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Bearded Angels....

A full week after the first festival of 2013 started, I am feeling up and ready to put my thoughts, musings and memories down on this electronic paper, my blog. Bearded Theory as always remains an exhausting and draining event in the O’Brien family’s life, but this isn’t a bad thing, we love it… every year it brings us something new to push us onwards. Our hearts and loyalty sit strongly at the festival and we will always do our very best to support it.

5 years ago we fell in to the arms of the bearded family and created a young and rugged Angel Gardens in the damp fields of the Derbyshire outback. Only 5 little bell tents, a cafe from a caravan awning, a campfire and about 10 staff helped us create our little space that year and it was the start of something very special. However it was the year of the tornado, which traveled right through the middle of Angel Gardens lifting up our bell tents and plonking them flat and ripped on the muddy floor. Such a strange but wonderful experience it was. I was out wondering around the arena at the time, caught under a collapsing stall selling the obligatory festival hippy shit. I staggered out to find an array of dazed and confused festival goers looking around in silence asking what on earth had just happened. Realisation dawned as our eyes gradually found the space in which the stage had once been and the realisation of what had happened dawned on us all. The stage had collapsed and many of the stalls and structures were damaged and destroyed. Those weird first few moments when everyone was silent was one that will stay with me for ever, it was like the eye of the storm, the wind, weather and festival excitement simply had paused for a few moments, moments that felt like hours as we all stood and took in what had happened. Then like any storm it returned and although his weather and improved, panic had set in and we all erupted into feelings of concern and fear. The nagging feeling that someone ‘must’ have died as the stage collapsed, surely folks must have been injured? (Thankfully and unbelievably only 3 folks had been injured) my brain flew into gear and I staggered back to where angel gardens once stood only a minute or so ago.

My brain had invited in all sorts of scenarios, my children, my beautiful children, where they hurt? My little William was tiny he couldn’t possibly have stayed standing? My husband, my best friend, was he ok, injured? Dead? My girls, where were they, were they hurt? Within seconds of my brain running though the scenarios I ran into my husband, carrying William and gripping solidly onto our girls almost dragging them up towards me with a the same sense of relief on seeing me as I had in seeing them. We were all sobbing in relief and realisation of what could have been, hugging each other tightly and thankfully drinking in everything that was important to us. Keith and I both experienced the same panic as each other as we searched to reunite our little family. I know it all seems melodramatic, a little tornado in a little field at a little festival, but I don’t think I have ever felt so responsible or vulnerable in my life, god only knows what the organisers felt. (Although I do know it was one of the most traumatic experiences of their lives)

After tucking my family safely into our nest (aka our trailer tent which unbelievably stood firm) I started to mop up the pieces, we called our crew together and ensured we were all safe and uninjured and like any team/family/tribe we got to work. Tents were re-erected with help from festival goers, we had found distressed children who couldn’t find their parents and who were in shock. (With medical staff busy with the injured, we used what medical skills we had to keep them warm and calm) reuniting them as quickly as we could with their equally shocked parents. Our fire became a hub for the shocked and distressed, as people gathered and sat in what was now a weirdly quiet time (no electric, no stage, and no nothing) the festival had changed into a rocking mass of fun to a quiet reflective place of united shock. Folks needed to talk and work through what had happened and that is what they did, sitting around accepting the never ending cups of tea that we handed out from our cafe bar and using the blankets that normally lined the floors of our tents to remain warm and comforted. I have never witnessed such a community evolving.

That night those that lost their tents, used all our bell tents to sleep and stay dry, goodness knows if we were insured to do this, or even if it was allowed, but it kind of just happened, people needed somewhere to live and we were able to provide it. Six sometime seven strangers, family members or simply groups of friends huddled together in what was once a craft and art areas. A welcomed shared dry space to call home for the night. I remember thinking they could just go home, but it seemed important to stay around and get through this together.

Coming together

It was weird, as the festival carried on, a few hours later, the bands returned to a make shift stage in the bar tent and many revelers celebrated their experience together by boogy-ing away. But those guys didn’t realise that in another part of the field the other half of the festival goers were bonding, talking, sharing and happily and quietly enjoying just existing together around a random campfire in a random, albeit, bedraggled angel gardens. The festival crowd had split but their method of dealing with what had happened was simply different even though both as cathartic.

It was this weekend that I realised what I wanted to do with Angel Gardens, it wasn’t about some great business plan, it was about creating a space and a community that offered something unspeakable to not only the customers, but to the crew who got involved and us as a family. As a mummy and us as parents we had been searching for a way to provide our children with a healthy, spiritual and ethical space to evolve and as ‘hippy shit’ as this sounds I knew we had found it. Witnessing this crowd come together like this and watching how we could do something to facilitate this joining, gave me the purpose and understanding of what the universe was asking me to do. I personally could never make huge change but I could use this space as a vehicle to bring people together to create something special.

So what have we now… 5 years on albeit in a different field we were honoured to be invited back into the bearded family to create what has now grown into something even bigger and better? Bearded theory has grown up and so has Angel Gardens, side by side, not always together, we have both evolved into something more than we could ever have imagined. But you know what? neither have lost that special thing that was created in that field 5 years ago. Something that other festivals cannot buy or even dream of, it is the sense of family, loyalty and community. Even those that weren’t with us that muddy messy and scary year, pick up from us the feeling that Bearded Theory is something more than just a big party, it’s like the Bearded Theory family pass down stories and tails of that ill-fated year and every new person that comes to the fold, comes with an unspoken and maybe unconscious respect and sense of ownership of the community that is bearded. Organisers have developed a working and successful festival, but like Angel Gardens it is in part a catalyst for something bigger, something special, a bringing together of like mind people all of whom need something from each other. It is the crowd and vibe that makes Bearded Theory special. I truly believe you could put us back in that little field where it all started and not even provide a stage and the magic would still happen. Of course in turn this ‘bigger’ indescribable magic is, what will take the festival in to the future for many years… I mean who wouldn’t want to be part of it?

