Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Festival Review: KnockanStockan 2011

Within seconds of arriving at KnockanStockan, it's clear that I'm in for a different kind of weekend. Shunning the nondescript sea of endless land that befalls many of the larger festivals, KnockanStockan instead takes place on a downright beautiful site overlooking the Blessington Lakes. As the night looms, Friday's eager punters are treated to a stunning sunset worthy of a thousand postcards. Punchestown this most certainly aint. 

Sadly, such beauty also comes with a price. The picturesque location means the car park is located a reasonable distance away from the campsite itself. This would be perfectly fine if there were enough buses available to shuttle people up and down but on Friday there wasn't. The choice was to either wait on a bus - for what transpired to be well over an hour - or to take your chances on the walk while weighed down with camping gear. Such an unnecessary predicament can often be the precursor to a torrid festival experience but thankfully, it proved to be nothing more than an initial blip on an otherwise top-notch weekend.

Now in its fifth year, KnockanStockan has developed and grown through a commendable independent and DIY ethos, serving as a vital cog in the unsigned Irish music scene. A cursory glance at the stage times shows no mention of the Black Eyes Peas but beyond the fireworks and extravagant light-shows that would accompany such big hitters, there lies real talent and depth on show here. Enemies note-perfect post-rock workings were the highlight of the Friday night, dominating the Moon stage with an admirable confidence, while Scarecrow Disco blew the roof off a packed Circus Tent after sadly announcing it was to be their final gig. The arena itself was perfectly balanced, with the large Circus Tent and two outdoor stages ensuring there was always something to catch, with little noise overpsill evident. The real master-stroke however was the addition of the Faerie Fields. Similar to the other-worldly environs of Body and Soul, this little haven was adorned with chill-out areas, sanctual teepees and a performance area that played host to numerous DJs, hoola-hoopers and jaw-dropping fire performers. As well as offering another area to immerse oneself in, it also balanced the site perfectly, serving as an idyllic sanctuary away from the main stage and hectic confines of the camping area.  

Ghostbusters: Moon Stage
Sunshine and Irish festivals are normally mutually exclusive beings so it was no surprise that the scorching heat of Saturday raised the collective spirits. Ghostbusters were the perfect soundtrack to such a sunny disposition, treating us to an array of 80s guilty pleasures such as 'Gold' and 'Footloose', before The Gorgeous Colours lived up to their name with a smashing, uplifting set on the Sun stage. Come On Live Long were among my most anticipated acts of the weekend and they didn't disappoint, delivering a host of anthems with a slight folk-touch and a lovely use of synths throughout. Sun Stage headliners The Hot Sprockets also excelled, justifying their headline status and delivering a solid run-through of their alt-blues hits, which got the sizeable crowd going.  

Come On Live Long
The good weather may have disappeared come Sunday but that didn't stop Attention Bebe from having a ball. Specialising in funky reworkings of 90s cult hits, the 15 (I may have lost count...) of them opened the final day with a memorable bang. Leaders Of Men were also impressive and having reined in the sound issues which blighted their debut Workman's gig, the Tallaght lads now possess a handful of powerful numbers worthy any festival. Later on, The Young Folk were a revelation. Part O Emperor and part Fleet Foxes, the sterling vocals were the pinnacle of a set bursting with a rousing underbelly that demanded attention - this is a band more than capable of making a big breakthrough. Before The Stoney Brokes took to the stage the MC referred to front-woman Amy Kelly as having "one of the best voices in Ireland" and within minutes it's clear she wasn't mistaken. Kelly's powerful vocals propelled an energetic set that was brimming with catchy tunes and despite their youth this five-piece already have a number of radio friendly hits bubbling under the surface - a set that ensured smiles galore amid the exiting crowd.

Kudos must be paid for the reasonably priced alcohol (not to mention the ability to carry your own as you see fit), the diverse food selection, the designated family camping area and the general organisation and commitment from the team of volunteers (and the bands themselves) - none of whom get paid. It may seem trite to continually flaunt the organic, wholesome ethos on which KnockanStockan is based but when it is so undeniably palpable it really is hard to ignore. There are no haughty restrictions, nor heavy handed security, just a reasonable, balanced attitude towards having fun while catching some great, great bands. In a world of rising ticket prices and generic superstar names, KnockanStockan occupies an enviable, untainted little niche; one devoid of corporate pull or spin and one which proves the cliché of 'being in it for the music' is more than worthless hyperbole.

As word of mouth regarding this friendly, relaxed vibe gets out, more and more will undoubtedly flock to Wicklow to sample it. Never the less, the organisers should resist the temptation to grow too big. Its main strength lies in its intimacy, with a larger scale only likely to present logistical headaches that would ultimately deviate from its core values. As it stands, with the current locale, size and set-up, KnockanStockan has found the perfect mould and it's one that makes it the best kept secret on the Irish festival circuit.

The arena towards the Circus Tent
Fire Performers: Faerie Fields
The Stoney Brokes

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