Not many British DJs could coax a Californian headliner across the Atlantic to star as a special guest at the second year of a new, fledgling festival while the world is still reeling from a pandemic.
And yet on Friday night Gilles Peterson, who many will recognise from the Saturday afternoon show he has hosted on Radio 6 since 2011, welcomed none other than Thundercat to the main stage of We Out Here. The virtuoso bass player and two-time Grammy winner – who began as a session musician for Erykah Badu before working with rapper Kendrick Lamar on his landmark album To Pimp a Butterfly and then releasing four acclaimed albums of his own – appeared with his red dreadlocks and a childish grin on the main stage to yells of disbelief.
A star of this stature had suddenly given this little Cambridgeshire festival some serious wattage. But perhaps also this is where a musician as eccentric as Thundercat thrives best: the modest crowd clearly allowing him to feel comfortable enough to forgo the crowd-pleasers in favour of his quirkiest songs, including one written about his cat Tron, alongside brilliant bass solos and improv. With the festival cancelled in 2020 a result of Covid, this was the perfect welcome back that will surely turn many attendees into regulars.
Peterson launched We Out Here – billed as a jazz festival “for everyone” – in 2019 to great success. Located in the picturesque fields surrounding Huntingdon, stages are separated by stout, rolling hills and two large lakes (one for swimming, the other ruled by two white swans providing a useful meeting point for lost souls).
The music is as varied as it is inclusive, with this year’s brilliant line-up including British jazz quintet Ezra Collective and saxophonist Nubya Garcia, as well as grime DJ Benji B, house DJ Floating Points, psychedelic RnB singer Greentea Peng, and rockers Black Country, New Road. While families headed home as the sun went down – having exhausted their charges with everything from piñata to pizza-making, or, as one dad confided in me, secretly dropped them off at the Lost Children tent – younger partygoers raved until 5am in the Forest.
With thick foliage covered in sparkling pink fairy lights and little canopied tunnels snaking between stages and bars, it truly felt like a magical wonderland. Particularly if you were lucky enough to stumble upon a tiny, secret pub serving pints of real ale – the perfect refuge during the Friday night drizzle.
Post-pandemic, it’s assumed that most festivals will get off to a creaky return, juggling last minute set-ups and flaking acts with one of the wettest August in years. Covid could have pulled the plug on a new, alternative festival such as We Out Here altogether. Hats off to Peterson for carrying this off with a bang.