SunflowerFest 2016 | Festival Review
By Stephen McGurk • Photography: Tremaine Gregg
So there you have it. That was SunflowerFest 2016. “Welcome Folks! Have Fun! Be Safe!”
Those are the first words on the SunflowerFest 2016 programme and they are exactly right!
The “Welcome” surged from everyone-everywhere during the whole weekend. We were all happy to see that we were all in this together.
“Fun”? Forget about it! Start to finish smiles and laughter wherever you looked across Tubby’s Farm.
“Be Safe” was easy; we all looked out for each other and kept each other safe with charity and good feelings towards our fellow carousers.
The good vibes around SunflowerFest flow because bands who regularly play gigs closer to home are scheduled to play for the weekend. It means the festival attracts a certain type of person who follows the bands and the music they like rather than heading to a festival because a “big name” is playing and their mates are going too. Everyone’s hair is longer and their clothes fit the personality of who they really are. People close to the music scene and a lot of creative people were in attendance and it was great to see a few faces from bands not scheduled to play turning up to enjoy the weekend.
This festival is really about the feeling of people coming together, connecting collectively and sharing. All the people I talked to were interesting and had a story. From the beardy graffiti artist; to the juggling girls; to Richy Deboo (who danced in a cage of trees for 3 days straight beside the main stage). There were enriching stories of people carrying stranger’s camping gear for them and helping to set it up, people shared their food and drink; their drugs, their jokes and their love.
I saw a woman pick up about £80 that no-one noticed had escaped from one of the vendors cash-boxes. She went from stall-to-stall asking if anyone had lost the money before handing it into the Lost & Found tent. I can’t think of too many others places that would happen.
But it happens so often here that they have a saying for things like that.
They say it’s the “Sunflower Way”.
A Hammond Organ spilled out from the main-stage on Friday afternoon to announce that the music had started in the shape of the Freedom 35’s on the main stage. Paper Dog’s before them in The Barn Stage seemed cool but I can’t say I saw the full set because after pitching our tents we had a few celebratory beers and got to know our neighbours in the camp-site before having another couple of beers just for luck.
Jealous of the Birds on the Campfire Stage were great to see. Naomi Hamilton has a nice grasp of what will grip people and understands what she can do well. She reminds me a little bit of Kurt Cobain, and the band backs her up with a laid back ease and not much hassle. The Camp Fire stage was strong each day with After The Ibis, and No Oil Paintings playing cool sets on the Friday. After The Ibis ended their show with a stylish version of Move On Up adding their touch of Ska into it.
Twisted Sisters played before it got dark and had the crowd shouting expletives at them, taking off their underwear and singing along to their hilariously crude songs. During their set a guy wearing tartan trousers stumbled out of a port-a-loo backwards, fell down, completed a backwards roll and walked away as though nothing had happened. It was one of the best things I’ve ever seen! The girls of Twisted Sisters have played every year of Sunflower Fest – becoming somewhat of an institution. It seems all the crowd know them and anytime I spot them they are constantly involved in a chat with someone around the festival; mostly they were found dancing in the front row of the main stage setting the mood for everyone else in their long colourful attire. They’re exciting individuals with a penchant for life and a proclivity for people. You would too though when you’re performing songs like “Penny Got Me Stoned (Stoned to the Bone)” and “How Can I Tell You I Miss You When You Won’t Fuck Off”.
Le Galaxie were blowing everybody away on the main stage later on Friday night too. It’s the type of show you just have to get involved in. There’s no point just being a spectator. Get in there and dance with people and throw your arms up and smile to the mad bastards of Le Galaxie in full white trouser and shirt combos pumping out these close-to cheesy 80’s synth-beats. Afterwards everyone was on a high and new friends were being made everywhere. A few new tents were probably tested out too.
On Saturday morning we really just walked around in a daze. It happens when you wake up at 7.30am to a chorus of cow-moo’s and have a glass of red wine for breakfast. Your head seems encased in fuzz; the Viking village becomes realer than real, the music seems more emotional, dancing is easier and everything is just madly funny by midday. It seems a running theme of the Saturday was seeing lots of band’s doing sound checks and constantly losing the skins, but then finding them again. It happens. The positivity of people was amazing to see and we ate some really healthy and tasty vegan food from a stall called Sarah’s World Fare which turned our evening around.
We played a game as we sat down and drank vodka outside “The Barn” waiting for The Bonnevilles in their attempt collapse the stage. It was a simple game that gave us a connection with people. A very simple game. Just one question. Answer this instantly, “Who is your favourite band of all-time?” Who-ever you just thought of might not even be your actual favourite band, but it’s your go-to band without having the time to think through a set of factors to find the impeccable answer.
