Far from the mainstream festival crowd

There are a growing number of small festivals that offer personal touches and originality over superstar lineups – and excessive ticket prices. Chris Salmon rounds up 10 of the best

'It's pretty standard to say that the huge festivals lack character, but it has some truth," says Lee Denny, a 22-year-old from South London, whose LeeFest went from garden party to award-winning small festival in three years. "With 80,000 people you become a number in a crowd. Maybe that's what some people want, but LeeFest is about more than that. We want to provide quality music in a fun environment that people can feel part of."

Denny is typical of the UK's new breed of small festival organisers motivated more by putting on a great party than squeezing every last penny out of punters. None of the 10 festivals listed below costs even half of what you'd pay for a ticket to V, Glastonbury or Reading. While they might lack the budget to book superstars, they more than make up for it with personal touches, originality, inclusiveness and eclectic programmes of music they're passionate about. In festivals, small isn't just beautiful, it's often better.

Best freebie: Lynton and Lynmouth music festival

Headliners: Thea Gilmore, Babyhead, Andy Votel

We say: Known as Llama for short, this terrific event takes over two beautiful north Devon towns, filling their pubs, halls, streets, churches and cinema with what the organisers describe as "high-quality cutting-edge music", be it folk, rock'n'roll, bhangra, punk or pop. And that entertainment won't cost you a bean: just turn up and enjoy. You should, though, book your accommodation before you arrive (check the website for options from campsites to hotels).

They say: "The festival is run completely by volunteers, with money raised throughout the year. There is no fence to patrol or tickets to check, so it's a free festival in all senses of the word. The site combines the best bits of Glastonbury with typical English seaside charm. The two towns are connected by a Victorian water-powered railway. I think it's safe to say that there is nowhere like it in the world." Keith Blackwell, co-organiser

At Lynton and Lynmouth, north Devon, 11-13 June, free. Details: llama.org.uk

Best for folkies: National Forest Folk festival

Headliners: Peatbog Faeries, Eliza Carthy, Kathryn Tickell Band

We say: For the last five years, this warm-hearted, 1,000-capacity festival has been put on by a local folk club in the grounds of the National Forest visitor centre. Indeed, if you fancy a break from its impressive roster of folk acts, your ticket includes access to the forest's adventure playgrounds, miniature railway and treetop viewing platforms. The music takes place in a covered amphitheatre, although an informal folk session oten continues into the night.

They say: "I think we really punch above our weight with the acts we manage to attract. Everyone is very close to the stage, with a great view. The camping is also adjacent to the venue, so you can park your car beside your tent and walk a few yards to the stage. There's a wonderful atmosphere – it's buzzing all weekend." Nina Szifris, co-organiser

At National Forest visitor centre, Moira, Leicestershire, 2-4 July, £54 (camping £4 per tent/caravan, per night). Details: affc.demon.co.uk

Best for cowboys and cowgirls: Maverick festival

Headliners: Chris Scruggs, Danny and the Champions of the World, Hank Wangford

We say: Maverick celebrates Americana, alt-country and roots music, with four stages scattered across a picturesque Suffolk farm park. The food and beer might be local, but it's no coincidence that the 2,000-head event ends on 4 July. On that day, you'll be able to shake off the effects of the previous night's hoedown with a gospel brunch. Yee-ha!

They say: "I lived in the States for several years and when I moved back to the UK, I was disappointed to find that country music had got such a bad name! Artists like Steve Earle had to be smuggled on to the lineups of English folk festivals ... I thought they deserved their own event. When he played for us in 2008, Jayhawks founder Mark Olson said he wished more gigs were like ours, so we must be on the right track!" Paul Spencer, curator

At Easton, Suffolk, 2-4 July, £37.50 (£55 including camping). Details: maverickfestival.co.uk

Best for the environmentally minded: 2000trees

Headliners: Frank Turner, Metronomy, the Subways

We say: This friendly, 3,500-capacity event takes place in the Gloucestershire countryside and has impressive green credentials. Some 90% of the waste generated last year was recycled, it's powered by locally sourced chip-fat biodiesel and it only books UK-based acts, to cut down on air travel. And despite 70 acts on three stages, plus comedy, a headphone disco and campfire singalongs, the tickets are among the cheapest of the summer.

They say: "2000trees was born out of our disillusionment with the mainstream festivals we've been attending for the last decade. We were increasingly frustrated with ever-spiralling costs, poor facilities and pursuit of profit at all costs, so we decided to start our own festival that offers great value for money, a relaxed, friendly atmosphere and a commitment to the environment." Rob Scarlett, director

At Withington, Gloucestershire, 16-17 July, £50 (including camping). Details: twothousandtreesfestival.co.uk

Best for Irish bands: Glasgowbury

Headliners: To be announced

We say: Glasgowbury (below) began in 2000 as a one-off fundraising event, organised by local singer-songwriter Paddy Glasgow in the heart of Northern Ireland's Sperrin mountains. Such was its success that the festival has grown to a 3,000-capacity event while maintaining a focus on local talent. It's a successful formula – at last year's Irish festival awards, Glasgowbury picked up the gongs for best small festival, best lineup, best family festival and best service.

