Roundup Review: Sunflowerfest 2018 – Tubby’s Farm, Hillsborough
Outdoor music festivals are hostages to the weather and Sunflowerfest 2018 proved this. Saturday was almost disastrous; Sunday was almost idyllic.
Saturday was awful, meteorologically speaking. The rain and gale-force winds started just before the Belfast Ukulele Jam took to the main stage and it kept up for another 6-7 hours.
By lunchtime the main stage was a write-off and the Campfire Stage soon followed suit. Tents were blown down; tents were blown away. What few brave souls ventured out into the maelstrom were huddled in the Barn Stage – and this was where Saturday happened, at least from my perspective. There were a couple of absolute stand out acts in this tiny space. Early on, Elevation Falls from Dublin lit the place up with their energy and infectious enthusiasm. Big guitar sounds and blasting vocals was a great way to forget about the rain.
Dundalk-based Accidents In The Workplace took that energy and ran with it – this was soul, funk and groove played with style, and in Lauren Murphy they have a vocalist who is dynamic, magnetic, and who can really belt tout a tune. They got to play a second set later in the evening on the Campfire Stage, and I have to admit that I went and watched them all over again.
The biggest and best surprise of the entire weekend was Amy Montgomery. This lady has a huge voice with phenomenal power and she wasted no time in getting the crowded barn dancing. Playing as part of a three-piece who rotated between drums, guitar and keyboards, Montgomery didn’t give you the time or space to draw a breath. I’m tempted to say that any project that has Mike Mormecha attached to it tends to be good, but this is something else again.
Strangle Wire brought some shouty metal to the party and nearly blew the roof right off the barn. Local thrash merchants NASA Assassin were just as loud and went down really well with the crowd, although by this stage it was fair to say that drink had been taken; luckily the NASA Assassin lads had brought their own Buckfast.
I also feel the need to point out how good the food and drink stalls are at the festival. From fish and chips to vegan burgers via pizza and paella there was no shortage of choice; the Guinness and the coffee were top notch. The bar service was quick and efficient with no long queues and I heard a rumour that the dedicated tequila bar was doing a roaring trade.
After drying out and having had a decent night’s sleep, we returned ready to face Sunday with steely resolve. The festival crew had been working through the night to get all of the stages up and running, and enormous credit has to go to the organisers, crew and volunteers in achieving this
The Skallions kicked off proceedings on the re-opened main stage and treated us to some up-beat and infectious ska. These guys sounded huge and their sense of fun and sense of humour were not lost on a receptive crowd. Suddenly, from an empty field the day before, the main stage was fronted by hundreds of people, all having a ball. Just when I thought that things couldn’t get any better, the wonderful Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer took the stage and delivered 45 minutes of the most perfect chap-hop. Chap-hop is hip-hop for the mannerly chap; rap with manners.
The sun shone as The Outcasts took the main stage and reminded everyone of why late 1970’s punk will never die (and also how foul-mouthed they are), they certainly kept the banter flowing. Otherkin rattled through a manic set full of energy and frantic guitar solos.
When I’ve had too much to drink I occasionally play my favourite songs and sing along to them, throwing in the odd rhythmic sound. General Levy has taken this idea and made an entire career out of it. The crowd in the main field loved him; I have to say that I didn’t. Saturday’s headliners were the Utah Saints and if the idea of two guys on their laptops and ipads playing dance music floats your boat, then this was right up your street.
Outside of the main stage on Sunday there were some little gems to be discovered. In the barn, The Mad-Dalton brought some Tom Waits/Johnny Cash style to the early afternoon and Pursued By Dogs brought Joy Division to mind, at least briefly.
Surf Green ripped it up with some wild and rough-edged rock and roll and Fangclub brought some prog-rock fun to the barn.
The Campfire Stage offered a more eclectic mix of sounds. School of Rock provided a showcase for rock school summer camp kids to play to a live audience. Boy were they good – great guitars and vocals and a cheeky, cocky frontman. Slow Place Home did some interesting keyboard/guitar tracks and Stuff brought some modern jazz-influenced sounds, although I was slightly distracted by the lady dancing while wearing an enormous lion’s head.
Sunflowerfest has always made it look easy; this year it wasn’t easy, but they managed to carry it off. I’m sure there were thoughts of calling it quits during Saturday’s monsoon conditions, but they didn’t – they kept going. They re-organised the stages and kept playing. While this meant that some bands lost out, the audience didn’t. As always, there was music being played somewhere despite the weather. Sunday ran like a dream and no matter what your tastes in music were, there was something to suit you, and perhaps even getting you dancing.
It’s a week later and some of my kit is still damp, but damn I enjoyed myself.