The fourth annual Sea Sessions Surf & Music Festival makes a welcome return to the seaside town of Bundoran, with a diverse lineup of top musical acts from both home and abroad. The revellers may not get the glorious weather they’ve been expecting, but what they do get is a very well organised festival, which, in spite of getting bigger as the years progress, still retains its intimate charm.
Friday is an all-Irish affair and kicking off the evening’s proceedings are O Emperor, the melodic sounds of debut album Hither Tither warming up rain-soaked Main Stage crowd. Over on the North Shore Stage, Storyfold are belting out some top-notch indie-pop, the best being saved for last with a cracking performance of radio favourite ‘Delphine Wakes’. The Minutes are up next on the North Shore stage, and quite simply ROCK it – a seriously high-octane performance which is over all too soon but leaving a very hoarse and sweaty crowd in its wake.
The main draw of Friday evening, Villagers unsurprisingly pack out the Main Stage tent. It’s the kind of standard of set we’ve come to expect from the band; it’s a shame, however, that the inclusion of some new songs within it are somewhat lost on the Sea Sessions crowd who, by this time of night are looking for more familiarity.
There’s an exodus in order to secure a coveted spot for Ham Sandwich, with revellers standing around the North Shore tent up to 40 minutes before the band are due on stage. Is it worth the wait? Most definitely. It’s an absolute stormer of a set, unrelenting in energy – moshing, confetti cannons, giant balloons and crowd surfing are mere bonuses to the near flawless standard of musical performance from the band, and their set is the undeniable highlight of the weekend.
One of the best aspects of Sea Sessions is its location right in the middle of Bundoran town, which means the fun doesn’t have to end when the festival does. As a very water-logged crowd trudge off from the festival site, you just know there’s going to be ‘second winds’ aplenty as the craic spills out into the local pubs and nightclubs, holiday home sessions and campsite parties. Of course, there’s more to this festival with than just the music, too – Bundoran is a popular surfing spot, with many taking to the water from early Saturday morning. Friday’s rain has thankfully subsided, and on the beach the festival’s soccer and tag rugby tournaments are in full swing. And for those who are more watch-ers than do-ers, the Vert Area (handily located right beside the festival’s Bacardi bar) proves a popular spot to catch all the BMX, skateboard, and roller-blading action.
“Think of me as the fry-up, I’ll cure you!” announces Gemma Hayes, who has been given an unfortunately early main stage slot. It’s a slow starter – mainly because the crowd are zombified – but Hayes gets into it, and the tracks of her recently released fourth album Let it Break translate very well into a live setting. Thankfully the crowd have woken up in time for the infectious energy of The Go! Team, but despite a strong start with a blistering performance of ‘T.O.R.N.A.D.O’ their set plateaus midway.
Over to the North Shore stage where Bitches With Wolves are busy starting their own private party. It’s great to see the band get the opportunity of an evening festival slot, because it really works for them and although the majority of those in attendance may be unfamiliar with the impossibly catchy pop tunes of James O’Neill, he definitely wins a lot of new fans.
The main draw of Sea Sessions Saturday – Bell X1 – more than live up to the expectations of their adoring crowd; it’s a career-spanning setlist which throws up a few goosebump-inducing singalongs. The atmosphere wanes a bit towards the end due to a peculiar choice of encore material, but overall a solid performance from Paul Noonan & Co. which sent the many extra day ticket holders home happy.
State doesn’t really know what to expect from aging hip-hop DJ Grandmaster Flash but it all becomes clear very quickly: it’s party time. The Main Stage tent soon becomes a giant dancefloor, with some very interesting shapes being thrown around. He may not be the traditional type of festival headline act – but he certainly gives the Sea Sessions crowd exactly what they want.
Sunday arrives (minus the sun, still) and once again the distractions of the town prove influential on the festival atmosphere with many revellers opting to catch the GAA action on the various pub big screens around Bundoran. As a result, Fred are left with a diminished audience, but it doesn’t stop them – a quality performance from the Corkonians. The Danger Is take to the North Shore stage and proceed to wow the crowd from the moment Niamh Farrell sings her first note. Quality tunes at her disposal, a quirky performance style, and that incredible voice – it’s a brief but brilliant performance, and those lucky enough to have witnessed it leave the tent safe in the knowledge that they’ve just seen a star in the making.
And now for something completely different. If one was to draw a caricature of a soul singer, chances are it would look a lot like Charles Bradley. The 62 year-old, backed by The Menahan Street Band, puts on one hell of a show – his voice is undeniably amazing, but the biggest cheers are reserved for his inspired dance moves. The sun presents itself just for the first time in the form of a beautiful sunset over the festival site – and it couldn’t have been timed better as Ziggy Marley and his band play a great set comprising of original material teamed with some of his father’s classics, the laid-back reggae sounds a fitting end to a fantastic weekend of live music.
Image by Paul Dowd.