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KITE festival 2023

KITE Soars Again

Glorious surroundings, foot-tapping music, inspiring discussions, and balmy early-summer weather (mostly) – what better way to spend a weekend?

That’s certainly what we thought when we signed up for this year’s KITE Festival, and we weren’t to be disappointed.

KITE Festival is just two years old. In 2022, it was newly born, emerging blinking into the world and – as with all new additions – making an immediate impact. It was conceived as a novel blend of music and ideas, fusing the best bits of British festivals to create something both new and familiar. With its quirky combination of talks and performances, it aimed to provide nourishment for the mind and music for the soul amidst the stunning scenery of the Oxfordshire countryside.

Gove at Tortoise
Michael Gove, James Harding, Marina Hyde and Layla Morgan discuss the Saturday papers.

This year it is a toddler, but it has grown, and more than found its feet. In 2023 the right and the left have combined to give the festival steadiness and direction, and there is no doubt that KITE is going places.

Frankopan at KITE
Peter Frankopan and Gaia Vince discuss climate with Tortoise's Jeevan Vasagar. Image ©Meera Selva.

The list of speakers absolutely confirms this. Across the weekend, KITE played host to some Big Names. Politics was covered by heavyweights such as Sir John Major and Alastair Campbell, and government ministers like Michael Gove – who chose an unfortunate day to discuss the morning’s headlines. The big issues were explored by world-renowned thinkers, with the likes of Chris Patten discussing the future of China with Oxford University’s Rana Mitter, the Financial Times’s Chief Economics Commentator examining ‘The Crisis of Capitalism’, and bestselling historian Peter Frankopan and award-winning science journalist Gaia Vince talking about the past and future of climate change with Tortoise Media's Jeevan Vasagar. Challenging and enlightening, the talks pushed boundaries and tackled the difficult questions that we all should face. But if this all sounds a bit too onerous for a lazy June weekend, there were upbeat masterclasses led by leaders in their fields on everything from speechwriting to living fearlessly. And then there was plenty of light relief as well, with comedians like Dave Gorman and Kiri Pritchard-Mclean, and, making the jump between ideas and music, The Bangles singer and guitarist Susanna Hoffs talking to pop-journalist Sylvia Patterson about her career.

Pretenders at KITE
Always rockin': Pretenders wow the crowd.

The music was no less eye- (or ear-) catching, with chart-topping, much-loved bands such as Pretenders, Suede and Hot Chip playing crowd-pleaser after crowd-pleaser, and dance acts like DJ Paulette and Alison Goldfrapp pumping out bangin’ tunes, alongside up-and-coming and more alternative artists performing everything from modal jazz to baroque pop. Whatever one’s style or mood, there was a live act on one of the four music stages to suit.

Complementing this wonderfully eclectic mix was a cornucopia of enticing smells emanating from the diverse selection of street food, taking the visitor from Vietnam for lunch to Italy for dinner. Then there were the quirky stalls, selling everything from feathered headdresses to retro clothing, alongside the Blackwell’s bookshop and Truck record shop, where a selection of books and LPs could be signed by their creators. Lounging in one of the many seating areas or reclining on the sun-kissed grass, music fans and bookworms mingled with celebrities, enjoying a drink from one of the many bars or simply soaking up the atmosphere. Children burnt off energy in the designated play area or were absolutely enraptured by talks designed specifically for them.

Clothing at KITE
Quirky stalls complement the eclectic mix.

And this is the thing with KITE: it may be young, but it is precocious. It has that exhilarating energy, constant wonder, and creative genius that encourages onlookers to break into smiles. It is more mature than last year, but it has lost none of the freshness, none of the character and charm, none of the spirit of adventure that makes it so unique. It’s organizers should be proud!

KITE will be back at Kirtlington Park next year, on 7-9 June 2024. More information can be found here.

Author Info

Debbie Kilroy

Having read history at the University of Birmingham as an undergraduate, where I won the Kenrick Prize, I worked as a trouble-shooter in the public sector until I took a career break in 2009. Thereafter, I was able to pursue my love of history and turn it into a career, founding Get History in 2014 with the aim of bringing accessible yet high quality history-telling and debate to a wide audience. Since then, I have completed a Masters in Historical Studies at the University of Oxford, from which I received a distinction and the Kellogg College Community Engagement and Impact Award. As well as continuing to write for and expand Get History, I am now a freelance writer and historian. I have worked with Histories of the Unexpected and Inside History, and my article for Parliaments, Estates and Representation won the ICHRPI Emile Lousse essay prize (2019).