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Knebworth House in Hertfordshire is a gothic mansion of the Lytton family once lived in by Edward Bulwar Lytton who wrote “the pen is mightier than the sword”. The house along with it’s gardens is open to the general public for most of the year and frequently holds events such as wood carving exhibitions, car shows and fairs. Courtesy of www.knebworthhouse.comThis all may seem very usual of some larger stately homes now but may surprise you is that once a year is that it lets down it’s guard and plays host to the Sonisphere Festival.
****WHAT IS THE SONISPHERE FESTIVAL?****
The Sonisphere festival is a heavy metal/rock music festival which has actually been only going for the last few years. It is held over three days (2011 July 8-11th) and capacity has increased in 2011 to 60,000 people. Now this is pertaining to the English version; Sonisphere festival tours various countries across Europe with slight variations on capacity, line up and length depending on the country and is continuing to evolve. Interestingly this year Sonisphere moved outside the European boarders and took the show to India, perhaps they will develop this further next year to include more world wide countries?
****THE SONISPHERE FESTIVAL ITSELF****
I will come onto travel and accommodation later. As you approach the entrance there are the usual long queues for ticket / bag checks and wrist band applications. As you get closer the security split you into various sections; camping, non-camping, 3 day ticket holders and day ticket holders etc. Why you may ask? One to get the queues down by secondly to attach you different coloured wrist bands, this says you showing your ticket when you want to go to sectioned areas like the camp site and must be a darn sight easier for staff. In this area are also toilets - the dreaded portaloo - and trolleys to hire. I wondered why everyone was zipping past so quick with them then noticed the price £10 an hour! (does get cheaper per hour after). There is a heavy police presence it has to be noted but I didn’t see or here of any trouble at the festival; they are outside the arena and security take over inside but there are undercover police in arena and camp sites apparently. Once through tickets it’s a 10-20min walk past campsites to the actual arena - more band checks - then your in! The site is quite spread out which is good as there are always people going in different directions and not all piling to the one place. This is especially the case for the stages. Please see www.sonisphere.co.uk if you want to see full listings of the bands that played as far to many to mention!
APOLLO - the main stage - this year featuring Metallica, Megadeath, Anthrax, Slayer, (The Big 4), Slipknot, Limp Bizit, Motorhead and Biffy Clyro Admittedly there is a big rush for everyone to see these bands as they are the headliners but the site is adequate for that and provided barriers in a kind of zig zag fashion to prevent the sudden surge forward of fans that has previously led to injuries elsewhere. For this stage there are also big screen either side and two more further back so the shorter of us (myself included) can still see. Generally speaking the views are good unless your stuck behind a screen post. Fully lighted and flashing with band effects or down when the fireworks and piro-techniques come on. Well orcastrated by the staff and no malfunctions that I saw. For the disabled there is a raised platform which enables people to see safely and wristband checked. The headliners did not disappoint Metallica, Megadeath, Anthrax and Slayer are all legends of metal in there own right and to see them individually was superb but when they all played together... fantastic. Slipknot, still on tour and dealing with the death of band member Paul Gray a touching tribute at the end of there show and a two minute silence from the fans. Motorhead - still rocking on Lemmy put on a good show and dedicated a song to stroke suffers as "Wurzel" from the band recently died of a stroke.
SATURN - situated down a slope directly opposite the Apollo stage is the second stage which had bands like Sum 41 - pity they cut your sound when you over ran slightly) and Bill Bailey!! The comedian playing to the largest audience he ever has and was fantastic - not everyone could get metal fans dancing to “I’ve got a brand new combine harvester”! This stage has two raised screens either side. Being on a slope means that you do get a better view even from the back and the view is from a much wider area to this stage.
BOHEMIA - a stage inside a tent, with bands like Sisters of Mercy (there first uk show in 20years). It is quite dark which means you have to slightly more careful where you are stepping as some people sit on the floor waiting for bands, but does allow for better light effects throughout the day rather than just when it gets dark. Another great advantage is that it is dry - there is not much protection from the rain but the tent is manned by security and we only allow so many in at a time. There is also a bar and disabled platform in here too.
JAGERMIESTER - the stage named after a drink and bright orange too. A small stage for new and up coming bands some of which have not yet released an album. Small and compact but I liked the idea you could see new bands and being on a bill with such large bands as metallica must be a thrill for them.
RED BULL - another drink enthused stage with smaller bands, again providing variety and unique opportunities for bands. So that is the stages there were no clashes (occasional slight over runs) between the Apollo and Saturn, which was good as these provided the bigger bands/acts but with the smaller tents it meant people had options of who to see when.
To know who was playing when you could look before you go and try and remember (never going to happen), buy a lanyard with each days details at the show, download the app! With each band that I saw I thoroughly enjoyed it, the visibility and sound where very good from each stage and the acts performs were individual and engaged with the crowd brilliantly. Some bands also did live feeds to the web, great for those who couldn’t go. I appreciate everyone has there different favourites mine - Metallica (rock royalty), Slipknot (had us crouching and jumping in the rain) and Arch Enemy (that woman can out rock many men).
So to other bits and pieces -
What can I say they are portaloos - a few more would have been good as after 3 days they are not pleasant - take you own supply of loo roll and hand sanitizer. There is the option of “Pootopia” £2 a go in a cleaned each time toilets block. For men there are the urinal blocks allowing men to pee in the fresh are and frees up some of the cubicles for us girls.
****FOOD AND DRINK****
Very impressive - a extensive range of choice from vegan to steaks and Mexican to Chinese. Another nice option was the tea and toast bar. The main bar the bohemia bar (I think that was what it was called) - not to long a wait and had a reasonable selection of larger, beer, cider and shots; they also did a few activities in here too. Soft drinks widely available at stands.
RECYCLING- 10p a turboug larger cardboard cup if you take then back in good condition - some kid made £100! According to the website charities where coming in after to collect recyables before the litter pickers.
Four I think official t-shirt stands with the sonisphere t-shirts and ones for each band. This was the only thing I was slightly disappointed at as they ran out of ladies ones with the band list on. Reasonable prices though and good selection for bands. Lots of stalls with clothes and apparel.
Ok so down to business! There are a multitude of ticket option so see website for more details and prices are going to be different each year. My ticket cost £145 for the 3 days not camping. This is a lot but when you break it down against the nig bands you see normally charging £40-£50 a show each it is very reasonable. Children under 12 go free with adults. Deposit scheme starts earlier in the year for people to secure there ticket and pay later. Option to buy next years tickets now at same price (limited time) but you won’t know who the bands are? Ticket costs depend on whether you are day, three day non-camping, 3 day camping and where you are camping as some upgrades are available (rock royalty).
****TRAVEL AND CAMPING****
Car quite easy virtually straight off the A1M. Coach trips and trains available and shuttle buses from train stations. Parking - I chose to pay £11 pre booked £20 on day for a car park permit. Parking is on grass, you are shown where to park but there are some very big dips so be warned for low spoilers etc. Camping - I didn’t camp. Looked like fun and people seemed to be enjoying themselves. Portaloos provided, food vendors and free drinking water - next to each other!!!! Mini shop and security controlled. Also separate section for family campers.
A fantastic 3 day festival with great bands, food, drink and merriment had by all. Would I recommend it - hell yeah! But perhaps not if you don’t like heavy metal.