El Dorado Festival 2019 Delivers On Promise Of Exotic Escape
As you wind your way through the green and undulating countryside that surrounds Eastnor Castle Deer Park in Herefordshire, you get the impression that on any other weekend in the area, the most raucous it gets is when a fete rolls on into the early hours of the evening.
But once a year, all the hedge-trimming competitions and roadside vegetable sales are punctuated by an explosion of colour, as thousands descend from the rolling hills for El Dorado festival.
This was the fourth edition of the 'intimate and enchanting boutique festival' - brought to us by Cirque Du Soul - and it absolutely delivered on its promise to help us 'escape everyday life in search of something far more exotic'.
Of course, at any festival, people go with the intention of having a great time, but sometimes it can feel like it's a dog eat dog fight for fun, with people happy to push in or elbow you in the face to get their fix. Equally, there can be factions within a festival, with pretentiousness taking centre stage.
But at El Dorado, everyone just let their hair down in whichever way they pleased, be that through the medium of disco, house, drum and bass, techno or Disney karaoke (there's no judgement at El Dorado).
I personally didn't/don't have any hair to let down, however, my baldness did earn me an unwarranted self-esteem boost from a very merry reveller as I went to the toilet on Saturday afternoon.
Very Merry Reveller: "That toilet is free now ma- WAIT, YOU'RE MR SCRUFF?!"
Me: "That's me."
Very Merry Reveller: "Maaaaaaaaaaaaaate. Me and the boys just saw you at Mount Boom you smashed it!"
"Cheers mate," I replied, hastily locking myself in the cubicle before he asked for a selfie.
The aforementioned Mount Boom was one of three new stages introduced this year, along with El Paradisco and The Sasscienda.
Indeed, while El Dorado prides itself on offering an intimate experience, this intimacy doesn't come at the expense of diversity or scope. Each stage brought something different to the table, offering plenty to keep you enthralled, while still being manageable enough that you have a decent chance of running into somebody without actually having made plans to meet up (I hugged a guy who sprayed me in the toilet [with aftershave] on four separate occasions across the course of the weekend).
The pick of the stages for me was Treasure Island, which was based on a pontoon. From the main arena, it looked like an idyllic floating party paradise and throughout the festival it was a twinkling temptation in the distance. However, I didn't actually get to enjoy the island until the Sunday, as every time I forayed through the woods to get there I was met by a queue, and I got itchy feet standing in line when there was so much else going on around me.
That said, I missed a good chunk of the music on the Friday night after becoming embroiled in a late-night pile-on in a haystack ball pit, with each new entrant to the pit jeered into belly-flopping on top.
Still, I don't regret the hours I spent submerged in balls, hay, humans and glitter, as I had some fantastic chats while I was there; it's just a shame I don't remember a word of what was said.
But of course, music is the main event - and it did not disappoint. I've been to dance-based festivals in the past which have left me pining for an instrument or a vocal or two, and El Dorado delivers in this respect. If you love nothing more than wall-to-wall DJs playing what my mum would call 'duff duff' music, then you won't be disappointed either. However, if you're hungover during the day and you're craving something different, there is plenty of choice.
Iyamah was the perfect tonic on Saturday afternoon, with her soulful vocals breezing away the cobwebs from the night before, while the orchestral rendition of Destiny's Child that followed got the singalongs in full swing.
Gentleman's Dub Club had The Garden stage bouncing on Sunday afternoon too, setting the perfect tone for the festival headliners, Kool & The Gang.
The band proved an absolutely inspired choice to close El Dorado, with their abundance of jubilant hits perfectly encapsulating the spirit of the festival. And then, just when the mood couldn't feel any more euphoric, fireworks lit up the night sky, as thousands below celebrated and had a good time (as the lyrics of 'Celebration' requested).
As the festival drew to a close, I could feel a heavy sadness coming over me. However, the blow of having to leave was softened by the fact I didn't have to pack up my tent, as I stayed in a bell tent in the 'glamping area'.
I haven't mentioned this until now, as I didn't want to alienate the mudbloods who stayed in general camping, but honestly, it was really good. Sleeping on the air-beds inside hardly felt different to sleeping at home, while easy access to hot showers and proper toilets left me feeling unusually fresh for a festival.
The only real downside to the glamping experience is that it makes the idea of going back to general camping seem ludicrous; like going back to hanging up your washing after experiencing a tumble dryer, or going to the bar to order at Spoons after ordering a round on the app.
I realise that is hardly a downside and that this review has been pretty much completely positive, but I'm honestly struggling to think of a decent criticism.
It rained while I was queueing for food on Saturday evening and I had come too far in the queue to turn back - so that was pretty annoying. Even then though, it was insufficient rain to dampen my spirits; after all, what could be more refreshing than rice in a downpour?
Plus, I'd already had a sit-down brunch at the onsite Brother Marcus restaurant, which was delicious and set me up nicely for the day; though word of advice, only order a Bloody Mary if you know you definitely like them.
But it wasn't the fancy food and camping options that made the festival so enjoyable, it was the people and the atmosphere they helped to create. I'd go as far as saying it was the most enjoyable fest I've ever been to - and that's coming from a guy who's been to other festivals.
I think the only time I felt even slightly irked the whole weekend was on the first day when I overheard a guy say, "Maaaaan tooooo many vibes!" ... Because seriously, what the hell is that supposed to mean?
However by the Sunday night, I had been so immersed in bliss, I could have gone right up to that guy and smooched him right on his nonsense-spewing mouth.
The fifth instalment of El Dorado has already been confirmed for the weekend of 2 July 2020, so make sure you get yourself a ticket... and go ahead and treat yourself to a bell tent while you're at it.
You won't regret it.
Featured Image Credit: El Dorado