In a way it’s a perfect question because within three-seconds you’ve found out something very important and meaningful about someone and obviously depending on also how much you love the band they just said you usually dish out a hug or throw up a high-5. It was getting dark and we were getting drunker but the enjoyment that people seemed to get out of it was great. There’s nothing like shouting the name of your favourite band and getting a cheer of approval from 5 drunken strangers.
Oh yeah; mine’s Led Zeppelin in case you’re wondering.
So yeah, after that The Bonnevilles absolutely burnt the barn down and ended a crazy set by getting as many people as possible up on the stage for an encore. We were all up there getting involved in a mosh-pit right on the stage with the band. The boards of the stage were shaking around with people bouncing on it; guys were over the top of the drum-kit smashing cymbals with their hands and it was like someone had poured a bucket of sweaty warm water over both band members. If you were there; you knew you were there.
I really love those people who were at SunflowerFest. Everyone’s interesting and accommodating and friendly and into good music. It’s for that fact that I love them. There are no ego’s here and no-one is trying to have a better time than anyone else; everyone wants the people around them to enjoy themselves together. That’s how all of Saturday night felt. And the whole weekend.
To top off my Saturday night a lovely lady at one of the food stalls handed me some free Polish stew when I was on my way back to the tent. We had a long conversation about Monsanto and I think she realised that I was probably in need of a warm meal before bed-time to soak up some of the alcohol units. Cheers you lovely human being! We shared a moment!
After two pretty heavy days of partying the organisers had scheduled the Sunday morning music with the experience that shows they have been in the same frame of mind as many of the attendees after the second day. Laughter Yoga was the first thing on the main stage and then a nice & calm choir singing Abba and Queen songs; just enough to break everyone back in gently and then slowly the bands were ramped up a little and things got a bit more raucous.
Then a Viking let me throw four axes at a wooden board for a quid!
For a quid!
The thrill of hurling an axe nearly had me in tears. My heart was pounding and I chucked those things at the slice of log with the vigour of a Scotsman protecting his daughter from the English.
That was the start of Sunday morning. I did toy with the idea of grabbing a ten-minute massage, but I knew it would leave me feeling too blissed-out for the rest of the day when I really needed my adrenaline levels to be high to make it through to the end of the festival.
Gilded Thieves played around three o’clock; their style of alt-folk engaging people as we all sat around on the grass of the main stage. Some people got up to dance and kids ran around shooting bubbles at each other and people just generally made the atmosphere very appealing. Emerald Armada, followed later by CoCo & The Butterfields finished up on the Main Stage on Sunday night and a lot of people headed over to the silent disco in the Electro Tent.
I’ll be honest – I spent a lot of time around the main stage on Sunday, simply because the bar that was adjacent to it was buzzing and a massive storm came rolling in for about an hour that trapped us under the canopy with a pouch full of tobacco, a group of friends and beer & strawberry daiquiris – on tap! Of course we were making the daiquiris a bit more “Irish” by topping them up with Vodka.
But I’ll tell you what, when the sun came blasting through half-way into Magwere’s set the people went ballistic. We all left the beer-tent and went dancing to the Afro-Rhythms in the sunshine fuelled by the warmth and the booze.
You’ll find yourself walking through alleys of trees and taking shelter for a while beside a lily-pad covered pond if you need a break from the openness of the main stage. You can chill out in the electro tent that was playing some cool old-school hip-hop for me on Sunday; or relax by the camp-fire stage which is almost a natural amphitheatre as the bank crests upwards and is interspersed with log benches for sitting. Just wandering around and talking to people is great fun if you need a little break from the music. Which you will – at some point – eventually.
The festival always feels nice to walk around in. None of the entertainment, events or campsites are more than a five-minute stroll away; dandering around is easy and people always say hello and will move out of the way for each other, making sauntering around the area a fantastic experience. And like happens at all the best festivals, you’re always likely to come across something that you hadn’t any notion of, or intention of seeing beforehand, but that draws you in and either educates you or entertains.
The beautiful thing about the Monday morning at the end of the festival is that no-one is in a huge rush to make you leave. You can take your time and slowly pack away piece by piece while having a laugh and saying goodbye to all the new people you met. What made it better was that the sun was shining and people were helping each other up the hill to the exit.
We took a moment at the top to savour the view looking back over Tubby’s farm; over all the stages and campsites. There are memories here – the vibrations resound inside each person who has been here – we’ll ask for the same waves to flow next year.
See you next year Sunflower Fest.