A Very Posh Party for Music-Loving Bohemians
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because every good party should feature a secret garden, explosive sets and skinny-dipping.
By Tracy Moran
Amid the hedgerows of Cambridgeshire, England, a secret kingdom comes to life for one weekend every July, when revelers don fantastical costumes, dance and sing whilst hidden in a nobleman’s garden for a fairytale adventure.
Britain’s landed gentry usually ask that you keep off the grass, but Lord de Ramsey’s family is different: His son, Fred Fellowes, has been swinging open the family’s 6,000-acre estate each year since 2004 to music and art lovers for a Secret Garden Party. Fellowes wanted a more creative antidote to mainstream music festivals, and was inspired by participating in Burning Man.
Party-goers enjoy frolicking on the grass — literally and illicitly — pitching tents, meditating and soaking up the artistic and musical offerings presented on 14 stages.
Gentlemen can earn extra points in best-dressed contests for using ‘performance-enhancing snuff’ or daintily eating cucumber sandwiches.
There are few places where gentlemen can earn extra points in best-dressed contests for using “performance-enhancing snuff” or daintily eating cucumber sandwiches. And it’s not every day you see folks parading about in every manner of dress, cross-dress and undress — many skinny-dipping in ponds and streams — but all of the above are possible and in fact highly probable at the SGP.
This year’s theme, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” paved the way for lions, tin men and Dorothies galore, but it wouldn’t have been complete without an Emerald City — erected at the center of the lake.
Guests include everyone from royalty to local children, and people travel from every corner of Britain. Even Prince Harry was on hand this year — but he didn’t win the best-dressed gentleman’s contest. Apparently he forgot his snuff (and to enter).
On Thursday, everyone arrives looking fresh and fluffy; by Sunday, they look like well-loved stuffed animals.
Tickets cost about $350 per person, and that’s before any food or beer is consumed. But those who live near Ramsey’s estate get free tickets — no doubt a bribe to keep the locals quiet about the noise that can be heard for miles across the Cambridgeshire countryside.
Every imaginable musical taste is sated; this year’s performances ranged from Public Enemy’s political rants to the formal ballads of Max Raabe and his Palast Orchester (think 1920s Germany). Reggae, electronic synth pop, blues, country, rock, folk and rap mingle in the air, with art, meditation tents and food stalls scattered throughout the grounds.
Partyers dance in Wellies, flip-flops and bare feet, donning outlandish costumes or nothing at all. When the scheduled music ends, temporary discos housed in walls made of hay start to pump up the volume, ensuring that very few get a good night’s sleep.
As the center of Oz burned, festival-goers were reminded that the Emerald City — like their mythical weekend — is ephemeral.
On Thursday, everyone arrives looking fresh and fluffy; by Sunday, they look like well-loved stuffed animals. In between, the night skies and concert stages light up with fireworks and big-name bands. But there’s one act that steals the show every year: Sunday night’s Big Burn on the Lake Stage, where the themed construction goes up in flames.
As the center of Oz burned, festival-goers were reminded that the Emerald City — like their mythical weekend — is ephemeral and elusive. Dressed-up dandies and hungover hippies left their secret kingdom, already dreaming of what next year’s fairytale would bring.