A little bit about Meraki…
August this year saw the very first Meraki festival held in St Albans. The team behind this festival went all out to create a 3 day all inclusive bonanza. Camping, family activities and music all rolled into one. The first thing that caught my eye with this festival was the amount on offer for the ticket price. Daily activities including baby sensory classes, arts and crafts, soft play, and kiddie raves that ran from 7am till 5pm? That seemed like good value.
The headliners? Let’s just say they’re not our usual cup of tea. Seeing as having a baby has completely robed us of rhythm we weren’t planing on doing much dancing. Getting to hear some live music whilst keeping the little dude entertained sounded good. I had to check this out. Meraki has more family friendly facilities than you can shake a stick at. This was a great chance to have a practice run for next years season and cut Emerson’s festival teeth.
So whats a guy gonna do?
I dived in head first and brought a weekend camping ticket for around £140. Instead of telling the wife I thought, I know I’ll keep quiet and surprise her a few days before. Here’s a quick lesson on things not to do to a new mother: Surprise her with festival tickets a few days before it starts. As I proudly revealed what I had planned for the weekend a look of absolute horror came over her face. This was not the joy and excitement I envisioned in my head. What had I done wrong!? “I’ve got nothing to wear! “ was the reply.
Of course! I had forgotten the golden rule, a woman’s outfit is everything! Cue a Tasmanian devil style tornado as my wife tore through wardrobes and drawers amid cries of “nothing fits anymore”. This was swiftly followed by, I’m a size 16 now, do you realise that Pete?, SIZE 16!” I’m fairly confident at one point whilst trying on denim shorts she actually faked not being able to pull them up over her bum. A moment reminiscent to OJ Simpson trying on the black leather glove at his trial.
Not a great start, as far as great starts go.
She finally calmed down after I suggested that we wouldn’t be hitting the road till tomorrow evening. Technically she still had a day to hit the shops and just like that the outfit drama was resolved. So that night we loaded up the car with the typical festival essentials. Tent, air bed, sleeping bags plus about 5000 extra baby items and headed to bed. Here I’d love to be able to say that the next day we had a nice pleasant stress free journey. We didn’t!
I got home late from work (again) and by the time we finally left it was 8pm. I was doing my best Lewis Hamilton round the m25 admiring the sunset when it suddenly hit me. Shit! It’s getting dark, we have a baby and I need to put a tent up! By the time we had arrived, parked and done the usual three return trips to the car it was dusk. The tent poles were out and the pressure was on.
Even though I’ve put up this tent about 5 times it suddenly became like the hardest puzzle in the world. I felt like I was a contestant on Krypton Factor. But I would have been useless on Krypton Factor and I’m completely useless at putting up tents in the dark. After numerous “married couple” jibes at one another like “I told you this would happen” and “how are you helping just sitting there?” We actually pulled together and helped by a couple of iPhone torches, got the thing up.
Team work makes the dream work
By this point we had a very bored, hungry baby and an even hungrier mummy and daddy. Whilst the wife took care of the little guys milk addiction I donned a hoodie and ventured out. Hunter gatherer style! With only one bar open on the first night I didn’t have to look too far. Right by the 2nd stage inside a small marquee was a pop up pub ran by the well known “Ye Old Fighting Cock” in St Albans.
20 mins later I was walking back to the tent. Posh lamb kebab for her, a steak burger for me and 2 large G&T’s. Top festival points need to be awarded here for the stackable cups being used at the bar. These were new, to us anyway, and we later found out they could be used at all the bars. Nice to see Meraki taking green approach to drinks containers along with some of the larger festivals.
Party Time or nah?
A typical time for us to roll into bed on the first night of a festival is around 5.30am. I think we can safely say that’s out of the question when you’re at a child friendly festival. Sat in the comfort of our tent sipping our well deserved gin we both agreed on something. The thought of getting our heads down before 11pm actually seemed quite appealing. We woke the next day feeling refreshed and……ahhh who am I kidding. We woke up tired and due to our new found lack of tolerance to drink since becoming parents, a wee bit hungover. “Ok, so I may have got us 2 drinks each at the bar………..alright 2 doubles but that was it. I swear!
