Ah, the winter is a long, tough time. Early September to late April – nearly eight months – and not a music festival in sight, so there wasn’t a chance I was going to miss the first one of the summer. Vantastival’s a relative newcomer on the Irish festival scene, and a nice mix between a musical festival and a family-focused camper van club with a nice VW fixation. I’d love to own one of those things one day. April is definitely a gamble when it comes to festivals, but apart from a Louth sea breeze there was plenty of sunburn weather to make the most of.
Of course, we rocked up late on the Friday night and put our tents up in the pitch black and a pretty substantial sea breeze, but making things difficult is half the fun. Only the small stages were open on the Friday, so we settled on a few beers (Vantastival pro: BYOB policy – saves a lot of money over the course of a festival… not that I was drinking, or anything) and watch Irish radio DJ Donal Dineen get utterly surpassed by his Congolese guitarist, a guy called Niwel Tsumbu, who was utterly outstanding. So good, in fact, that I just ordered both his albums using my currently inaccessible Paypal account.
Come Saturday morning, we had the chance to actually explore properly. Vantastival is a pretty small festival capacity wise, but has plenty to offer in terms of random attractions. I was particularly impressed with the ‘off the bill’ selection, which included a tiny ‘lock up’ stage (in truth we watched almost nothing there, but it’s a nice touch – especially as they had that rarest of beast, some Irish hip hop) and an area called the ‘Gramophone Disco’, which didn’t even open its doors until around midnight each night, and kept going until the sun came up. There are a couple of ‘eco buses’ that cruise around Ireland’s festivals for the entire summer, and make for a great place to just collapse and get stuck into a curry (top deck = eating area), and a great big kids area where Mark and I spent the entire Sunday afternoon ‘goalkeeping’ (i.e letting everything through, on purpose, honest) in a game of kids football.
On the downside, though, almost every artist at the festival played to a nearly empty stage, and that’s a pretty major downside. The physical size of the festival is at least double what it needs to be for the audience that are there, and while that’s great from the point of view of messing around in the wide open spaces, it does mean that only the real headline acts actually fill a tend. As long as the sun’s still high in the sky they’ll be lucky to get a decent crowd lying outside, clapping politely and making the most of the weather.
I did come across quite a few gems, though, some of whom I already knew, and some that were completely new to me. I’ve stuck a few of them around the page to give a bit of a feel, but I was particularly taken with Toy Soldier, who drove all the way up from Dingle in the south west (probably about seven hours) overnight only to play a set to almost nobody. It really wasn’t just that I felt sorry for them, they were a genuinely interesting modern rock band. The Casanova Wave are another one that had me buying their album as soon as I got home, and We Cut Corners really impressed me once again. I can’t wait for their album to surface, massive potential I think.
The usual suspects were very impressive, too. I’ve raved about The Cast Of Cheers until the cows come home at this point, but their new album’s sounding very impressive (I also got a sneak preview in the studio early this year, too – quality stuff), and Sounds Of System Breakdown must have won themselves a lot of new fans. Can’t wait to have them at the wedding. The really ‘big’ names were a touch disappointing: Duke Special is a good entertainer but more cabaret than genuinely musically outstanding, and Alabama 3’s performance was noticeably intoxicated and full of pointless political rambling. Wallis Bird, on the other hand, put on yet another outstanding show. I can’t help loving her live stuff.
The personal highlights were much easier: exploring the backstage yurts and putting down a few beers with a few of the bands on the Saturday night, the fight my soon to be brother in law had with a bag of rice cakes after a few whiskeys (I was in stitches), and a weekend of serious sunshine, more than enough to push aside from well-earned hangovers.
Gotta love music festivals!
Photos by Sean Clarke