The twice yearly Off The Tracks Festivals are truly hidden jewels in the festival crown; a magical combination of first class facilities, organization, intelligent music policy, a unique farm environment, great artists, and brilliant, brilliant festival goers.  If ever a festival typified all that is good and precious about the small independent festival then Off the Tracks is surely it. No matter what your musical tastes or festival preferences, there should always be a place reserved for events like Off The Tracks in anyone’s festival calendar. No wonder it’s now in its 23rd year. FFA was lucky enough to attend the Off The Tracks (OTT) Spring festival (27-29 May 2011) …. and we loved it!

The festival is held twice a year near Donington in Derbyshire, and is centred around a permanent camping site and converted farm buildings. We are talking plentiful brick built toilet and shower blocks here. Think that’s good? Then picture this; part of the farm buildings function as a hotel with a pub and restaurant the rest of the year, so in-between the bands you can slip into a real, warm, boozer for a pint and some quality, excellently priced food. Sure beats standing under a leaking awning in the rain eating your heart out from a plastic tray!  This runs until 5am. Pretty neat eh? Oh, and did we mention a real ale bar in the barn selling 45 different ales and ciders – with prices starting from a ridiculously low £2.70 a pint?  It gets better. To complete the picture, the main stage is in the old farmyard creating a very special, intimate, and unique environment to watch some first class musicians ply their trade. And the crowd – what a lovely bunch of chilled folks.  Due to OTT’s range and depth of music policy, the festival crowd is one of the most diverse we’ve seen – from Space Cadet to Old Hippy, with everything in-between! The vibe at this event is absolutely electric. No wonder this small and intimate festival typically sells out year on year.

We met up with the lucky FFA competition winners for OTT tickets & camping; “I’ve mobility problems for this festival and needed my wheelchair” said Mags Derbyshire. “The permanent disabled facilities meant I could enjoy the festival just like everyone else, and both the staff and other festival goers could not do enough to assist when needed. We’ve had a great time.” And what of the Bellamy family who were lucky enough to win the ‘glamping’ prize; “The Camel Camping tents and quiet location are lovely. The pre-erected tents are excellent and a great idea.” said Ruth. “Within a few minutes of arriving the kids were playing and we were relaxed and ready to enjoy this excellent festival.”

What of the bands you ask?  Highlights for FFA on the Friday were Rankin Steady, playing some marvelous good-time ska and reggae to really get the festival off to a flying start, and Oysterband.  As the guys from Oysterband told FFA after their set “it’s one of the most unique festival venues we’ve played”. And how they played it, polished and intense, with social commentary and joyous good fun … quality folk rock at its best.

Throughout the weekend, the good folks from Cabbage brought their renowned Psy Trance nights to the Barn Stage with some of the best AV stuff we’ve seen for many a day (or night!).

Saturday saw some sunshine and an excellent set from Simon Mandala & The Mandala Mystics. Recently formed, these guys really deliver. Some powerfully political messages and thoughtful lyrics delivered in a wrapper of quality modern reggae.

Whilst some of FFA disappeared Saturday evening to watch The Game (and subsequently consigned two hours of their lives to the cutting room floor), the wiser heads took in the Los Pacaminos set. Paul Young heads up this Tex-Mex outfit and they had the place rocking to some great classics.

System 7 closed proceedings on the main stage with a masterly set of beats; the packed farmyard was heaving to bass lines so deep it felt like someone jumping on your chest, whilst simultaneously tickling your toes.  Quality.

Sunday nicely illustrated the adventurous music policy of OTT with a hugely disparate range of music on offer. Doing their bit to firmly place Senegambian music on the UK festival scene, the main stage featured the brilliant Sura Susso Trio. For those of you unfamiliar with the Kora (African harp), it is a wonderful instrument, which the hugely talented Sura Susso played to great effect. An awesome set. Sura guested with the equally talented Baraka later in the day to prove that he’s no slouch on the percussive front either. A heady cocktail of African, Caribbean, and Irish influences, producing some splendid world music.

Vaudeville and general silliness do not always translate well on the festival stage, but the New Rope String Band pulled it off with aplomb, delivering a set that was genuinely novel, clever, entertaining, and above all, very funny.  Some talented musicians behind that batch of general mayhem.
Meanwhile the site was abuzz with talk of the Nordic Giants set, with the duo providing a live and original soundscape to a backdrop of award winning short films. Powerful, melodic, and immensely entertaining.

The Monster Ceilidh Band again delivered the goods for dance-along high energy ceilidh music, and the tone changed yet again for the arrival of Leatherat. The ‘at played a set laced with new material from their forthcoming album… and excellent it was too. In an OTT exclusive, and clearly nervous, the guys launched into Eye Of The Storm, a new song first time live. Old stagers that they are, both the song and the set were faultless. You can tell your kids that you heard it here first!

Events on the main stage were rounded off with The Christians. Gary Christian has surrounded himself with some first class musicians to deliver a set laced with classic after classic. Epic stuff to finish an exceptional festival.

OTT returns with The Summer event in early September; same ethos and vibe but with a twist to the music policy and stage layout to keep everything nice and fresh.  As the ‘at said to FFA after their set and heading for the bar ‘We love it here’.  Who are we to argue?

Off The Tracks returns with the The Summer festival 2nd – 4th September 2011.  Full details here: