Arts & Culture Events

The Cornbury Festival 2017-The final hurrah?

By Sarah Edwards at

So this year’s Cornbury Festival was the fabulous finale? The last one? That’s it-it’s over…really? I feel a little like my favourite summer event has divorced me without any real explanation as to what went wrong. It is the end of an era and the end of an annual three day full-on committed relationship and I am gutted. Was it something I said Cornbury? Is it you not me?
I can confidently describe myself as a Cornbury Festival veteran-I have been to pretty much every single festival over the last 14 years. As a member of the media I have been privileged to see lots of amazing acts, photograph most of them and interview some of them-it’s been a blast.
Amy Winehouse, Robert Plant, Joe Cocker, Debbie Harry…I have seen them all, been thrilled by their performances and written about them. When the festival moved from its birthplace at Cornbury Park in Charlbury to its apparent resting place at Great Tew, I, along with thousands of other live music fans, moved too and embraced the new venue.
Over the years I have attended the festival with girlfriends, boyfriends, my children and most recently with my husband. The Cornbury Festival may have been a place of work for my media colleagues and I, but for me it has also been a place that has been integral to changing my life and creating a whole new dimension to it.
Fourteen years ago I was a mere 35 (!) and a single mother with children aged four and seven. Time off without them was rare and although they did come with me to the festival on some occasions, the years when I went alone or with a friend were admittedly a lot easier and stress-free. When I witnessed families with small children in fairylight-festooned pull along trucks this year, I think it is fair to say that a large wave of smugness washed over me. I knew that their evening in a tent in a field surrounded by revellers was unlikely to result in the r and r needed to nurse a gin-fuelled hangover from hell the following morning.
However, both of my sons are now huge music fans and regular festival-goers so I like to think that those early Cornbury days will continue to have a lasting impact on their love of music.
Opinions on the event remain divided as far as I can see. There are those, like me, who embrace it, love it for what it is and make the most of it, wholeheartedly buying in to the fact that it is a civilised summer event with Pimms, gin, VIP areas, glamping, pop up shops selling gorgeous things and food that is undoubtedly expensive. Yes it is posh, yes it is expensive to go there and yes it is opposite Soho Farmhouse and no-there is NO riff raff. So what? That is what Cornbury is and always has been so just let it be. Let it be posh, let it be civilised and let it be a weekend music retreat for the well-heeled middle classes-I couldn’t care less if I am surrounded by the wealthiest, poshest most well connected people in Oxfordshire-I go for the music and the beautiful location and to create memories and have a laugh… not to network.
Then there are those who have been seen at the festival but who take great delight in slamming it as a non-festival. As far as I can see they base their opinions on the fact that there are no class A drugs involved and no fights-apparently if you like rock music then it is simply not cool to go to Cornbury. So don’t go then! It’s really very simple.


So Cornbury has been an important punctuation mark in my summer calendar for the last 14 years. Entire life plans have been hatched there over a jug of Pimms, new business ideas developed over a falafel wrap, friendships reignited over coffee and churros and relationships both lost and found-all in a field in Oxfordshire.
I have never had a ‘bad’ Cornbury-yes there has been torrential rain, I have also overdone it and come home looking like a lobster but the weather has never stopped me emersing myself in some amazing live music.
One year I did make a massive mistake and invited a male friend along. He made it quite clear quite quickly that he hated ‘Poshstock’ and spent the entire day making derisory comments and generally being unbearable to be around. We are no longer friends. It really is that simple-if you don’t like it fine but I love it.
My husband proposed to me at Cornbury in 2012-at about 10.45pm after we have had a massive row, he got down on one knee threw his pint over his shoulder in a dramatic and symbolic act and popped the question. The Faces were belting out All or Nothing on the main stage-how could a girl refuse. I was wearing a jumpsuit that I continue to hang on to even though it has seen better days because I wore it at Cornbury the year my life changed in an unexpected but truly spectacular way.
This year’s Cornbury was wonderful, magical and the sun shone all weekend. Sophie Ellis Bextor was gorgeous and brilliant with her high energy disco pop on the Songbird Stage but I have no doubt she could have been even better if she had been on the main stage. The Kaiser Chiefs were just superb, proper showmen, proper music-excellent. Bryan Adams was amazing, the audience adored him and The Pretenders left me wanting more-I actually love Chrissie Hinde. The final act was, of course, Jools Holland with various amazing guests and then it was over. Just like that. A spectacular firework display that lit up the Cornbury sky while I sipped my final festival gin and witnessed the festival magic slowly starting to vanish.


It was like being at a school disco-one minute you are snogging some boy and dancing like you are at Studio 54 and the next the lights come on, the music stops and the magic is over.
As we left, with fireworks exploding overhead, the Walker Brothers No Regrets was being played…don’t tease me Mr Phillimore-let’s rebrand and regroup and come back next year? I am not sure that anyone is quite ready to let Cornbury go just yet. I am certainly not and will continue to be in denial about its demise!