Summer Boutique Festivals For a More Intimate Musical Experience

For the summer festival-goer, there will always be the massive essentials: Reading and Leeds, Glastonbury, Download, V, and so on. These always provide the cream of the musical crop in a setting filled with thousands and thousands of fellow music-lovers. But these crowds, of course, bring their own challenges, and if you’ve done these several times before, you may be hungering for a somewhat more intimate outdoor festival experience.


Luckily the so-called “boutique festival” concept is increasing in popularity every year. These events focus on a more tightly curated roster of performers and a purposely smaller audience, and often incorporate other forms of entertainment like theater, film, and more. Here are five summer festivals worth a look this year for a different kind of experience.


Beacons, 12-14 August 2011

This two-day festival invites a small number of fans — just a couple thousand! — to enjoy a specially curated programme of left-field sounds in a picturesque setting in the Yorkshire dales. The lineup this year includes both rock and electronic music, including a diverse range of artists like Frankie & the Heartstrings, Jamie Woon, Jamie XX, Toddla T, and the Cave Singers. The festival bills itself as child-friendly and also offers a selection of local food and beers, fancy dress, cinema, a vintage fair, and more.


Toddla T is among the diverse roster of performers at Beacons (Photograph by Tom Jackson)




Shambala, 25-28 August 2011

This super-underground festival has been running for some 12 years almost solely on word of mouth. You don’t find out the location until you buy a ticket, and you don’t find out the programme or musical lineup until you arrive! There are four different stages planned, with genres including rock, roots music, electronic music, and even folk, jazz, and world sounds. This promises a family-friendly environment centered on camping (and campfires!) and plenty of eccentric characters.

A scene from the 2009 edition of the festival. (Photograph via Brian Tomlinson on Flickr)





Standon Calling, 12-14 August 2011

This small Hertsfordshire festival started out as a party among friends, and grew over the years by word of mouth into its current incarnation of a few thousand fans gathered in a 16th-century manor house. The theme this year is “Gods & Monsters,” and top-billed performers this year include Spiritualized, Battles, and Hercules and Love Affair. Like most other small festivals, there is an emphasis on fancy dress, and art installations feature throughout the grounds. Fun bonuses: The festival also features a nightclub in a cowshed and a swimming pool!

One of Standon Calling's most popular features is a swimming pool (Image via ebotunes on Flickr)




Summer Sundae, 12-14 August 2011

This medium-size Leicester weekender started in 2001 and has become beloved for its unpredictable, eclectic lineups. This year’s performers include indie favorites like Graham Coxon and the Maccabees alongside reggae legends Toots and the Maytals, for instance. There’s also a comedy tent sponsored by the Leicester Comedy Festival and a Victorian-style “Curiosity Corner.”

Summer Sundae is sponsored by the city of Leicester. (Image via mellowdoubt on Flickr)





WOMAD Charlton Park, 29 – 41 July 2011

WOMAD is actually the umbrella name for several festivals and one-off events, but the main event takes place this July in Charlton Park, Malmesbury, Wiltshire. Unlike the indie- and dance-centric feel of many other festivals, the focus here is on world music. Performers this year hail from the U.K. and the U.S., as well as farther-flung locales like Mexico, India, and even Sierra Leone. Extracurricular activities include a food fair, a spa, a “human library,” and cultural workshops. Peter Gabriel is a fan!

WOMAD attracts a crowd as wide-ranging as its musical performers. (Image via Gavin Stewart on Flickr)


About Arielle Castillo

Arielle Castillo is a freelance music and arts journalist based in Miami, Florida. She formerly served as the music editor at the city's largest weekly newspaper, the Miami New Times (part of the Village Voice Media family of publications). Her writing has also appeared in Spin,, Billboard, Nylon, AOL's Spinner, and, among other magazines and web sites. You can find her online at @ariellec on Twitter and at


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