Stendhal Festival of art located within the scenic surroundings of Ballymully Cottage Farm, is now in its sixth year. Firmly establishing themselves as ardent supporters and ambassadors of the arts, Stendhal has been growing from strength to strength.
The recipients of Ireland’s best small festival three years in a row has helped verify Stendhal’s status as a festival not to be missed. The intimate details of each corner of this beautifully spirited festival is a testament to the dedication of their volunteer force.
With every corner revealing something more magical than the last. From the delightful Woolly Woodlands decorated with patchwork and tie-dye to the impressively built woodlands there is something for everyone. The emphasis on its family friendly status only adds to its charming and welcoming nature that this is a festival for all to enjoy and revel in.
One of the first things I love to do when I arrive at Stendhal is to take a walk around the grounds to see what new surprises the team have in store. Every year I am blown away by the devotion and thought that has gone into every step along the way. Making my way towards the Karma Valley stage I am greeted by the delightful LORE who have become a firm favourite at Stendhal over the last few years. Enchanting ethereal vocals from lead singer Carolann Carlile has everyone enthralled as some of the younger ones make their way towards the stage to dance. The bands cover of the iconic ‘Teenage Kicks’ is a refreshing twist of the classic with its stunning harmonies and the addition of strings.
Limavady boys Furlo made quite the impression and certainly stirred things up during their set down at the Woodlands. Amassing quite the crowd the Indie pop outfit who have been quiet in recent months couldn’t have looked anymore at home on stage.
Arriving at the main stage just on time to catch The Wood Burning Savages there is a modest crowd which is beginning to grow. Their latest offering ‘We Love You’ is passionate concoction of irresistible guitars and remorseless drums, certainly gets the audience going. Never one to shy away from what he thinks lead singer Paul Connolly makes quite the statement by proclaiming “We’re a punk band. Now, I can’t help but notice the Q Radio sign at the front of the stage here. If only radio stations like them played more Northern Irish music well, that would be really something. Sorry, not sorry. “
Following the crowd back down towards the Henry McCullough stage where I hoped to find Belfast band R51 we are quickly re-routed after as last minute change. Despite this, there is a huge crowd waiting for the band to begin as guitarist Jonny Woods says “thank you for finding us”. The almost psychedelic set up of the Woolly Woodlands with the variegated lights and the tie-dye backdrop is the perfect setting. Creating a distinct sound with their huge choruses and unassuming guitar riffs, R51 are bursting with energy.
Power couple The Bonnevilles are over on the Woodtown stage and have completely packed out the space as I fight to get to the front. Singer Andrew McGibbon Jnr commands the audience, his voice ripping through the audience as he exudes emotion and grit. It is evident to see why the formidable duo are so popular with fans young and old enjoying their perfected brand of garage blues. Playing on the Nerve Centre Stage Little Arcadia are a young band filled with exuberance and excitement. Gathering quite the audience it’s clear that Little Arcadia have made their mark on the NI scene in the last few months.
As I make my way over to the main stage a huge crowd are waiting in anticipation for Derry band PORTS to begin. The beautifully delicate ‘I’d Let You Win’ is even more stunning as the majority of the audience are able to echo back the words. Always the consummate perfectionists PORTS have to be one of the most wonderful festival bands with their carefully crafted set that would entertain anyone. Singer Stephen McCool reminds the audience “They’re not getting a single penny out of this. They’re just doing it for the love of music”. A lovely sentiment that echoes throughout the crowd that we are all here, bound by our love for the arts. ‘The Devil is a Songbird’ shows McCool managing to so carefully entwine his way through the music with his words, as emotive as poetry, alongside his gifted band makes the perfect combination.
For his third appearance at Stendhal, Paddy Casey deservedly is the headline act on the Karma Valley stage. The crowd is certainly excited as everyone pushes to the front and there are several fans screaming Paddy Casey so loud that he declares “If at any point during the night I forget my name I’ll know who to ask”. The atmosphere is electrifying with everyone singing and celebrating.
Sweet Suburban Sky is one of those songs that provokes silence throughout the whole tent which two minutes previous was chaotic and as one of my favourite songs of all time is quite an emotional watch. A friendly reminder from organisers that the night was coming to an end Casey insists on going out with a bang with fans bombarding the stage before some if the bouncers had them removed.
The perfect end to a perfect day.