The new morning brought new tent dramas, Bear Grylls here ended up spending over an hour in the morning heat trying to attach a tarp sheet to the tent for a bit of extra shade, it was like a bad comedy sketch every time I pegged one side in, the wind would catch the other side and blow it off the tent. Once it was sorted I whipped out the camping stove and prepared the obligatory festival cup of tea and bacon roll. We got the bubba dressed in his first ever festival outfit complete with bucket hat and we were finally ready to get stuck into Meraki! There was a cringeworthy high five to celebrate but to be honest I think we’d earned it.
For the next 2 days our time was spent zig zagging between the music stages and the kiddies field. The Flying Seagull Project’s stage in the latter was hands down the star attraction and they’re multi talented frontman and founder Ash Perrin has an incredible way with words which leaves children mesmerised and adults in stitches. Their crowd control skills were confirmed when they managed to lead a conga line of parents and kids out of the field, around the festival and back in. The main goal was to keep little Em fully entertained, so throughout the weekend we got involved in soft play, baby sensory classes, arts and crafts and even a Diddy Rascals baby rave. These raves are great for adults and kids with completely “child safe” sound levels and a good mix of tunes so mums and dads can have a steady bop while the children burn off some of that excess energy by tearing around like lunatics. The Diddy Rascals inflatable tent was also home to the Hartbeeps classes (I have no idea what that means but the boy absolutely loved them). Another surreal moment came in the form of a tent full of adults doing the hokey kokey with their kids, my son seemed to think this was the greatest moment of all time and proceeded to grin like a Cheshire Cat for the whole duration of the song. It’s been a personal favourite in our household ever since.
Music wise the main stage had a retro theme on the Friday night, I will never forgive Jason Donovan for putting “Especially For You” into my head for 48 hours. “Now we’re back, together, TOOOOGEEEEETHER”. Is it in your head now? Good. Odyssey brought some funk to the festival I really liked they’re set and it was here, for the first time since I arrived, that I felt that uncontrollable head nod and foot tap. Now I’m no huge Spandau Ballet fan but ‘shock’ set for me had to be Tony Hadley. Working his way through a mixed set of covers and his own classics in his trademark fitted blue suit, Hadley made sure he always interacted with the crowd and genuinely looked like he was having a good time.
Other artists that didn’t disappoint were, Rebecca Furgson, Lemar, and the Kondoors. Natalie William’s soul band on the Sunday was set of the weekend for me, little man was jigging his hips all over the shop to her soulful tunes as the afternoon sun hovered above the main stage. We spent a few good hours chilling on hay bales over at the “Upside Down stage” where we saw a great band called Coax. Concrete Caverns and Adrian Garcia deserve a mention here too. On the whole the music was great. Good choices of bands that were well suited to this type of event.
Another little gem of a stage came in the form of a giant inflatable igloo. Aurora Avenue where we shuffled away to Judge Jules and George kafetzis was really cool. It was in here I met 2 Graffiti artists that were painting a “Meraki” piece at the festival earlier that day. This is a great thing for kids to see as it is just as much a part of the modern world as any other art form. I’d love to see more of it next year. Emerson was a bit too small for the lazer tag, climbing wall, Ferris wheel and spa, but I loved the fact that this and more was included in the ticket price. Nobody wants to be shelling out more pounds when you’ve been buying the kids candy floss and 7-up all day.
We packed up to leave Sunday morning and planned to get going around 8pm so we could avoid the Monday rush but not before taking advantage of the free face painting by Glitter Freaks. I would have liked to try out Mearki’s VR beach and silent disco but we just ran out of time. As we drove home with our painted faces we had to have another quick high five, the weekend had been marginally successful and me and Mrs both agreed that Mearki’s first year was an absolute hit. So that’s it, I’ll leave you with this absolute cheesy cracker of a quote from the weekend “With Love to guide us, nothing can divide us” – Jason Donovan, Meraki, 2017
Oh and we’ve booked tickets for next year. See you there.