From 2003, back when I was 17 years old the highlight of my summer revolved around a weekend of music in Hylands Park! Living in mid Essex, V Festival was always the social event of the year that you just could not afford to miss out on. Running for 21 years between 1996 and 2017, this was one of the UK’s biggest music festivals attracting up to 90,000 people over the penultimate weekend every August! V was always known for a very diverse yet commercial line-up featuring the biggest names across a variety of genres including: dance, indie, rock, R&B and pop which made it very appealing to a wide spectrum of music fans and the opportunity to discover artists they may not naturally come across. V during its tenure brought the likes of: Beyonce, Bruno Mars, Kings of Leon, The Killers, Oasis, Kylie Minogue, Coldplay, Muse, Green Day, Justin Bieber, Calvin Harris, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Beck, Eminem, Justin Timberlake, Jay Z, Pink, Ed Sheeran and the late Amy Winehouse to what was then the county town of Essex (it became a city in 2012 as part of Queens Diamond Jubilee).
Last year brought an attempt at a festival called “RiZE” which unfortunately was not financially as successful as it predecessor so 2019 was looking like Chelmsford would be without a music festival. However that is where Georgie Thorogood stepped in. An avid country music fan whose family own the adjacent land to Hylands Park had the idea to launch “Dixie Fields” which would bring a summer festival back to Chelmsford and also give Essex the opportunity to experience the country music way of life.
What I had to bear in mind before I start talking about the first running of Dixie Fields is that as much as nostalgia creeps in this is NOT V where I spent my summers before I moved from Maldon to South London and nor did I want it to be! I hated the disgusting toilets seeing them being pushed over and witnessing the Jackass poo cocktail when people walked out, the black matting everywhere was annoying and I despised the level of fake tan and it becoming where people just wanted to be seen or get wasted rather than enjoying the music!
For a first running they got so much right and what they got right they got absolutely spot on! The car park is close to the entrance and campsite so people didn’t have too far to move things which is fantastic. The site is a nice size with plenty of space yet you were never too far away from wherever you needed to head so it wasn’t an excessive amount of walking between points. By festival standards the toilets and showers were firstly sufficient in number and really nice, I had a bit of a first world problem where there were no mirrors in either but considering how clean they were you can live without them. Also no urinals in the campsite is always a good thing and the ones in the arena were hidden away so again was really organised. Bar service was friendly and really quick, beers were really well priced, the reusable cups look great so I doubt people would be returning them as they would want to keep them and paper straws rather than plastic ones so great on the eco-friendly side. Food kiosks were decent in number, a nice variety and again not overpriced then also the merchandise with having a signing tent next door was decent in size and well organised. Georgie and her team were all really helpful and visible which is reassuring for people to know who is running the event if they need any help or have any problems.
Logistically yes they need more bins but that is my generic festival gripe which every event seems to struggle with! One of the big things people were saying was there needs a lot more signage locally to direct people to the site, hopefully Essex County Council can help out with this in future but is something that definitely needed a bit more work! There are things that annoy me about the perception of the country music scene over here, we work really hard at TC along with a lot of other UK sites to distance ourselves from the line dance or “country and western” stereotype but at times this felt like a Toy Story Fancy Dress Party and I think they tried to have too much going on with a bit too much variety attempted and not everything seemed to be overly smooth but in trying to attract more people to it there were more things to pull people in so fair play to them for trying different things like having the fairground, an open air cinema, a songwriters showcase and including a breakfast.
The breakfast really didn’t seem to work as the queue seemed to move so slowly on the Saturday so maybe having an earlier start for it or something a bit quicker or simpler may have helped but it was a nice touch. However having something going on during the pack up morning was something you don’t see at festivals so again I quite liked it and it actually worked with the acoustic set before people left the site. The fact that it just seemed to end almost suddenly after the main stage finished on the Saturday night felt a bit of an anti-climax but being local I am aware of the noise issues with the local council but maybe there could be a way to do something? The only other comment would be about security, it was adequate in number but they didn’t seem to check too much in terms of what people were bringing in or who had a camping wristband – maybe this was more to do with who they hired rather than the actual organisers.
