Off Air
Station offline
Post image

REVIEW: Come Bye Festival 2023

This feature is the fourth and final piece of our Grassroots is Greener series – which looked at the health and sustainability of the small, independent, dance music festival scene, and talks to the punters and organisers that make it possible.

Photography: Amy Fearn

Come Bye is totally unique, fully without pretension, and relaxed to a T. It’s diverse, engaging, and hilarious. It is utopia – a utopia that can only be dreamt up by people with a talent for organisation, an over-active imagination, a wide and committed social circle, an experience of festival and event planning, and a convenient plot of dreamy farmland in the Welsh countryside. 

Inspired partly by Burning Man, but thankfully without the startup founders and tech bros, Come Bye founder Max wanted to start a festival with an ethos of gifting. Everyone is invited, but not pressured, to bring something to share for their attendees. This could be a talk, a stand up routine, an art installation, or any other passion someone may have – adding a sense of collaboration and belonging where everyone is an active participant and no one just a spectator. This keeps everyone coming back to a constantly evolving landscape of esoteric experiences.

Photography: Amy Fearn

There are two main barns for music, both sound-proofed and kitted out with incredible lights and sound systems, which come on at night for dance music while one is a stage for bands in the day. The line-up has its usual suspects of underground UK talent – although it was lacking DJs who’d play something less than harder electronic dance music but more than sleepy ambient. This is my one complaint: where’s the Al Green?

The festival orbited around the ‘umbilical cords’ tent, which is a small outdoor stage, covered in bean bags, playing various music in the day and strictly ambient at night. It was far too comfortable, and I spent too much time lying down and chatting in its warm embrace. Saying that, however, it was also one of the few festival contexts I’ve heard ambient music make sense to me in a festival setting.

Photography: Amy Fearn

As per, I had too much fun to properly appreciate the extra-curricular activities this festival had to offer, but the days were packed with unique chances to learn and play.. Debates, poetry recitals, talks about sobriety and conspiracy theories, stand-up comedy, a musical theatre performance, a vegetable growing competition, and even a sheepdog herding display. This definitely beats your standard ‘guided meditation hour’ and a small vintage clothes store.

Come Bye started with a Welsh men’s choir on the Thursday evening (as it does every year) and finished with a huge gong bath on the Sunday to mark both ends of this truly special weekend. These bookends represented the festival – inherently connected to the land and spiritual wellness without any hint or demand of pretension or seriousness.

Photography: Amy Fearn

Last, but not least, may be one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed: Miss Come Bye. This is impossible to describe and difficult to believe for those who haven’t seen it. Somewhere between a drag show and a talent show, contenders exhibited incredible outfits, routines, characters, and props.. Despite the time and effort taken, this was not a serious affair. Every contender committed to hilarity, and a liberating, inspiring sense of silliness; we were all kids again.

Throughout the main field were small art installations and scientific exhibits. Just to add cherries to cakes, there were some adorable, if shy, farm dogs running around, and if you think it all couldn’t get any cuter, a postal service delivered love letters to peoples’ crushes.

Photography: Amy Fearn

Keeping the Grassroots Green

Come Bye is a lesson and perhaps a warning for anyone organising a micro festival. It is one blessed with the right ingredients – a beautiful plot of land, close contacts throughout the UK’s dance music underground, years of experience in event planning, and a huge circle of friends and family willing to volunteer their artistic and creative talents in the service of something greater.

Together, this lucky set of circumstances means that a great festival can be created every year with a fair ticket price, and even then, 2023 was the first time they’ve broken even in five years of doing it.

In my opinion, running a successful club night and having dreams of organising a truly special weekend is not enough to cut the mustard. Before you add to and saturate the multitude of boutique festivals we already have, you should perhaps ask yourself what you are bringing to the table.

Everyone likes a garden party. What is difficult, however, is to really add to the UK festival scene in quality, not just quantity, and draw people in who aren’t directly connected to the organisers and DJs. These considerations are both vital for the sustainability of the UK summer festival circuit.

People have too much choice, and most likely, less money and fewer free weekends – so they spend both more wisely; too many festivals to choose from will ultimately lead to fewer surviving.

by Dominic Alston

Photography: Amy Fearn

Back to home.