Once upon a time, there was a party in a field...
This was 2006. A lot has changed since we burnt our first car.
What began as a small party for a bunch of music-loving friends has now become a multi-award winning family festival, attended by some of the biggest names in music. In fact, Leopallooza was even part of the top music news story in the world for a few hours. You can check the internet for that…
To be honest, we’re not quite sure how it all happened either, but here’s what we remember:
The very first Leopallooza, back in 2006, was meant to be a one-off. Lee Ellis (whose family farm still sits at the top of the festival site) was frustrated at the lack of decent local music venues at which his band - The Fires - could play. With help from his friend Sam, that frustration was channelled into creating a live music party of their own, on Lee’s farm, with the help of Sam's hard-won tax rebate.
Lee knew his friends (and definitely his bandmates) had a tendency to get a bit loose when there was cider involved. So instead of having the party in his house, he decided to hold it in a little tree-filled hollow at the far end of the farm, where his mum and dad wouldn’t get disturbed by the music.
A stage was built out of reclaimed wood and old telegraph poles left behind by a phone company. Half a caravan and a ratty tarpaulin became the backstage office, where complimentary burgers were barbecued for the artists, in lieu of any actual payment. Large and unsafe holes in the ground were noted but generally left large and unsafe. Local bands were invited down to play. Someone drove a car into the middle of the arena and set it on fire. 250 friends and friends of friends showed up that night… and it was a hit.
It didn’t have a name back then. It was just a party.
In 2007, the buzz spread fast in local live music circles when it was suggested there would be another, bigger, party. Lee and Sam were now joined by two other close friends in Matt and Cai. Plans were drawn up to double the capacity of the event, bring in some higher profile acts, and fill in some of the large and unsafe holes. The team of four set about creating the second party. And now it had a name: Leopallooza.
In the weeks and days before the event, friends of the team would rock up on site just to pitch in where they could… just as they have ever since. Once again, and despite a lot of rain and mud, Leopallooza II was a roaring success. Clearly, there was no turning back now.
In 2008, due to its success and growing size, Leopallooza went fully legitimate, seeking the relevant license and abiding by all the rules laid out by the authorities. But most importantly, it continued to maintain that initial spirit of the first, just as it does today – that familiar ‘house party’ atmosphere. It is a festival built by festival fans, steadfastly sticking to the rootsy fundamentals of a homespun event, while attracting some of the biggest names in contemporary music.
In 2015 it was decided that the site needed some serious investment if it was going to continue to grow apace. And so, with an army of helpers and Leopallooza believers, many of whom (but definitely not all) knew how to use a hammer, the two main stages were taken apart, and in their place grew the most hi-tech and hi-spec stages in the south-west. The main stage (it doesn’t have a name yet) is built with reclaimed wood and motorway sidings, and it is designed to be the most modifiable stage in the UK. It can host an entire orchestra, it can be a wedding venue… it can even be turned into a nightclub. The stages were officially revealed to the public at the opening of Leopallooza X in 2016, literally a few minutes after they’d been finished.
And to today. We’re now approaching the 12th Leopallooza Festival. A lot has changed since 2006… almost all the holes have been filled in, the car got moved a bit too. In fact, the festival site is almost unrecognisable compared to what it was. But a lot has stayed the same too.
It’s run by the same small team who work year-round to create, curate and run each Leopallooza, helped out by their collective of friends, helpers and handypeople, who, in true Woodstock spirit, know that the good times lie as much within the project as in the outcome.
And, happily, it works – it works because there is an understanding between all those who graft on it and all those who pay to attend – that we put this on not for money, not for social acceptance, not for girls, not for boys, not for corporations and not for all the small change we find in the mosh pit when you’ve all gone. We put this thing on because we love music, we love a party, and we love making new friends.
Unlike other festivals, we keep the Leopallooza ticket prices as low as we possibly can. The bar prices remain sensible, camping is free, and our independence is intact, having politely turned down the offers of corporate sponsorship in favour of making all the key decisions ourselves. We insist on only the friendliest staff across the site - from the bar crew, to the security team, to Pete the Poo, who cleans the toilets with a smile.
And as it was with that very first Leopallooza in 2006, with every Leopallooza since and with every Leopallooza that is yet to come, our mission remains the same. To create and throw…
The Greatest House Party… in a field.