Ah, Knockanstockan. Just the repetition of the quirky name brings a smile to State’s face. The smell of wet grass, sense of organic wonderment and assortment of colourful individuals present in the car park would outdo most festivals in Ireland: this is not so much a music festival as an experience to cling to. Knockanstockan, in short, is where the hippies come to party. It’s alternative, self-promoted, independent, ethos-loving and well thought out at almost every corner. As a micro-festival, the line up is all but irrelevant; it’s an immediate sense of wonder and a blissful calm that offer the biggest draws.
There could hardly be a more perfect venue. The tiny stages overlook Blessington’s sizable lake, while the petite arena plays off the land, giving a strange sense of being close to yourself, close to nature. The bar is buried under a heap of foliage, while colourful hoops and a field of artistically-dappled mushrooms provide the arena’s playthings. Nutrition comes in the form of a pair of bio-fuelled double-decker buses or a -whole hog’ roast, while the separate -healing’ area promotes yoga and protests the ancient graves disturbed by the building of Ireland’s motorways.
It all plays nicely off the free spirited, independent ethos and what must be one of the festival scene’s most laid back vibes. The only flaw in the set up is in a few of the practicalities. While we didn’t try them, we’re told the buses to and from Dublin never materialized. The car park and Blessington buses were at best intermittent, too, but at a festival like this that seems somehow beside the point. One morning, State idiotically decided to try and walk the three hours to Blessington; we were offered a lift within minutes. Other flaws were dealt with in a similar way: bands helping each other out, punters transporting scenery and community generally trumping organizational flaws in a heart warming way.
Before rocking up on site, State didn’t know a lot about what was going on musically this weekend, but to many attendees that seems to be the point: knowing half a dozen of the performers seems to put us ahead of most, but there’s still plenty of time to explore the unknown. With the three stages separated by little more than a stones throw, the organizers have done a great job of unscrambling the sound, yet it’s still easy to flit between acts until you find something you like. Nothern Ireland’s Axis Of are the first to grab us, thumping through a set of fist-pumping guitar music not all that different to And So I Watch You From Afar with lyrics. Of course, the monstrously aggressive original was always going to steal the day, and throws Knockanstockan into what seems like an uncharacteristically frenzied rhythm.
The fact that And So I Watch You From Afar still play festivals like this, given their recent Europe-wide outing supporting Them Crooked Vultures, is a credit to the head-banging stars, and the crowd responds in kind with bloody teeth and manic leaping on display down the front throughout. The Envelopes are another intense first-day star in the making, while The Amazing Few take things down another road entirely, brightening our day with some playfully soulful ska and some outrageously ridiculously lyrics. Smile a minute stuff.
The nights here are at least as special as the days. With attendees depositing themselves around the buses or spending the evening losing their mind to eclectic DJs in the Circus Tent. It’s easy to lose track of time and find yourself watching the sunrise before you climb into bed. The Hot Sprockets are Saturday’s big draw, and they deliver in spectacular and comic style. Their blend of southern-state accents and catchy tunes about anything you never thought of writing a song about (and a little bit of weird romance) have the main stage (or -back of truck’ as it would be known outside of festival time) off on one again.
There are dozens of relative unknowns here to be discovered, though. Over the next few days we’re treated to the sublime (Sounds Of System Breakdown‘s impassioned rock out moments on the entirely inappropriate Circus Stage), the endearing (Nursery Crimes Sunday morning child-rock prodigy performance), the quirky yet old-school (Attention Bebe’s selection of 90s dance tracks turned into upbeat girl-soul numbers) and the bounce-inducing (Absolutely Curtains alt rock fun). All genres are welcome here, and bands are greeted with nothing but support, regardless of personal opinion. The crowd noticeably vote with their feet, though, and the packed field that greets the likes of Hot Sprockets and the growing audience for Sunday-morning hangover cures like Attention Bebe show where the love really lies.
We rarely come back from a festival in a state of rest, yet despite this weekend’s bus shenanigans and some late nights, this one is a strangely stress-relieving exception. Knockanstockan’s organic, rustic haven doesn’t have the line up, the crowds or the infrastructure, and perhaps that’s the point. What it loses in terms of commercial support, big name acts and mass transport, it makes up for with a startlingly varied line up, sensibly priced alcohol and an atmosphere to die for. We doubt Knockanstockan wants to be much bigger than it is, and nor would the invariably upbeat punters; it’s a rare and memorable experience already. More of the same, please, folks!
Photos: Abraham Tarrush