You have to hand it to Northampton Beer Festival, nothing brings the town together quite like it.
It enjoyed its best opening night since it moved to Becket’s Park on Friday, despite competition from soul king Lionel Richie performing at Franklin’s Gardens.
True, Lionel was £80 a ticket and the beer festival was a fiver, but it was not just the price difference that made sprawling on the grass with a pint preferable to Dancing on the Ceiling.
The best part of 200 carefully selected ales were on offer, as well as ciders and gins, but there were also food stalls and live music.
It’s a format that has been improving year after year since Phipps NBC teamed up with CAMRA to save the beer festival as a fixture on Northampton’s calendar.
“We are starting to get the odd grumble on social media from the kind of hardcore beer festival goer who thinks it should be a fusty old event with people standing around considering their pints. If so, then good. We are doing it right,” explained organiser Alaric Neville.
“This is a celebration, it feels good, we’ve done well with the weather. I’ve been in a blue haze of frenetic activity for a fortnight and now I can just enjoy it.”
The people filling the expanse of grass between the tents were an eclectic mix of families, groups of young workers fresh from the office and indeed there were one or two men with the distinctive body shape of the true veteran ale conoisseur.
But if you want to know where the crowd that goes to the Umbrella Fair meets the crowd that goes to the Carlsberg Food and Drink Awards then the Northampton County Beer Festival at Becket’s Park is the place.
The Bill Urquart story places Northampton’s thriving microbrewery sector at the heart of a rebel indie brewing culture, but we are also the other end of the scale too: Carlsberg’s UK home.
The beer festival that this town produces should be so much more than some tents in a field and its current manifestation recognises that.
There is a lot of heart that goes into making it happen and this is why it has so much potential for the future – it could become almost anything by just doing more of what it does already, or it could stay as it is and still be great.
Plus the basic premise of putting a nice drink in your hand in a nice place and giving you something to watch and listen to while you enjoy it is a very sound one.
The warmth of the event came through strong at the end of a superb set by the Shed Machinery String Band (aka The Shed Benders aka Real Live Owls) on Saturday afternoon.
The band fronted by Steve Ward of St Giles Cheese invited their drummer’s 11-year-old daughter Freya on stage to improvise a dance from the video game FortNite.
Compere Khandie Kisses – a Northampton photographer and burlesque performer – organised a round of applause for Freya and a selfie from the stage. Just nice.
Northampton’s independent producers should be twisting the arms of Alaric, Sam and Mel to get themselves involved. You can play your own mental game listing the possibilities but you may find some of them have already beaten you to it.
Here’s to the next beer festival and we can declare Northampton’s festival season now well and truly open.
Pictures by Dave Ikin unless otherwise stated