They say: "Glasgowbury has been at the forefront of outdoor music events in Northern Ireland and offers a professional platform to signed and unsigned talent from the island to play at a professionally run event in front of industry peers and their fans. As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 'small but massive' festival this year, we have a few surprises up our sleeve that you'll have to climb the hill on 24 July to see." Paddy Glasgow, organiser

At Eagle's Rock, Draperstown, Northern Ireland, 24 July, £30 (£40 with camping). Details: glasgowbury.com

Best example to other small festivals: Truck

Headliners: Teenage Fanclub, Mew

We say: Now in its 13th year, Truck is the godfather of the UK's small festival scene. It was started by Robin and Joe Bennett on a farm in their home village of Steventon, with the event taking its name from the flatbed truck that continues to house the main stage. Truck deserves enormous credit for having preserved so much of what makes it special. The local vicar still serves the ice creams, the lineup remains focused on the best new and alternative music, and the vibe remains friendly and hospitable.

They say: "There was definitely a moment when we could've turned Truck into a bigger-capacity festival. We just feel the size it is – 6,000 – is perfect: you get a big crowd for the main stage, all the small stages are usually full, and you can still find your friends when you've had one too many Truck ales. There's a real sense of village community that develops – indeed, most inhabitants of Steventon are usually helping at the festival."

Robin Bennett, co-founder/director

At Steventon, Oxfordshire, 23-25 July, £80. Details: thisistruck.com

Best for capturing the Glastonbury spirit: Croissant Neuf Summer Party

Headliners: The Magic Numbers

We say: Croissant Neuf is one of Glastonbury's longest-running stages; only the Pyramid has been around longer than this solar-powered, Green Fields mainstay. In 2007, the Croissant Neuf team created this child-friendly, 2,000-capacity festival in the Welsh countryside. The emphasis is on co-operation, friendliness and, particularly, being green – something they've won awards for. The free "barrow boys" who'll transport your kit from car park to campsite are a good example of their thoughtful attitude.

They say: "A big festival is like a city: there is much to do, but activities are scattered, so it can be overwhelming. The Summer Party offers something much smaller and friendlier. If someone helps you put a tent up, you can meet them in the bar later and buy them a drink. If your child makes friends with someone on Friday, they will not lose each other on Saturday. The campfire is lit every night, weather permitting, and the lantern procession up to the wooded hill fort on Sunday evening is pure magic." Prue Hardwick, volunteer

At Usk, Monmouthshire, 13-15 August, £80. Details: partyneuf.co.uk

Best for teenagers: LeeFest

Headliners: The Futureheads, Does It Offend You, Yeah?

We say: In 2006, Lee Denny's parents went on holiday, telling him not to have a party in the house while they were gone. So, with classic teen logic, he invited 150 friends to an ad-hoc festival in his garden. LeeFest has blossomed into a fully fledged event, which was named best grassroots festival at last year's UK festival awards. This year, it's moved to a 2,000-capacity venue, but its ethos remains the same as the first year, with an unpretentious party vibe and all profits going to the KidsCo charity.

They say: "It's a big year for us with so many developments. We've got a great lineup that exceeds everything we had hoped for, have a great new site and are offering camping for the first time! It's yet another scary step up in our short history, but it's really exciting. LeeFest is built on real passion – we all work voluntarily, so it's a labour of love and is driven by us wanting to create the perfect event." Lee Denny, director

At Highams Hill Farm, Bromley, London, 14 August, £25 (£30 with camping). More info: www.leefest.org.uk

Best for soul and funk: Limetree

Headliners: The Blockheads, James Taylor Quartet, Pauline Black

We say: Where most UK festivals still focus on indie/guitar music, Limetree tends towards the kind of soul and funk that Craig Charles plays on his BBC 6 Music show (Charles will DJ at the event). But the 1,200-capacity festival, set on a Yorkshire farm, also offers rock, electronica, folk and reggae acts. There's a children's creative field, light installations, local food and the Queerinspace stage, a programmed arena hosting everything from cabaret to theatre.

They say: "There isn't one person at this festival who I wouldn't invite to my house for dinner. Everyone just enjoys it and this vibe is so infectious. We attract a lot of young families because we offer such a safe environment, and most musicians who play usually stay, too, which is a big compliment for us. I think we have the most diverse audience I have ever witnessed at a festival. Everyone is welcome, we love 'em all." Sean Birdsall, managing director

At Grewelthorpe, north Yorkshire, 27-29 August, £80 (with parking and camping). Details: limetreefestival.co.uk

Best final fling of the summer: Loopallu

Headliners: To be announced

We say: Although this 2,500-capacity festival has yet to announce its lineup, previous bookings of Franz Ferdinand, Echo & the Bunnymen and the Levellers have given it a name for punching above its weight. All the action takes place in the fishing village of Ullapool, in northern Scotland, with the main acts playing in a big top. When that finishes for the night, local pubs take the strain with a string of fringe events offering live music into the early hours.

They say: "I was inspired by the first Belle & Sebastian Camber Sands event, where they took over a holiday park for the weekend. I thought: 'Why not take over the village I live in, Ullapool, at a time of year when the holiday trade is coming to an end to help ensure support from the locals?' It's unique, we have mountains as a backdrop, the loch laps inches from the tent, whilst still being in the middle of a busy fishing village." Robert Hicks, organiser

At Ullapool, Scotland, 17-18 September, £55 (£70 including camping). Details: loopallu.co.uk


Chris Salmon

The GuardianTramp

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