Review: Vantastival Festival 2012
The 1st of May is widely recognized by society for being the first day of summer. So what better way to kick off the summer than heading along to Vantastival, a family/VW van orientated independent-music festival. Located in Bellurgan Park, Co. Louth under the beautiful backdrop of the domineering Cooley Mountains. Vantastival would still be considered a relative newcomer to the festival scene, but one-which is quickly becoming a mainstay on the festival circuit. In the week leading up to our departure, rain filled the skies and flooded the towns as our pre-festival waterlog blues were becoming a reality. Luckily enough for us, the rain was to hold off until very late on Sunday with the sun making a sparing appearance throughout the weekend.
As we battled and crawled our way through the mass exodus from Dublin on the bank holiday weekend, the journey was rather painless as Vantasival is a mere 15 minutes from the M1 motorway. All tented up in Ireland’s most picturesque campsite, right slap-bam on the site of an organic farm (or at least the signs said so anyway), we were ready to begin. The Rambleers would provide the first musical rumblings for the weekend as the crowds filtered into the car-parks and campsites slowly over the Friday evening. They served as an ample introduction to the weekend and surely drew the shortest straw performing so early.
Our first visit to the Newgrange-shaped Musicmaker tent would see us take in EleventyFour. Her set was pushed forward as she had the quite genuine excuse of catching a plane to see her sister give birth for the second time. This would mean we would be treated to a whirlwind 20 minute set of “nothing but the hits”, as she put it herself. Said with an undercurrent of tongue and cheek, the set went on to win each and every one of the audience hearts as she quaintly made us all laugh and smile. With songs such as Forklift, a song about stealing a forklift and coming to the rescue of an overburdened bag carrier on said Forklift, to a song about Sicily’s Cake eating habits. An immediate highlight was this dainty little lady, a special tip of the cap goes to her throng of fairy backing dancers in the crowd.
The Trampz on the main stage were hitting all the right buttons as we then made our way to The Lock Up stage. This stage is to be found in a barn adjacent to the grounds manor house. It would play host to some of the regions best up-and-coming new bands over the weekend. A band on everyone’s lips at the time was Bloodletting, a five-piece metal-band from Dundalk. They have been around for two years but the recent addition of lead-singer Padraig Birch has seen them rise in notoriety as of late. A band for any metal fan to keep an eye out for.
Ham Sandwich, everyone’s favourite power-house indie pop machine, were the headline for the first night as everyone flocked to the main stage. The ultimate hit and miss performance was about to begin. Everything started off perfectly as they stormed through the early part of the set with equal energy to be found across all members of the band. Podge, the bands rogue guitarist and crowd interaction master was on form with his usual antics. This would last up until halfway through the set when everything seemed to fall apart at the seams. Firstly, Podge’s usually famous chats with the crowd were beginning to drag on. Then he would scale the one wire which held the power to the sound desk prompting the soundman to shout through the monitors for him to getdown. Maybe a simple oversight due to excitement from Podge? Unfortunately not as the sequence would drag on as Podge made his guitarist leave the stage refusing to return as Podge let a drunken crowd member ramble incoherently on the mic for 2 minutes without hesitation. Finally, the band would then begin to start songs without his say so. Niamh Farrell, the bands superstar lead singer at one stage declared to the crowd: “I can’t stop him”. I have a soft spot for Ham Sandwich and have enjoyed them on countless occasions but something was all wrong with this performance. Thank god for the Done Deal stage and DJ Shane Tobler for lifting the spirits well into the night.
Early bands to shine on Saturday were Ka Tet who played to a noticeably content crowd on the Done Deal wooden stage. Ka Tet performed an incredibly tight live set while never looking out of place or discomforted in the festival surroundings. The lines “Wake up, wake up now” still ring in my ears as many elements of their live set edged their way into my brain for the rest of the weekend.
