Bluedot Festival has landed on the green plains of Cheshire for the fourth year running – a riot of music, science and celestial shenanigans, with Jodrell Bank’s hulking Lovell Telescope lording itself over the site.
And the timing of this year’s festival couldn’t be more apt. Roll back 50 years to July 1969, and the Lovell was ‘unofficially’ tracking the groundbreaking mission to land on the moon. As the world watched slack-jawed and holding a collective breath, the team behind the controls at Jodrell Bank was monitoring every second, from the moment the Apollo 11 Eagle Lander, carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, touched down on the moon, to Armstrong’s legendary words ‘One giant leap…’.
And only last week, the observatory was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status, an accolade that’s also been ascribed to such legendary sites as the Taj Mahal and Stonehenge.
So we know the site’s scientific credentials are extraordinary and the setting’s a real corker, from the surrounding wildflower-specked fields, to the imposing telescope as the centrepiece. But what’s Bluedot like?
As a Bluedot virgin, I had no idea what to expect. The last time I visited Jodrell Bank I was still at primary school. I totally fell for the enchantment of the planetarium beneath twinkly stars, but I’m no science superfan and I couldn’t help but think this was going to be some sort of ultra-geek convention. I was wrong.
At first glance, it’s like any other UK festival. You’ve still got the sprawls of fluttering tents, the dodgy loos, the foodie vans (salt and pepper squid anyone?) and the glitter. You’ve got the wide-eyed kids being carted around in fairy-lit wagons; the picnic chair-onlookers; and the hipster-twenty-somethings sipping cider. You’ve also got that unflinching festival camaraderie that makes these summer shindigs so irresistible.
Cosmic explorers and creatures from far away galaxies have landed in the bluedot cosmos for today’s intergalactic programme 💫
📸 One Eye In pic.twitter.com/TgxUhEPMgf
— bluedot (@bluedotfestival) July 19, 2019
But there’s a whole other dimension of talks, workshops and lectures highlighting science and nature-based themes.
This weekend will see a lot of discussions about climate change and the future of space travel, with celestial luminaries, documentary makers and producers bringing cosmic culture to the fore.
Kids are taken care of too – they can get stuck into crafting, giggle at robots, dance at a mini rave and pop into fascinating workshops.
And for the first time, the crew behind the festival is set to ‘bounce’ messages from major acts to the moon’s surface, using the Dwingeloo Telescope in the Netherlands. The Mark II Telescope at Jodrell Bank will then catch the returning echo and play it to the crowd. Clever eh?
I was there for the opener last night – and it set the tone for what’s set to be a cracking weekend.
The Halle Orchestra graced the stage for sound extravaganza Lift-Off, a banging one-off tribute to much-loved sci-fi theme tunes and tracks, played out in front of eye-popping visuals, with conductor Stephen Bell at the helm, smashing the performance.
The opening tune was the theme from Star Wars, and that kicked off a roll call of film greats including the title music from Star Trek, Attack of the Clones and Apollo 13. And the discernible notes of Thunderbirds rang out to a giddy audience. But it was the spine-chilling violins of ET that struck a chord with me, and the whole crowd started to croon along. That and the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Turn it up loud now and imagine listening to it in the shadow of the Lovell Telescope in the dwindling light.
There was also the lengthy closing title music from Independence Day, played to a backdrop of films from the lunar landings: of the initial launch from terra firma; of the astronauts floating inside their spaceship; and of whimsical images of the blue dot of earth, leaving them behind.
For anyone with even the slightest interest in cosmic culture, it was an electrifying performance.
Closing the set, the Dr Who theme reverberated with many punters punching the air. If only the moon had just shown its face through the gathering cloud…
I’ll be at Bluedot for most of the weekend. Find out how I get on for the remainder of the festival, with and without the kids…
Bluedot Festival is just one of the many exciting highlights of Cheshire’s Where Science meets Nature campaign, a county-wide initiative championing Cheshire’s role in two landmark moments: the 100th birthday of the Forestry Commission and the 50th anniversary year of the Lunar Landings.