Deer Shed: Family-friendly music fest that’s actually family-run

By Graham Chalmers

Friday, 9th January 2015, 8:59 am
Deer Shed festival organisers Oliver Jones and Kate Webster and family.
Deer Shed festival organisers Oliver Jones and Kate Webster and family.

Forget Johnny Marr or I Am Kloot or Edwyn Collins or Gaz Coombes of Supergrass or any of the other big name headliners, when a friend says the following as if he’s in a TV advert you know you’re onto a winner.

“We’re not even sure which bands are on when we book tickets but we know the line-up will be good even if we haven’t heard of all of them. The main reason we keep going is that the children are never bored for a second.”

North Yorkshire’s Deer Shed Festival is that rare event - one which delivers exactly what it says on the tin.

Gaz Coombes at Deer Shed Festival.

Which probably explains why this family-friendly music, arts and science event was an instant hit and has continued to grow ever since.

From an audience of nearly 2,000 at its inaugural weekend five years ago at its home in the beautiful grounds of Baldersby Park near Topcliffe, next summer’s sixth annual Deer Shed Festival is expected to draw a crowd of more than 7,000. Deer Shed’s evolution has largely been organic, which is just the way co-organiser Oliver Jones likes it.

He said: “It’s all been word of mouth. It’s been hard work but I’m very pleased with its success. Every year the festival changes a bit but there’s a surprising number of people who’ve come to every one. People grow up with Deer Shed.”

From the start when the Webster-Jones, that’s Oliver and his wife Kate, dreamed up the idea in 2010, the focus has been on offering handpicked new and established indie music and a wide variety of the sort of events you might expect to find at, say, Latitude Festival - all presented in a family-friendly way.

Oliver said: “Over the years we got fed up ourselves with paying a small fortune to get our families into various festivals only to be disappointed in the music line-up and the facilities for kids. We wanted to do something that no one else does.”

Based in North Yorkshire, where they live with their three young children, both Oliver and Kate have a long history in music and the arts.

Oliver was a member of cult indie rock band Education while Kate spent 10 years in London in a leading music management firm.

From School of Seven Bells (a personal favourite of Oliver’s) to Dutch Uncles, The Deer Shed acts are often booked nearly a year in advance which requires real knowledge and taste.

Oliver said: “We were a bit worried in advance last year about Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip. Scroobius tends to swear a bit when he raps but everyone loved him. Luckily he swears eloquently!”

Such is the fans’ faith in the judgment of the Deer Shed team, by the time the line-up for Deer Shed 6 is announced at the end of this month, around half the tickets for the next festival will already have been snapped up.

Located in a lovely setting of parkland and the deer shed which inspired the festival’s name, Deer Shed has been a ‘hands-on’ enterprise from the beginning.

Last year’s saw Oliver and his team of volunteers build their own medieval siege machine as part of the festival’s time travel theme, a step up on year one when Kate’s dad, a local farmer, designed the site’s eco-friendly loos for the camp site.

This year’s theme has just been announced - Up In The Air. Goodness knows what that will bring!

As well as the live music, Deer Shed’s wide range of events also includes a literary tent, comedy stage, science tent, creative workshops, food and drink - and enough fun activities to keep the most easily bored child happy.

The event’s ethics are unlikely to get left behind, even as the festival gets set to introduce a new stage and extend its live music line-up for Sunday night camping for the first time.

Oliver said: “The challenge is to keep it family-orientated and keep the intimacy and cosiness. We set the scene but the atmosphere comes from the audience.”

The organisers betray few signs of forgetting their roots. It’s harder to get more indie than this year’s headliners Wedding Present, favourites of the late John Peel, who’ve been ploughing their own furrow successfully since the mid-1980s.

Oliver said: “The Wedding Present were the first band we ever booked at Deer Shed. This performance will be a celebration of just how far we’ve come since then – and a chance to offer the band a bigger rider!”

Deer Shed Festival 6 runs from Friday, July 24 to Sunday, July 26, 2015.

For information and tickets, visit