Belfast Telegraph

Sunflowerfest a truly fab family weekend

By Frances Burscough

By the time you read this, all being well I should be availing of some alfresco revelry at the event of the year they call Sunflowerfest. It's been an annual date in the Northern Ireland calendar since 2010 and I've never missed it because it is such a fab weekend.

However, if you've never been you may have certain misconceptions about open air music festivals, based on what has gone before.

Time was, events such as these used to be the sole preserve of a certain "type" of person, depending on its specific musical genre. At some, like the original and subsequent Woodstock Festivals, the more recent Global Gathering in the UK and the international WOMAD (World of Music, Art and Dance) you'd find a multi-cultural motley crew of eco-warriors, herb-smokin' hippies and assorted so-called social misfits who would arrive in a vast rattling convoy of battered camper vans and clattering caravans, complete with grubby kids and even grubbier pets in tow.

Others were solely for those of the metal-headed persuasion, such as Sonisphere and Download. Then there are the "cool" Indie music events that began to spring up over the last decade or two. Bestival, T in the Park, Reading & Leeds and Creamfields all attract the hip and happening, who come as much to be seen (in the right place at the right time wearing the right labels) as to see the coolest bands on the planet performing for a small but lucrative fortune.

And of course, Glastonbury: the muddy Mecca of all musical festivals. Everyman's gig, as long as you didn't mind spending days hanging on the phone lines for tickets and could afford the astronomical price.

But times they are-a-changin'.

At last, the spirit of the festival is becoming much more accessible and a lot less elitist, so that everyone and anyone can join in the fun. And this is never more obvious than at our home-grown Sunflowerfest, at which families and kids galore are not just allowed but positively welcomed with open arms. In fact there are entire sections of the grounds specifically for children, including a family camp site and numerous play areas, so while the kids run amok in a safe environment, mum and dad can relax and enjoy the line-up of entertainment.

My kids are both adults now, but we have kept the tradition of going to Sunflowerfest together as a group just because it's such a unique atmosphere. Oh, and also that I'm a dead cool mum, too. In fact, Finn and girlfriend Kathleen had their first proper date there in August 2014. I chaperoned them from a discreet distance as they wandered around, listening to music, holding hands and beaming smiles at each other as the sun sank into the sunflower field behind them. As far as first dates go, that must have been one of the most perfect ones in the history of young love.

So yes, its a tradition I'm happy to uphold and this year's looks like it's going to be as good as ever. Let me describe it. Set in beautiful, rolling countryside a few miles outside Lisburn, Tubby's Farm is known locally for producing sunflowers, barley and tasty, home-made jam.

But once the festival takes up residence for three days, it's one of the most eclectic gatherings you'll ever witness here.

With over 120 acts across six stages, there's live music in every imaginable genre, including singer/songwriters, folk, roots, r&b, reggae, ska, rock, metal, trance, electro, punk, hip-hop, Afro and DJ sets to name but a few.

But it's not just music - there are also comedy, poetry, film, dance, art, craft and cuisine demonstrations happening around the site, as well as an array of artisan traders and craftsmen offering hand-crafted gifts.

Meanwhile, for those who want to retreat in peace for a while, the Bliss Body and Soul zone lets you join in with yoga, conscious dance and healing while complementary therapists offer advice, reiki, massage and the chance to unwind.

If you do decide to go, look out for me and say hello - I'll be wearing sunflowers in my hair.

Belfast Telegraph

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