We feel the same in Angel Gardens, we have grown and evolved, people have come and gone, we have worked some festivals that were great and some that didn’t work for us, but the one thing we can say we have done is be true to who we are and what we want. I have always maintained that making money from running Angel Gardens is not our priority ( good job!!) and we have folks come and go that have not believed this concept, thinking we are raking in thousands and using corporate ways and impersonal methods to grow the business. But I rest and sleep easy that we have remained true to our word. My priority is to three things, firstly our customers, we wanted to provide a space in which families felt safe, could be creative and play together. We do everything we can to make every moment of their stay easier and inspiring while also allow them to enter into a community and space that was

Unconditional acceptance

Equal and open for them to enjoy. The clients, to whom we create the best space we can possibly make for them with the budget they give us, we are honest and do our absolute best for them to make sure we represent them in the best was we possibly could. I have made some wonderful friendships with organisers over the years and it is these relationships that again are born from the magic that is Angel gardens. Finally and in some ways most importantly, my crew; making sure they get something from us that they need in their lives, I work my hardest to support them in which-ever way they need support, it may not be financially, but pastorally, professionally and with friendship I strive to value them fairly and with unconditional love.

I always say to crew on our first day… our guests always feel welcome in Angel Gardens and respect it because we as a tribe live there and take joint ownership of it while we are there. I encourage everyone to work together to look after the land we are borrowing, build and care for the gardens like it is their home. (Which it is) We live there for some times up to a week and people feel that vibe when they come into Angel Gardens. They feel like they have been welcomed into someone’s home, that they have been trusted with our space and that we honour them with this trust. It is the natural bonding and love between crew members that produce this. The sense of equality and respect for each other is palpable and something that they create themselves.

My aim is to create something for the people who come and work in Angel Gardens (I know this is going to have you rolling your eyes) but I truly believe the universe brings us folks who needs us as much as we need them. Every crew member that comes to us has an agenda, it might be they simply want a free ticket, want to build up experience in their fields or interest, start working independently in their area and need to start getting their faces known. Often they might need to become part of a team or family, need to make new friends or have a place to take their children that is safe and educational, some are coming through difficult times, mental health problems, relationship splits or deaths, loneliness or simply need a change of scene to get them back on their track. Whatever it is Angel gardens as a space (not a company or person) helps these people and, before you start rolling your eyes and asking ‘who the hell does she think she is?’, I am taking no responsibility for any of this, I provide a space and do the organising, and the people who come to us and create this safe accepting space to work in and share are the ones that mould this magic into whatever spell they need to nurture. It’s amazing to watch, Keith and I may facilitate this coming together by finding us work and bringing the catalyst that is a load of tents and activities, but the universe does its magic with the people it sends and the community they create together.

Every year we have a wobble, Keith and I both have a moment every year where we consider packing it all in and just concentration on the sensible stuff in life, our real jobs, the ones that pay our daily bread and ones we trained years to do, the ones that keep us homed and secure, will pay for our children to go to university if they so wish and allows us to travel and experience life in the way we want to. But every time we start to feel disillusioned with it all, the paperwork, the insurance, the health and safety, the gossip, the grief the finances, budgets and fees, the crb checks and the planning of timetables, PR and social networking we remember the magical moments we experience regularly within our work.


There is no doubt some folk that come to us are not suited for the work we do or the community we create. Many times they take advantage or cause trouble within the camp, bringing down the mood and letting down their team. But often this only strengthens the community, allows for change and discussion, changes the energy and tests our loyalties and objectives. In the past we have had folk steal from us, steal from the festival and its customers. Some crew work less than others and others have even dealt drugs from our space. Every time these actions have had reactions and as a community we have had to deal with these together. Like any family we need to go through the rough to learn to appreciate the smooth.

This weekend was a special one. It was for me the start of a new beginning. For angel gardens last year was such a strange year. I witnessed so many friends and colleagues having health issues, relationship issues and mental health issues. We personally experienced, once friends, creating rifts and upset from misguided gossip and loss of trust, our own personal illness and scares, losses and there is no doubt I felt lost and saddened. Much of the year had me not knowing if I had the strength to carry on, pushing what once such an easy job to do was hard work and exhausting. But this winter has cleared and so have our minds and souls. Huge lessons have been learned from last season and my trust in people has been restored. I found bravery to to reassess and consider the whole the picture and not been frightened of shedding negative energies and creating new and fresh relationships and ideas. Once again Bearded Theory was the catalyst and home that healed me and allowed Angel Gardens to be reborn as we entered a new phase in our relationships and community. Something fresh and exiting took the air this year, crew bonded quickly and smoothly and a very special magic was released… a magic that many of us will feed from and use in whichever way we need.

So with the first festival over of the year, we are starting to look forward to the rest of the season and the rest of our special year. Our baby comes into the fold in September and we build on to our house too, so we have many exciting times ahead… but all I can think about right now is the special weekend in a field last week that soothed my soul, cemented friendships and created a whole load of strength to carry on.

I am utterly honoured to be able to care for and drive the little wagon that is Angel Gardens, I recognise all the people who hitch a lift on her and drive her from time to time, and my family and my man are richer for their presence and love. As our wagon rolls on from field to field we touch so many folks on the way, for better or worse our hearts are working hard to share the love and respect we feel for each other…our community.. Our family…. our tribe.

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