Family-friendly euphoria at Cross The Tracks Festival

Photo:  @lukedyson

Photo: @lukedyson

I’ve been buzzing to go to Cross The Tracks since I first saw the posters up outside Brixton station in April, so you can imagine my disdain when I couldn’t convince any of my mates to come with me. Unable to bear the thought of being sat at home while legendary songstress, Chaka Khan performed nearby, I decided to go alone. I was equal parts nervous and excited -- I'd never been to a festival alone before and I know (from many-a-scrambled Leeds Fest moment) that they aren’t always the friendliest places for lone women. Fortunately, Cross The Tracks provided me with the most sublime solo-fest experience a gal can hope for. 

Considering this was its inaugural year, things ran extrardinarily smoothly. Sure, I got there kinda early (around 2pm), but there was virtually no queue thanks to multiple entry points and I got through in less than five minutes. The overall queue-lessness of the event is something to be commended. Unlike so many festivals I've been to, the strength of my bladder was not put to the test and each visit to the bar was a speedy, pleasant transaction. I even overheard a woman tell a bartender that they were the smiliest festival staff she’d ever encountered. 

Keeping the chaos to a minimum was definitely a deliberate effort by the organisers — their effort to curate a family-friendly vibe didn’t go unnoticed. I have never seen so many grinning baby jazz fans in my life and the (free) noise-minimising headphones that were provided for kids meant they all looked like mini DJ’s - as hilarious as it was adorable!

As I live in South West London, I was a fan of the emphasis that was placed on local business at the festival. Specific bars had a lovely selection of locally brewed ales and down ‘retail alley’ there were loads of indie stalls where you could buy all manner of handmade goodies. I spent a bit of time at a cool book stall with some great illustrated novels and an amazing range of black authored children’s books. 

Fresh, local talent was celebrated as much on the stages as in those stalls; my favourite discovery of the day was Deptford-based music collective, Steam Down. Their set was an exciting, enchanting blend of classic jazz riffs, afrofuturistic beats and floaty vocals. They’re touring a few UK festivals right now, so keep an eye out for them if you were lucky enough to cop a ticket that includes them on the bill. The Ghost Notes Railyard stage they performed on was the best of the smaller ones on offer and hosted many other great sets from the likes of Poppy Ajudha, Oshun and Eliza (formerly Eliza Doolittle), who performed songs from her soulful new album, A Real Romantic

What lovers of jazz funk and soul have in common is that we’re just as happy vigorously throwing our arms in the air and swinging our hips as we are doing the sit-n-sway, nodding our heads or tapping our feet and it’s the best when we’re doing it together. At Cross the Tracks I experienced several of those moments of collective euphoria and the only real damper was missing out on Etta Bond. Her set was fifteen minutes before Masego was on, at which point I was already worming my way through crowds at the main stage. 

I managed to get so far forward that I (basically) made eye contact with the King of Sax as he performed Navajo in that crystal clear tone of his. That would have been the highlight of my evening for sure had Chaka Khan not come out and served such a flawless, brazen set. Just about everyone at the festival turned up for Chaka, and although I was much further back and could hardly see, the wave of electricity and anticipation that passed through the crowd as the band finally began that famous, funky Ain’t Nobody intro made it one of the most unforgettable performances of my life.