One of the country’s last real free festivals, Riverside Festival returns this weekend, celebrating 24 years of largely local music – with a twist.

This year’s theme follows the band Pixies, with bands singing covers of the indie-rock legends, and revellers encouraged to come in fancy dress – whether of the band or the woodland sprites.

A crowd of 9,000 people are expected over the two days.

New and upcoming bands such as Kanadia will join the line-up of more than 40 bands and artists at this year’s event, on Saturday and Sunday, which as its name suggests, is beside a river – the Evenlode, in Charlbury.

The bill covers a wide variety of genres, from rock and jazz to indie, and with plenty for children, festival-goers are encouraged to come along with their families.

Music is played on two stages with acoustic sessions also taking place on the site.

Saturday on the main stage sees Kanadia, Earinade, Lake Acacia, The Shapes, The Knights of Mentis, The Deadbeat Apostles, Flights of Helios, and Outer Blue. On the second stage are Ghosts in the Photograph, Peerless Pirates, The Cooling Pearls, Rosie Caldecott, My Crooked Teeth, Ciphers and Great Western Tears.

Sunday’s main stage offerings include Self Help, Premium Leisure, Brickwork Lizards, 2 Tone Skas, Mighty Redox, Quatermelon, Dolly Mavies and The Unknwn.

The second stage features a takeover by Oxfordshire label All Will Be Well records and sets from Death of the Maiden, Knobblehead, Catgod, The Other Dramas and Junk Whale.

Many of the bands playing this weekend have already honed their live shows on the Riverside Stage at this month’s Cornbury Festival.

The stage was among the most popular destinations at the event.

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Kathryn Custance, a long-time visitor and volunteer for the festival said its strength was that it was a safe environment for young people.

She said: “It is always good fun and family friendly. And as entrance is free, the event is a great free family day out.”

The event set up 24 years ago by Andy Pickard, from Charlbury, who started the festival as a small music show, with “just gigs in the village hall”. As the event has expanded, Andy has ensured that it has always remained aimed at the younger generation, as well as more mature punters.

He said: “It’s nice to have something free, especially in this day and age. We may not have big names, but the music is every bit as good,” says Andy. “And people don’t have to pay through the nose to have a good time.”

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He added: “Riverside Festival is like a family, as a lot of people who move away will come back like a sort of social gathering.

“People like it – that’s it really. People just enjoy it and always come back. People go to other festivals but say they are not as homely and friendly as ours.

“It’s like a country fete.

Bicester Advertiser:

“Riverside is very much a community-run family event and it’s great for kids. As well as having a dedicated Kids’ Zone where youngsters can try their hand at different activities, they can find out more about traditional crafts and meet local artists in the Green Field site.

“They come along, have fun, watch a few bands and try things out. It’s more than just going to a gig; it’s a learning experience.

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After having suffered a loss last year due to rain on the Sunday, the festival is hoping to raise £5,000 to continue to offer free tickets in years to come.

Trains were also cancelled throughout the weekend last year, making it harder for people to access the festival, meaning even more money was lost.

Andy encouraged people to come hungry – and thirsty – to take advantage of the delicious food real ale from Hook Norton, cool Pimm’s or a glass of gin or fizz.

More hearty fare will be available in the Charlbury Pre-School Tea and Cakes tent.

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* Visitors are encouraged to donate money at collection points around the festival site or donate on the festival’s Go Fund Me page at

People can also volunteer at

  • Riverside Festival takes place at Mill Field, Dyers Hill, Charlbury this Saturday and Sunday.
  • Entry is free but donations are welcome to ensure its survival.
  • The festival is easy to reach with buses running from Oxford, Witney and Chipping Norton, and the festival entrance is close to Charlbury Railway Station. Check the time of the last train home!