A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of attending Charlbury’s 25th annual Riverside music festival. It was an action-packed weekend filled with thrilling performances, colourful characters and a wonderful community spirit.
On the music front, the headliners didn’t disappoint – Kanadia put on a fantastic show, as you can see below.
Equally, The Standard’s signature blend of popular song covers was wildly entertaining – it seems they are the cream of the crop when it comes to local bands!
The People of Riverside Music Festival
As well as seeing some top-tier music, I had the opportunity to talk to a wide range of festival-goers. First, I spoke to Jake. He is an enthusiastic attendee whose first visit to Riverside was in 1998!
Jake remembers the days where organisers, enthusiasts and local youths camped together: “A lot of them were kids from the town…14, 15, 16 years of age having their first festival experience” he added fondly. When asked what his favourite act was, Jake was quick to tell me it was Mary’s Garden, a local Oxford band.
Next I spoke to Ian, a medic for Riverside. He is constantly working behind the scenes to ensure that risks are kept to a minimum and that the festival is a safe, family-friendly environment. Ian has been personally involved with riverside for 20 years! He is one of many volunteers that makes riverside possible. “Everybody puts into the community”, he told me. “We promote lots of young […] and up-and-coming bands [and] try and give everybody that can’t afford to go to a big festival a chance to come down and enjoy it with family”.
After ambling for a while, I bumped into Carolina. She had spent her weekend working for her daughter, who owned one of the many food-stalls – Nutmeg & Thyme Plant-Based Food. Carolina did manage to get some time off, which she spent mooching around, watching lots of bands, eating food from other stalls, chatting to friends who had turned up out of-the-blue. When I asked about bands she was quick to praise Bethany Weimers who was “fab”.
Like Ian, Carolina has also been coming to Riverside music festival for 20 years. She told me “my daughter who’s got the catering truck used to come here as soon as she could walk […] she used to be dancing around the main stage as a little toddler and now she’s got her own catering truck here, so it’s been a really nice, circular day”.
Next, I headed to the Fringe Stage, where I managed to catch stage-organiser and band member Glenda. She lead a team of 8 volunteers who were running the stage. Glenda first performed at Riverside music festival in 2005 in her band File, with whom she was the bass player. She recently agreed to the organisational role, which she clearly had found a passion for – “People come, they do their first ever gig sometimes, on this stage, at a festival. How cool is that?! I love to be able to give someone that opportunity.”
She also was full of love and praise for the Riverside music festival community: “we […] build on that little community, and it just builds over the years[…] It’s like a tiny part of a massive thing, but it’s massive to us” (below you can see the Fringe Stage in full swing).
Finally, I spoke to the co-founder and director of Riverside music festival, Andy Pickard (pictured below). Andy is renown and loved by all – we didn’t make it through the interview without having a passer-by shout out a cry of affection! Andy reminisced about where Riverside Festival began relative to where it is now: “We had one stage the first year, one toilet, 2 barrels of beer […] now there’s 40 acts, 3 stages…. and a lot more toilets!”(Not to mention the full licencing!)
Andy felt that Riverside music festival 2022 was “better than ever”, and judging by the atmosphere, I think that the festival-goers agreed. As with everyone I spoke to, Andy sang the praises of the festival community: “The Riverside community is really strong […] I couldn’t do it without all my friends who have been with me for years”.
Community, Farewells and New Beginnings at Riverside Music Festival
The word community came up a lot in the course of my interviews. There is a strong community spirit at Riverside music festival, where young and old seamlessly mix, with dedicated regulars and selfless volunteers coming together to create a magical weekend for their local area.
As in previous years, Riverside music festival has a strong commitment to creating opportunities for young music enthusiasts looking to break into the scene. There was an evident desire to “give back” to the community. Just as new talent was entering the Riverside Festival community, this year was also a time to say goodbye.
Several weeks before the festival, the Riverside community tragically lost co-founder and organiser, Gary Walker. There were pictures on the stages in his honour and loving words for Gary from the many performers.
“He was with us from the very beginning, and he was a massive part of it and a genuine legend, loved by everybody, and that’s why there has been this outpouring of respect for him” , Andy told.
While Gary may be gone, what he built lives on. Riverside music festival is a truly wonderful experience – a blend of fun, thrilling performances and a welcoming community populated by some wonderful people. This year was Riverside’s 25th anniversary, and I expect the festival will be running for many years to come. With such a strong community, there will doubtless be selfless, committed individuals who will be willing to pick-up the baton, when the time comes.