talks, shows, gigs and eating.
Portmeirion is surrounded by woodland – wandering through the Gwyllt Woods on the edge of Snowdonia, you stumble upon little outposts of the festival. Trekking along you will suddenly come across a Hole & Corner woodworking camp, or a stage, or a dance floor suspended above a lake.
There were bookstores and films and literature talks – a Dylan Thomas tribute and a reading from Harry Leslie Smith, a moving social activist. There were yurts to hang out in, stages on overlooks above the estuary, contraptions and brass bands and light up drummers.
There were nightly processions to follow from the village, through the woods to the main stage. There were Welsh rock bands, lanterns and dance parties in the Castle gardens.
There was so much great music – Beck, the Pet Shop Boys, London Grammar, Tom Odell – but my favourites were the little bands – folk, indie, rock, bluegrass, gypsy jazz – that got everyone dancing. A single voice and acoustic guitar sang out to a crowd of 15 at the Lost at Sea stage – a truly intimate show with a magnificent backdrop. Every morning they drew something in the sand in the estuary – and you could book in for paddleboarding, or just jump in for a swim.
Dylan Thomas quotes were scattered throughout the woods to mark his centenary year.
East India Youth played with an orchestra in the town hall to a small crowd, and I got to interview the awesome chefs who had been shipped in for the festival to do a long table banquet each night. I interviewed Bryn Williams of London’s Odette, who raved about Welsh produce and told me the meat from his banquet was farmed just ‘over that hill’. Michelin-starred Aiden Byrne was equally chuffed with the event, designing a special menu for the evening that tied in with the location. There was a Welsh Produce Market, where you could buy pasties and pies and fruit tarts from locals.
Beck said “this is the coolest, most surrealist, funkiest, freakiest, best festival in the world.” And I completely agree.