Over to Jess

Held in a secret woodland location, In the Woods festival is a magical experience. With curated events from Friday evening right through to a lazy Sunday breakfast, I was lucky enough to be attending and photographing this event. Just one hour south of London, deep into a wooded wonderland within the Kent countryside. In the Woods really is exactly that, I got a little lost on my way there, but knew I was headed in the right direction when the roads became tiny winding lanes covered by an arch shaped canopy of trees.

Curated and pulled together by the band Laurel Collective and a small crew of dedicated friends and helpers, the festival, now in its 9th year, has fast become a watershed show for new talent. In the past having seen many bands, including Alt-J, Nick Mulvey and Lianne la Havas, play impressive sets just months before their careers took flight. As well as staging some exciting musical talent, In the Woods is also centred around art. Amidst the carefully selected talent, the woods are strewn with flowers, beautiful lights and captivating, interactive art installations are scattered about as the festival goers mingle with nature and music over two stages.

New delights are hidden around each corner, weird and wonderful things peer out from the branches, willing you to explore further, enter deeper and get lost. Strolling through the trees and over the brambles, coming across open spaces framed by woodland - it feels natural, as though it wasn't just put there but has risen out of the woods of its own accord. A silent disco and gigantic bonfire keep things going until sunrise in a picturesque valley beside the site, and with only 1000 tickets available the event has become one of the year's most un-missable parties.

I arrived on site on Thursday not really knowing what to expect. While Anna the Art Director was giving me a tour I really had to use my imagination as she explained what would be where as the locations just looked like woods. I spent Thursday wandering around the site photographing the set up, it was really exciting to be a part of the event before the public arrived, and slowly but surely Annaís' explanations started coming to life as the festival began to take shape.

When I arrived Friday morning the woods looked magical, it was almost ready for the public to start arriving that afternoon at 3pm. Sunflowers lined the path ways, fairy lights twinkled in the trees, small tents for spoken word and poetry and DJ booths had popped up all over the place and I began to get it, In the Woods is unlike any festival I had been to.

If your festival experiences involve warm pints of foamy Carling in a corporate mud bath, this is as far away as you can get...

After a few last minute panics the gates opened at 3 and the public started flowing in, the path leads through the festival to the campsite so the festival goers got a taste of what they were in for, and everyone looked so excited. The empty campsite started to fill up, cider was flowing and chatter and laughter began to fill the air, as well as delicious smells from the food tent.

Only the main stage, The Quarry, was open on the Friday evening as the main day is Saturday, however there was fun and games to be had in the workshop tent, hosting a pub quiz, board games, and later that evening a silent disco. The main event that evening though was Laura Marling, she played a delightfully delicate set, enjoying a pint of local cider herself - noting how strong it was! She played an array of new and old songs and I was lucky enough to get front row for photography. It was great to be able to feel the positive energy flowing between her and the crowd.

Saturday morning arrived with more glee and sunshine. Everything kicked off at midday and I contentedly wandered around the site photographing what was on and the festival goers enjoying themselves. It was a great way to attend the festival, as a photographer, as I had no time schedule, I had a route and ambled about recording it and taking it all in.

Some highlights from my Saturday were stumbling across so much new music, and due to the small size of the festival each performance was very intimate. I was always able to get up close and personal to the performer (and meet them after the show, wandering around). I started the day with some spoken word and then spent a while at the Quarry stage watching some astoundingly good upcoming musical talent including Kyan, Jack Garatt, Temple Songs and Ichi. An incredible plus of being part of the crew was being able to attend the In the Woods Barn Sessions. Held in an impressive old barn were acoustic sessions with some of the bands, which were recorded to go online, I was able to get some photos as long as I kept a low profile and didn't get in the way.

As the day went on and dinnertime was approaching I went to see what was on offer and was delighted to find the most impressive hog roast I had ever seen! Due to open at 7pm, in half an hour's time, the queue was already half way across the width of the field. I got in line and wasn't disappointed by the wait or hog, it was delicious!

With the music over and a giant bonfire lit, all that was left to do is drink and dance and mull over what a great weekend it had been. In the Woods is a small but perfectly formed festival, growing from a mere 80 people in attendance at the inaugural event back in 2006 to in excess of 1000, In the Woods is a small festival with a big reputation. With the exact location of the festival kept as a secret until just before the festival commences, and even then only given to attendees, the intrigue and suspense only adds to the feeling that this is a special secret of a festival, one to be treasured. I can only hope they'll have me back next year to do it all over again!

To see more from Jess, check out her Instagram takeover at Notting Hill Carnival, her trip to Coverack and jump over to her website.