Musically I had not seen Stevie O’Connor before (I’m going sound amusingly ironic here to the Northerners who moan about how we get life too easy for gigs in the South) because I don’t think he had done many shows around London but thought he put on a great show, has a nice voice that is very smooth to listen to and was perfect entertainment for the first night so come and do some more shows in the capital please. I would personally rather have had some more music on the first night (and would definitely ditch the karaoke) rather than a film but putting your headliners film on the night before seemed to go down well with people there and possibly gave people that may not know much about Lauren Alaina a bit more of an introduction to her.
The acts booked were all a great fit for the festival and I think all of them went down really well! The sound was really good for everyone on stage and there was a really good mix of people on stage. I think Lauren was the perfect headliner for the event, she has a lot of fun, brings a lot of energy and the crowd really got into her set with a lot of people singing along so it was amazing to have her playing in Chelmsford! Taylor Swift played her first UK festival in the same town 10 years ago (at V in 2009) and she has done pretty well for herself over here since then where she plays really big outdoor shows over here now so let’s hope Lauren can follow in those footsteps in the UK. She was the absolutely the best person to set the vibe for this festival and show what people that weren’t there were missing out on whilst making anyone that was there already be excited for 2020! We were really lucky to get to spend some time with Lauren in London in what was a really fun and in-depth interview (which you can read HERE) and I really hope people get to catch her on the remainder of this tour!
Having a lot of local connection on the bill with Southend’s finest Holloway Road (doing the most Essex thing ever walking on stage carrying their cool box of beer was the most AMAZING thing I had seen) showing why people rate them as the best live band for getting the crowd going amongst the UK country scene. People go and see them then want to see them again and again so you have a lot of people singing along to their songs in the crowd. Then The Jackson Line will definitely be a lot more in demand after their appearance at Dixie Fields and I think jumped very quickly up the food chain as such amongst UK artists after this performance! It had been absolutely ages since I had spoken to the guys as I met them a few years back before they were “The Jackson Line” when they used to play with Think Country’s very own Amy Westney (so clearly they are a lot better and less annoying now than they were before) so was really good to catch up and these guys are great so will definitely be one to watch! The other name that I think a lot more people will be talking about Jackson Michelson is definitely not a local! He was probably the most unknown name on the bill from many attendees but the Oregon native on his first visit to this side of the pond delivered a rousing uptempo set which included getting down into the crowd and dancing along with them. I’m sure this won’t be the last time that we see him come over to the UK as I am sure everyone attending the festival is now a fan of this guy.
The other local on stage isn’t really that local anymore as British Airways Flight 222 takes a little bit longer than shooting up the A130 from Rayleigh used to for Glen Mitchell to get to Chelmsford! Royal South are good friends of ours and it is always fun to catch up with them, they are all incredibly talented as individuals and their sound is fantastic plus they just get tighter and cleaner each time you see them play as a trio! I wrote a post earlier this year about them as a band and their debut single which you can check out HERE and the guys have some more dates when they return at the end of the summer which you can check out in our #ThinkCountrySeeCountry tour listings HERE as they have plenty of dates all over the country. It’s amazing to see how they continue to grow their fanbase over here with anyone that comes across their music and they are one of the hardest working acts in Nashville to make the UK market work for them.
Then in my typical all over the place way of writing things it’s only natural to finish at the start as main stage opened up with Remember Monday who for me to watch live are comfortably the most natural, likeable, creative and interesting of the vocal harmony trios around the UK scene right now. I just like that they do what they do and stand by it because they do it very well! They just seem to impress me more each time that I see them and I think their banter between each other on stage is great which just adds to their likeability. I particularly like the split vocal arrangement plus their acoustic up-tempo vibe in their live shows was a perfect opening for the festival.
The event was a great opportunity to catch up with friends plus finally put some faces to names of other people doing great things supporting country music in the UK which was great to see everyone in unison to help support this event. The size of festival was perfect, the line-up was so fitting for the event and they got so much right that everyone is already excited about next year with this being a permanent fixture on the UK country scene and more importantly that Chelmsford once again has a music festival for the rest of the country to be envious of!