Play Fest Festival, Part I (June 1 and 2)

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As summer approaches and after walking out of the final exam hall, it was time for me to head north to rural Norfolk’s young upstart of the festival scene, Play Fest.

Friday evening was pretty much as expected of a small festival; it was fairly quiet in terms of crowds with a number of stages in swing with smaller and more local acts. However the hidden treat was on the Asylum stage with dance combo DoubleDrop, a band that prides themselves on the fact that all of the performance is produced in situ, rather than through use of sampling. The blend of dance, jazz and soul is worth any music fan’s time, and is leaps and bounds better than the repetitive beat that you would most likely hear on a Friday night. After mulling around for a bit more and bouncing between numerous DJ stages, we decided to pack it in and head back to the tent.

Waking up on Saturday morning with the skies a clear blue was a great surprise and we actually managed to soak up some warmth but this was quickly put a stop as during out breakfast of Sainsbury’s value sausage rolls the clouds rolled back in once more. We proceeded to mill around the arena for most of the afternoon, wandering around the site’s six stages. One stand out act was local band Vinyl Junkies who opened the Big Top. Well measured and tight they were a great way to start the day and deserved more than the handful of people who showed up to see them.

The arena finally began to fill up fairly late in the day prepping for the big names who make up Saturday’s evening line up to kick off. Little Comets really got things started, putting in a very text book performance and while they may be peddling a sound that has been heard a hundred times before, they still succeed in connecting with the crowd and just presenting it as what it was: good, honest, indie rock. During the sound check I headed back to the Big Top to see the young pretender to Frank Turner’s crown, as king of folk-punk Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun, who put in an outstanding performance, which gives me the feeling that him and his band are on the cusp of exploding in popularity.

But things really began to kick off when Reverend and The Makers hit the stage. Without even one song going by Jon McLure already had the crowd within the palm of his hand, they put on a titanic show that grabbed the festival by the throat and pulled it firmly out of the middle-of-the-day sleepiness and set it up for the night ahead. Even without showcasing new material, the Reverend had it all in hand and it would be difficult to see how anyone could top that.

But The Pigeon Detectives followed and they seemed determined to try. Frontman Matt Bowman was the star of course, throwing everything but the kitchen sink into it with his strutting swagger yet leaving the crowd still baying for more. At one point he brought all the people in the crowd who were in costume up onto the stage so they could dance and for me that just clinched it – an unbelievably great performance that was in all ways was worthy of the headline slot.

But with the whole place feeling absolutely electric, you would hope the headliner would build on the foundations that McLure and Bowman set out, but unfortunately I couldn’t help but feel as soon as Ash had hit the stage the whole mood seemed to hit a brick wall. While they performed a set they may have appealed to people who were already fans, it was not the sort of thing you want closing a festival. Unfortunately Ash seemed dull, lifeless and almost awkward compared to the Reverend and The Pigeon Detectives. While they were a few good moments and it was not exactly a bad performance, their brand of pop-rock that they have been peddling for the last twenty years just seemed outdated and unappealing to a crowd who was ready to party. Ash were just forgettable, I couldn’t help but feel for the most part they lost the crowd completely and unfortunately this was reflected as throughout the next day as whenever a band said from the stage “Did you guys enjoy Ash last night?” deathly silence followed.

It’s unfortunate, as overall the first couple of days had been excellent, it is just a shame the head liners could not really end it with a bang, so feeling slightly despondent we made our way through the ever driving rain back to our tent to try to get some rest.

Part II to follow.

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