WITH its biggest-ever line-up of bands, organisers of Charlbury’s Riverside Festival are expecting a record attendance for this weekend’s event.

More than 40 bands and artists will gather on Charlbury’s Mill Field on Saturday and Sunday for the annual event – the biggest free music festival in Oxfordshire.

And with the event reaching its 18th year, director Andy Pickard is looking forward to celebrating with an estimated 2,500 people on each day.

“It’s going to be great,” he said. “I say this every year, but this will be the best yet. We’re celebrating our 18th birthday and can honestly say it’s coming of age.”

This year’s event will feature three stages, rather than the usual two. The second stage is being run by the team from Witney’s Rapture record shop.

There will also be a Live Lounge in which artists will be recorded playing intimate sets for small audiences.

A kids’ zone will encourage children to take part in a range of craft and educational activities.

Music-wise, the festival features a host of old favourites and new names, including the DB band with former Supergrass member Mick Quinn; Oxford and Witney jump-blues phenomenon, The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band; Witney hip-hop act Death of Hi-Fi; cross-cultural ‘Turkabilly’ act The Brickwork Lizards; country-rock band Swindle-stock; Oxford’s Dreaming Spires; and Finstock country singer Ags Connolly.

Also making an appearance will be West Oxfordshire singer-songwriter Bethany Weimers, Oxford indie-folk band The Epstein and the acclaimed We Aeronauts.

Young Charlbury band Flotsam Jets will be first on stage on Sunday.

Rapture’s Carl Smithson said staff at the Woolgate Centre shop had been keen to have a greater involvement in local music festivals for some time.

“Riverside is the perfect fit,” he said. “It also gives us the opportunity to bring some of our favourite acts from the diverse vibrant Oxfordshire music scene to a festival we all love.”

Part of Riverside’s appeal is that it has remained free to visitors.

The event is funded by contributions from traders, bar takings and a grant from Charlbury Town Council.

“Even though we are free, we still manage to make a profit,” says Mr Pickard.

“Money is ploughed back into the festival, and we even manage to make a contribution to mental health charity Oxfordshire Mind.”

To celebrate the festival’s 18th birthday, Witney’s Wychwood Brewery has created a special commemorative ale – called Glass of ’96 – which will be on sale at the festival.

For more details of the event, see riversidefestival.charlbury.com