It’s a tale as old as time, presuming that revellers existed back at the dawn of civilisation. If so, did inclement weather dampen their spirits, thus providing the first arts journalists the chance to mould and shape cringe-worthy headlines?
This admittedly tortured intro exists to underline the unfortunate fact that the vast majority of festivals live and die on the nature of the elements. Lashings of sunshine and Vitamin D can make even the most phoned-in indie darlings bearable, whilst constant torrential rainfall tends to, er, soak the buoyancy somewhat.
And so it was that your intrepid scribe dusted off his self-imposed festival hiatus – as noted in painstaking detail on the thrilling NO ENCORE podcast, new episode every Friday! – and set off amidst the downpour in search of musical sustenance. Look, it’s really nobody’s fault – unless you’re a moron like Danny Healy-Rae and believe that an invisible man who lives in the sky controls the weather – but there’s just no getting around it; relentless rain at outdoor gigs is death. It kills morale and distracts from performers who soldier on and try their best. As such, there’s a longing aftertaste of what might have been from Forbidden Fruit’s weekend-closing programme, and a mad dash for shelter throughout.
‘We get it Dave, you can’t hack Irish weather, what of the music?’ – Fair question, dear reader. Permit me to counter with one of my own. Do you think a bunch of people jamming practice room-style for 40 minutes sounds like fun? Me neither, so that’s Justin Vernon’s PEOPLE Mixtape out and rising Cork atmosphere merchant Talos in.
It’s a credit to Eoin French and his cohorts that they manage to capture attention and vault over the beer garden chatter that permeates the Bulmers Live Stage. Those craving respite become curious and many leave as converts in the face of sterling cuts from one of the finer homegrown offerings of 2017 in Wild Alee. There’s a cinematic quality to the likes of ‘Runaway’, ‘In Time’ and the long-established ‘Tethered Bones’, all of which gain strange new focus in a most agitated setting.
The Staves pull in a decent poncho-clad crowd on the Original Stage but we opt to trek instead to the cover of the Outcider tent, where Danny Brown is in full ‘friendly match’ mode. The sobering thing about festivals is that there’s often a noticeable disparity between the artist you’re seeing in this environment and at their own headline show. Set lengths are shorter than normal and there’s a sense of hitting the marks, picking up the cheque and grabbing the first available flight out. Brown may not even remove his coat for the occasion, but he’s a reliable live wire, as is a wildly enthusiastic DJ who acts as both musical accompaniment and bona fide hype man.
It’s quite the cacophony as Brown’s signature ostentatious elastic twang collides with beat-heavy barrages – the triptych of ‘Really Doe’, ‘When It Rain’ and ‘Ain’t It Funny’ from last year’s Atrocity Exhibition punching through hardest. Distractions form in what appears to be someone testing out visuals on the blank screen in the background, presumably for the upcoming Flying Lotus 3D performance. It’s honestly rather hilarious, so much so that I’m moved to tweet about it which causes Danny Brown himself to later quote said observation and express his frustration. Said outburst has since been deleted, but since this is the era of the screenshot…
If we never get that collaboration, we know whom to blame. ME. Don’t shoot the messenger, and all that. Fly-Lo, for his part, delivers a set that falls short of expectations. Maybe it’s the fading daylight creeping through, the over-reliance on pitch-shifted Kendrick Lamar inclusions, a slowly easing hangover or the unshakable impression that you’re in an especially rubbish episode of the especially rubbish Skins, but it’s all a bit humdrum.
Back in the bright, Lisa Hannigan meets the fray with trademark whimsy and elegant wistfulness. It’s nice, but, y’know… rain. Meanwhile, nothing says ‘summer festival’ like bringing out The Staves to accompany a musical version of a Seamus Heaney poem as the sky falls. Let’s just be thankful it wasn’t ‘Mid-Term Break’, eh?
And so to Choice Prize champions Rusangano Family, whose charm is threefold. The first part is obvious – the songs are great. The second and third speak as much about their character as their ability. Glimpsed earlier in a public interview, their true power lies in the collective, the sense that these three individuals occupy the same mind, and do so with an unwavering belief. They share the same heart, too, as few acts instil a feeling of community as GodKnows, MuRli and mynameisjOhn. Though their missives carry important messages, this is no didactic lecture. It is a dialogue; a space where the stage melts away and barriers have no place. There’s something very powerful occurring here, and they’re only growing stronger.
As for tonight’s main event, Bon Iver sceptics would no doubt get a gleeful kick out of the conditions given the winsome melancholy of the source material. Admittedly, there is something amusing about this endurance test, but it’s quite mesmerising to hear the bulk of the wonderful 22, A Million in this arena. Flanked by an impressive arsenal that includes a pair of game drummers, Justin Vernon makes for a determined if unknowable showman, and that’s the way it should be.
Some are here for wonder, others to ramble about having his lyrics tattooed (heard you the first time, mate), and plenty to indulge in ‘Skinny Love’ karaoke. All are served, though it’s the precise, unique moments that stand out – the ceremony that arrives halfway through ‘Perth’, the stop-start playfulness of ’33 GOD’, the way that ‘Holocene’ fades out as if your own personal volume has been delicately dialled down by a greater force, the naked majesty of ‘715 – CRΣΣKS’, a song that feels deliberately designed for this exact moment.
Less compelling is a power cut that delays the finish, and by that point you can’t really harangue those who choose to abandon ship in favour of a hot shower. Then again, stumbling into populated streets where neon lights reflect underfoot as the spectral strains of ‘Beth/Rest’ walk you home, well, that’s not something that happens every Monday.
Forbidden Fruit photographed by Kieran Frost