Bardfest: How a tiny village festival in Suffolk grew to host 8,000 people

Crowds enjoying Bardfest in 2019

Crowds enjoying Bardfest in 2019 - Credit: Bardfest

Bardfest, one of Suffolk's largest music festivals, will be returning to the sleepy village of Bardwell near Bury St Edmunds this summer.

The festival, taking place on Friday, July 1 and Saturday, July 2, will bring a line-up of major acts to Suffolk, including The Vamps, The Hunna, and The Sherlocks.

But how did Bardfest get so big and attract such huge names?

Organiser Gary Howard said: "This will be the 11th Bardfest— it would have been the 13th if Covid hadn't got in the way. 

"It was originally created to fundraise for a much-unloved playing field with an old wooden pavilion, more of a shed really. Some of the villagers got together, and decided they needed to make better use of this field, so they started a cricket team.

"As the team got established, they ran small fundraisers to help pay for equipment and keep fees low. The club became more established and branched out into a football team, and a ladies cricket team, and just carried on growing. 

"It became the hub of not only the Bardwell community but also the surrounding villages."

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However, while the club had raised some money through small events, the pavilion was still a tumbledown mess. 

Mr Howard added: "We were thinking, 'how are we going to raise the funds for something more permanent' and Steve Rader, the club chairman came up with the idea to start having a festival on the outskirts of the cricket pitch. 

"Somebody who had lorries brought in one of their lorries, we got in a few barrels of beer, we had a couple of bands to play, and born was the first Bardfest."

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Pop-rock band the vamps will be headlining Bardfest's Saturday - Credit: The Vamps

The festival has grown dramatically since those early days, and the 2022 edition will feature food vendors from across the world, more than 40 real ales, artisan cider and spirits, as well as dozens of local and national artists across two stages. 

Mr Howard continued: "The following year, we went a bit bigger, and the year after that we went bigger still, and one of these years we started to get to a point where we were attracting more people.

"Six years into the whole cycle, the volunteers thought 'this could help us' and we laid the foundations to start fundraising for the pavilion."

The Snuts, who has been tearing up the UK festival scene with their trademark brand  will be coming to Bardwell,

The Snuts, who have been tearing up the UK festival scene with their trademark brand of indie rock, will be coming to Bardfest - Credit: The Snuts

"As it got bigger, we started to attract not just more people, but also bigger name acts. 

"It was a huge surprise, but it was a concerted effort— while the bands we were getting were extremely popular they were mostly local bands, cover bands. 

"We got to a point where we decided to take a bit of a chance on this. We'd created a brand, and some momentum and people started coming back every year. 

"At this stage, we weren't doing camping, so we instigated the ability to camp."

Bardfest will also feature rock band The Hunna

Bardfest will also feature rock band The Hunna - Credit: The Hunna

By 2018, and 2019 the festival had grown to host more than 8000 people and had featured massive acts, including indie band Scouting for Girls. 

Mr Howard said: "In 2018 we really had to mark up the professionalism of it all — we had to have a bigger stage, a more relevant sound desk. To attract these bands, you aren't just paying them, you need to have the infrastructure for them to do what they do.

"You've now had children who've grown up with it, you have families who congregate around it every July, it has got to the point where people set their diaries by it. 

"It's gone from being a tiny little event to really being on the calendar. People are coming from all over the country now because they're following the bands that they love.

"Covid knocked the momentum out of it a little bit, but we've gone up another level this year. We wanted to try and appeal to a mixed crowd with enough variety in the bill so there is something for everybody."

He concluded: "We want to make sure we keep it as a family festival and that it keeps its ethos."