Is the Mathew Street Festival family friendly? The jury’s out
Last week I wrote a rather snarly blog post where I talked about my hatred of the Mathew Street Festival. My friends at Open Culture and Liverpool City Council assured me that the new Strawberry Fields set up in St John’s Gardens would be a welcome and family friendly change from the usual drunkenness and the tired old tribute bands. So I said I’d give it a go.
I packed up my vaguely willing children and carted them off to Liverpool City Centre on the first day of the Festival. The sun was shining as we headed towards the Victoria Monument stage to hear a Blur/Oasis/Coldplay tribute band that actually wasn’t too bad. The atmosphere was pleasant, although it was a bit disconcerting seeing crowds of men swanning about clutching cans of Heineken at two in the afternoon.
After negotiating with the manager of the First National on James Street to allow my kids in for a short while, we spent a lovely hour listening to guitar/singer duo This Is Us. For the short time we were there it was a little oasis of mellow and loveliness. The staff came round and draped us all (kids included) in shiny beads while This Is Us did a fantastic set that included old and new classics ranging from Fleetwood Mac, Supertramp and Alanis Morrisette to Adele and Snow Patrol.
As we’d worn out our child-friendly welcome at the First National, we headed off to the Strawberry Fields event in St John’s Gardens. Getting to this alcohol-free, family-friendly zone involved weaving our way through a crowd that included pissed-up teenagers and groups of drinkers so organised they had what I can only describe as mobile bars with them. They’d set themselves up for the day and one guy stridently warned me to “mind the ale!” as I clambered over his mini-bar in the middle of Victoria Street.
When we finally got to Strawberry Fields it actually wasn’t too bad. The organisers had put on some actors playing Alice in Wonderland characters and the kids there were delighted getting their photos taken with Alice and her chums.
I got talking to Damien Kelly, the community engagement worker from The Brink, which had set up an alcohol-free bar in the gardens. Damien’s enthusiasm for the Strawberry Fields project was infectious. He’d been talking to the public all day and was hoarse as he told me what a difference it had made after the trouble with under-age drinking at last year’s festival.
“Everyone seems to think it’s a safe haven,” he told me. “It’s got a nice vibe and a good mood. It’s been such a success, they should do this every year.” I’d have to agree, even though Damien did think it could have been better publicised. It seemed that most people had ended up there more by accident than design. There were a number of teenagers who were not drinking, but clearly having a good time and enjoying the music, which included Amy Housewine. There was the usual St John’s Gardens on a sunny day vibe with people laid out on the grass from middle-class picnickers to young couples who can’t let go of each other. All jolly nice.
If I was a teacher (I’m not) and Strawberry Fields was my pupil (it isn’t), I’d mark its report card “Good start, look forward to seeing some improvements next time.”
We made our way down to The Planet Boat at the Albert Dock for Shout About Music‘s contribution to the Fringe Festival. With live bands playing on the top deck of the boat and a generally mad crowd on board, this was for my kids the highlight of the day. A bit crackers and with the worst loos this side of Glastonbury, it was nonetheless a great alternative to the slightly snarly atmosphere of the main festival. It was time for us to say our goodbyes when the people using the tiny spiral staircase to get to the top deck were so drunk, they became more entertaining than the acts on the stage.
As we were on the bus heading home at 7:40pm there were girls falling in the gutter in Hanover Street and a mountain of litter everywhere. We’d left at just the right time.
So, back to the big question. Is it possible to like the Mathew Street Festival when you’ve got kids? I’m sure some people would say a resounding, “Hell yeah!” Especially the couple I saw who had a baby in a pram that was adorned with a nappy bag bearing the legend Yummy Mummy that was stuffed with bottles of ale.
I did say in my last post that I hate the Matthew Street festival. Can’t stand it. Having given it another go, I can’t say I love it. I’m not even sure if I’d say I like it. But I am more kindly disposed towards it. Which is something.
Maybe it was the lovely sunshine. Maybe it was that the music was actually not bad or, in some case, actually quite good. Maybe it was the good company I was in. Will I go again with my kids next year? Don’t hold your breath.