Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Free Festivals in Wales

Free festivals were counter-cultural events set up by hippies in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. They mostly took place in rural settings, were anti-commercial, were awash with psychedelic drugs, and the music was provided by bands like Gong. They attracted - and were sometimes organised by - people who lived on hippie communes. Others who were drawn to such gatherings were squatters from the cities, as well as 'plastic' weekend hippies. Well-known Welsh stops on the free festival circuit were the Meigan Fair in the Preseli mountains, and the Psilocybin Fair, Pontrhydygroes. Other smaller festivals included the Ogwen Valley Fair, the Elan Valley Free Festival, the Gilfach Free Festival, Rhyader Fair Free Festival, Clyro Court, Twmbarlwm Free Festival and Llanbister.

A number of factors brought about the demise of the free festival circuit. Local authorities had begun to evict city squatters on a large scale with the result that many of them permanently hit the road. Travelling from festival to festival they didn't always share the same idealistic psychedelic philosophy as their hippie hosts. They also brought with them more destructive drugs such as heroin. Drug dealing for profit on a large-scale gave the police the perfect excuse for intervention. The major confrontation between the so-called Peace Convoy and the cops came in June '85 when a large group of travellers en route to Stonehenge were diverted into a field. Egged on by Tory politicians and the right-wing media the police gave the travellers a predictable battering at what became known as the Battle of the Beanfield. The final nail in the coffin for free festivals came in 1994 with the passing of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.