Aine Cronin-McCartney: With fresh mud still clinging to my wellie boots, bits of grass buried between all my clothes and a slight ringing in my ears it’s safe to say that Stendhal Festival of Art 2015 was a huge success.
After being named the Best Small Festival in Ireland two years in a row Stendhal has been building quite a reputation for itself and for anyone who has never been it certainly lives up to its expectations. With emphasis on music and the arts the organisers of Stendhal have harmoniously paired the two together in a delightful mesh.
With the site so beautifully decorated with intricate pieces of artwork and installations it’s easy to get lost in your surroundings before remembering the absolutely stellar line up of local acts that Stendhal has provided this year. So after some exploring in and around the site I’m finally off to see some music.
Making my way towards Keady Corner where in association with the Oh Yeah and Nerve Centres we find the perfect platform for new and emerging bands. Catching newcomers ‘Rachel Newhouse’ and ‘Caitlin Nash’ there is genuine fresh talent bursting from the seams of NI and I find it refreshing that Stendhal has provided a stage for them to be introduced to a bigger audience.
Having not yet explored the lower field I digress down towards the bottom of the site where the Woolly Woodlands is situated. Discovering what can only be described as a secret haven for music lovers it is the seamless setting to find ‘Glenn Rosborough’. Having graced the main stage of last year’s festival the more intimate setting of the woodlands does nothing to hamper Glenn’s soulful and haunting vocals. His melodic and poignant performance of ‘Did It For You’ provides the highlight of the set.
Being pulled towards what can only be described as something irresistibly catchy coming from the main stage it is there where I am introduced to the ‘Booka Brass Band’. Leaping from song to song with such ferocity and energy it’s hard to know where the band is going to go next navigating through genres as fast as they do tracks. Their version of Jason Derulo’s ‘Talk Dirty To Me’ was infectious and had crowd members frolicking and dancing in the mud from beginning to end. Such an uplifting, vigorous and what can only be described as a spirited performance from the band who displayed evident feats of talent and sure to be someone I will go to see again.
After departing from the main stage I am drawn towards the grandeur of the big top style circus tent which harvests the Karma Valley stage inside to find ‘Fatherson’ thrilling the charming crowd. Having supported bands such as last year’s headliner ‘Frightened Rabbit’ the indie quartet have been gaining momentum and building a fan base throughout the UK with many fans singing along to their songs. Showcasing original tracks off their new album that will be realised later this year it was received well by both new and old fans. Frontman Ross Leighton’s vocals are powerful and visceral particularly ‘I Like Not Knowing’ which is the highlight of their set.
Relocating to the main stage for the headline act of the night there is tangible anticipation coming from the crowd while they wait the presence of Donovan. Celebrating 50 years in music Donovan strides on stage with his uber cool demeanour and nonchalant attitude stating that ‘I’m gonna cool you down but I’m also going to rock you’.
Introduced into the Rock and Roll hall of fame in 2012 and his induction into the Songwriters Hall of fame 2014 Donovan has secured his title as music legend among some of the other greats. Taking a solo exploration of his songs it is interesting to see him perform by himself. With great audience participation older fans were delighted by his medley of greatest hits in his performance such as ‘Mellow Yellow’ and ‘Season of the Witch’.
Keeping the spirit alive in Ballymully farm and the party of course the crowd is elated at the emergence of reggae king Macka B. With his chilled vibes and slick moves Macka B invites an almost carnival atmosphere to the audience with everyone grooving even some of the guards can’t help but join in. Singing a tribute to Bob Marley the whole crowd repeats Macka B’s words of “Everyone loves Bob Marley” and there is distinguished rapport with the crowd.
It is safe to say that Stendhal’s first night has been a huge success and there is still Saturday to look forward to!