The Barley Mob, a band that would not feature on many people’s radar, were easily the stand out act of the weekend. Their simple mix of enthusiasm, crowd-interaction, storytelling and catchy Jamaican vibes infused with a Dublin accent worked to provide a special moment around 5 o’clock on the main stage. As their set went on, it attracted more and more people who were curious as to why the tent was dancing so much. A beautiful moment occurred when Adam Daly, the lead singer, told us the story behind Never Be Lost When You’ve Got Music. It’s a story of a conversation between him and his brother before he passed away. During this song as everyone was bouncing around, the sun came shining through for the first time of the day, a poignant and special festival moment. The Barley Mob are as good if not better than any band on the gig circuit in Ireland right now, make it your business to check them out.
The Bonny Men, Soliders Can’t Dance, Third Smoke, Machine Gun Baby and finally Cathy Davey would see the best 4-hour run of music throughout the weekend as every band brought something a little different to the table. Third Smoke and MGB would stand out among them for different reasons. Third Smoke are a promising act from Dundalk who despite their young years have a knack for a catchy chorus and sweet melodies. MGB on the other hand are a different entity, a band that truly would be at home in a stadium environment. They provide rousing sing-along chorus’ while also individually possessing that killer musical ability to excel, without showing off, on their given instrument. Cathy Davey would prove to be a small disappointment, as her set seemed to pass without any moments of true note to acknowledge.
The Amazing Few were to round off the night as the army of band members, including a full brass section, kept the cold but a distant memory as the lead singer led the crowd in silly dance moves and routines. A feel good band if ever there was one. Perhaps not a set that would go down well on repeated listens but the gimmicks seemed to work this time round.
Sunday was off to a good start with Raglans. For such an early set, Raglans seemed to garner a great crowd of vocal support who sang along at every given opportunity. Raglans serve as the band who you can immediately warm to and get involved in their lyrics and sound. They have simple lyrics and hook led chorus-lines that have you singing along every time. The stand out track from the set would have to be Digging Holes. Digging Holes is their most recent single and is doing a small viral stint around Ireland at the minute with its funny video (HERE).
This festival was special for many reasons, among them was the simple addition of the Open Mic Stage where festival go’ers were invited to take to the stage for their few moments to shine. While that sounds like an awful idea, as it would surely attract endless Karaoke covers, it was simply magical (Proof HERE). Be it a song or a dance, poetry or jokes, the campers came to stage and surpassed expectations. Moments such as a small girl called Kayla, aged 7, who took to the stage for a rendition of Avril Lavinge’s Sk8er Boi. Then a 10 year old boy named Luke would play his first ever gig to a full crowd and sing Wonderwall (See his first ever gig here). A truly magical moment as everyone sang along and bathed in the sunshine once more. Our own Open Mic venture saw us perform at 3AM, singing a whole host of songs from Mary Black, to rapping Sum41 with the back up air jazz/rap band. Truly a magical stage that provided unforgettable moments, all harnessed by the stages MC, Sean.
Shadowplay were a band who lured us into their tent with a rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s – The Chain, then to be surprised at how good they were. Consummate performers who had a real likeable quality about them. A band to keep an eye out for, big things beckon.
Le Galaxie gave their usual thunderstorm performance that always leaves you more than happy having seen them. Apart from the lead singer pulling the plug on the gigs entire sound at one stage, which they glossed over brilliantly by getting the crowd to star jump manically, their set went without any fault.
God Is An Astronaut were the festivals headliner and came with the history of 10 years musical experience together. They brought their own sound desk, their own lights and their own visual show. While they were as professional as any band, they did not rouse the entire crowd with that end of festival buzz that usually showers over the headliner. A somewhat calm end to the Vantastival weekend.
Vantastival is the perfect Irish independent festival. It is run and managed by volunteers and maintains that friendly vibe throughout the festival. With festivals such as Flat Lake and Summer Sessions all cancelling, Vantastival shows how it should be done. With a decent crowd attending this year, the future looks bright for Vantastival. After all, where else can you hop into a hot tub in the middle of a forest? Kick off your summer festival season next year with a bang and get your ass down to Vantastival.
Vantastival 2012 Photo Gallery
Photos by Sean Smyth