This year’s May bank Holiday weekend saw the launch of a new music festival with difference. Over three days, Vantastival 2010 saw a wealth of Irish music played in the picturesque grounds of Dunany Estate, Annagassan, in Co. Louth. The difference? It pays particular attention to catering for campervan enthusiasts and recreational vehicle owners, with no added cost to the ticket price for bringing you van or vehicle.
The inaugural Vantastival proved a family friendly affair, with parents and children alike delighted that it was safe and compact enough to allow youngsters off the leash. The gates opened at lunch time on Friday to allow the early birds get the best camping spots. The music kicked off late on the Friday and as night descended, the mighty Meatmen impressed the crowds with a spectacular show, followed by The Mods and Rockers Ball’.
An early shower on Saturday morning threatened some muddy business to come but by 1pm the sun was out and the clouds had all but disappeared. As more campers arrived, the first bands took to the various stages and a real festival atmosphere prevailed. Dundalk outfit, The Gakk launched into a pure punk tirade, complete with plenty of head-banging and even giving the crowd the fingers.
On the main stage, Offaly boys, Frantic Jack, played some frantic hard rock jams, although they dipped the pace (but not the quality) for their hypnotic and melodic first single -Firefly’. Machine Gun Baby sound not unlike the King of Leon with spooky guitars and gravelly vocals, but the boys do have a style that’s very much their own. They also looked like they were having as much fun as the audience, and the crowd’s massive reaction was repaid with a blistering encore of ‘Dirty Sexy’.
In total, Vantastival took place over two fields, with nothing more than a five minute walk away. The Paddy Mirage tent (of Burning Man and Glastonbury fame) was situated in the second field amongst a virtual rainbow of classic VW’s, and it was here the Blue Choir excelled in the smallest of the main venues. A vocally incredible performance from the folksy four-piece earned them a raucous reception from the audience. It was intimate, with a circular seating arrangement forcing all eyes on the stage, where you could easily forget you are at a festival and begin to feel like you’re in a remote Irish pub. Arrow in The Sky and O Emperor were similarly engaging on the same stage.
Late in the evening, -The Lockup’ tent, placed at the farthest point from the main area, played host to the dynamic eight piece, The Trampz. They might not play often but when they do, they’re entertaining, energetic and at times out-right hilarious, with a packed tent (and then some) dancing to their funky sax, clarinet and bongo beats. At the same time, Sounds Of System Breakdown brought their unique electro pop fusion to an expectant crowd and they didn’t disappoint, creating a huge sound for a three-piece, who could pick up LCD Soundsystem’s baton if rumours of their demise are founded.
A late night rain-shower drove festival goers indoors and ensured a full house for the highlight of the night. Jinx Lennon is a man on the fringes of modern Irish music. A musician, a poet and described by Christy Moore as the most relevant artist in Ireland at the moment, Jinx’s lyrics are politically charged, thought-provoking and as non-radio friendly as you can get. With the sultry voice of Paula Flynn accompanying him and utilising his minimalist electronic beats in exceptional style, he made the tent feel ten times bigger than it was. He left those unfamiliar with him stunned and ardent followers satisfied with a top quality performance. ‘Will You Stop Giving Out about Nigerians’ and ‘Protein FT Festivals’ were perfect examples of his unabashed criticisms of certain mentalities threading through contemporary Ireland and won him universal praise from spectators.
With the exception of The Gramophone Disco things wound down by the shops and main tents. However, the open-mic tent, ‘Psychedelica Openmicedelica’, provided a constant conveyor-belt of talent, and over in -The Lock Up’, the Rastachaun DJs kept the late night partiers entertained with some slick drum & bass until the early hours of the morning.
Sunday started slowly, with heavy rain and an icy wind keeping many in their campers and tents, but heads began to pop out as sirens echoed around the site and a funky computerised voice announced that Dundalk trio Podracer are taking the stage. After grabbing our attention, they rip through a sternum-crunching set that breathes new life into some weary bones. Not far away, a brief break in the weather allows for an impromptu outdoor gig by We Own the Streets who also filmed an episode for RTE’s -Storyland’ at the festival.
Unfortunately the weather didn’t improve, resulting in The Sleep Thieves set being sinfully unattended. They still put their best foot forward and played like the tent was full to capacity, professional to the last note. Their second song -City Lights’ with its ’80s pop synth and new track ‘Impersonator’, with its thumping bass, were particular highlights.
As folks sought shelter from the cold, The Dublin City Ramblers packed the Paddy Mirage to the rafters. It was an all round elbows out, foot-stomping knees-up and a rendition of -Fields of Athenry’ enticed the vast majority to sing along at the top of their voices. Sarah Lou followed them on stage, with her performance described by one spectator as being ‘so good it sent shivers down my spine.’
Just before 5 pm the sun broke through the clouds and Kila took to the stage as a slightly soggy but much relieved crowd flocked towards their unique combination of Irish folk and world music. With a constant switch of weapons, Kila left everyone speechless. After an impressive 50 minutes, they made a break for it but demands for them to continue echo across the arena.
As the sun set on the final day of the festivities, Ska band Pressure Drop impressed with some classic Madness, Specials and Bad Manners tunes as well as a whopping cover of The Beat’s -Mirror In The Bathroom’. There wasn’t a stationary person in view, with everyone from the youngest kids to old rockers shaking their booties. Fred, The Ambiance Affair and London-based foursome Yngve And The Innocent all [layed at much the same time, leaving revellers torn. Top-notch reputations precede all of these acts. Fred showed no signs of tiredness, having just arrived back from their two dates in Germany as they played up a storm on the main stage.
The multitudes then poured into the main stage for the final act of the weekend, and Jack L didn’t disappoint, manipulating the stage with finesse. Opening with his classic -Georgie Boy’, Jack then serenaded the masses with ultra-classy version of The Stranglers’ oldie -Golden Brown’. The 20 piece gospel choir, who accompanied him on his dates in Vicar St, took to the stage to riotous applause and dramatically increased the wondrous atmosphere.
Over all, the festival attendance was lower than expected, but regardless, many who attended were heard comparing it favourably to the first Electric Picnic. Visually spectacular, compact and extremely well organised, the atmosphere was chilled out with continuous comments on the friendly tone. While the headliners gathered the biggest crowds, as expected, much of the glory of the inaugural Vantastival belongs to independent unsigned acts, many of whom had never taken to a festival stage before and all of whom rose to the occasion brilliantly. The verdict? Vantastic, of course.