REVIEW: Solfest 2016

Riot Jazz on the Drystone Stage. Photo by cwphotographics.com for Solfest.
Riot Jazz on the Drystone Stage. Photo by cwphotographics.com for Solfest.

With the constant stream of information hitting the human brain from every which way these days, it can be nigh on impossible to unplug yourself from the matrix.

One way of doing this however is to take yourself off to an independent music and arts festival in north Cumbria, turn off your phone, disconnect your internet, and abandon the concept of time.

Divide & Conker

Divide & Conker

So off we went, my friend and his two sons, aged 14 and 10, and I, for a “lads weekend” at the geographically stunning site at Tarns, near Aspatria.

I’ve attended a few festivals this year (Dent Music and Beer Festival, Beat-herder, Bluedot and Cloudspotting) and each has its own unique personality and style.

In Solfest’s case I was returning after a seven year break, and I was interested to see how things had changed and evolved.

The magnificent view over the Solway Firth and into Scotland hadn’t changed, and the elevated position of the site offers a panorama of rolling countryside, jagged mountaintops, and shimmering water.

Bill Lloyd on the Drystone Stage

Bill Lloyd on the Drystone Stage

Add to this a good dose of August Bank Holiday sunshine (yes, it really happened) and some jaw dropping sunsets, and you start to feel like you’re on to a winner.

Okay, so in terms of the concept of time it helps to wear a watch when you’re checking the jam packed programme for what and where to go and watch next, but even if you decided to say, ‘the hell with it, who needs time’ - Solfest has got your back.

A kaleidoscope of hand-picked music, food, theatre, interactive site art, quirky trade stalls in an unrivalled traders’ village gave it an individuality all of its own, and those in attendance provided the spirituality and energy that kept the vibe and feel of the event in perfect harmony from start to finish.

There was a great mix of people, certainly an older crowd than, say, Kendal Calling, plenty of young families, couples and Cumbrians proud of their local event.

Drummers made their way through the festival site

Drummers made their way through the festival site

The lovely people at The Melodrome stage ensured there was a constant stream of eclectic, and at times, downright batty, music and performance across the weekend.

Highlights there for me included The Manfredis covering Sublime’s Santeria, dancing in the rain to Dead Man’s Hand, The Weirdstring Band instigating pretty much every dance style you could imagine, and Divide and Conker’s second performance of the weekend closing the stage on Sunday night.

The nine piece band, forged from one hundred meetings of Lancaster Funk Club, performed on the Solway Bar stage earlier in the day, and brought the groove back to Sunday in a serious way.

Their self-awareness, sense of humour and intelligent lyrics bridge the genres of funk, jazz, hip-hop and pop effortlessly.

Some of the site art at Solfest

Some of the site art at Solfest

I’ll eat my inflatable seagull if this young band can’t take their sound to the national stage sharpish.

It needs to be heard.

It was also a pleasure to see Wizardmarra, adopted by The Melodrome as compere, doing what he does best after all these years.

Hats off to Lancaster based Stylus and 118audio for keeping the beats in check and providing the biggest sound of the festival all weekend too.

Their berber style tent provided some much needed shade at times, while their juice and smoothie bar provided some much needed nourishment at others.

Carlisle’s Unity Sessions stage constantly challenged the senses too, especially in the early hours. There were quite literally rhythms I never knew existed coming out of that tent. Singular is what I’d call it.

One of the many colourful people at Solfest

One of the many colourful people at Solfest

And The Love Shack was a great place to go for some soul, funk, cheese and disco sounds in a colourful undercover space and happy smiling bar staff.

There was no main stage at this year’s Solfest, and an absence of crowd-pleasing “headliners”.

This proved to be irrelevant, with The Drystone Stage stepping in to the bridge to showcase some fantastic crowd-pleasing “lesser knowns” in a natural amphitheatre setting.

Bill Lloyd’s storytelling, Baka Beyond’s chilled out grooves, Riot Jazz’s energy and optimism, The Mouse Outfit’s eclecticism, and Buffalo Brothers’ funky front all did their job.

The Solway Bar stage also came up trumps, a much bigger covered tent than I remembered, with a long bar at the back and plenty of seating fashioned from pallets and big chunks of wood.

The local ale wasn’t half bad either. Especially at a very reasonable £3.50 a pint.

In here I enjoyed Dreadzone (although they struggled to be heard at times over the Funktion 1 soundsystem in Stylus), Catholic Abuse Apology, John Player Specials, China Shop Bull, Dohnut (formerly known as eating disorder) and D’Bleedin Blaggards.

Hardfloor Live was another highlight, getting everyone back into the old school techno groove with an excellent set in Lost N Found on the Sunday night.

Mainly, it was a pleasure to just wander around the site and simply be there, dropping in on sights and sounds across the 10 plus stages, which I did at all hours of the day and night. Who needs time eh?

At this year’s Solfest, collaboration and collectivism were the order of the day, and with the sun beating down for a hefty chunk of it, the good feelings were mutual.

It was an absolute pleasure to unplug for the weekend and be entertained.

The many children at the festival were also well catered for.

It always felt safe, and there were workshops, big slides and inflatables, interactive musical instruments and a thousand different unique experiences for them to remember at every turn. Humorous and switched on adults helped too.

Security was friendly and unobstrusive.

Word on the street prior to the festival was that Solfest had “returned to its roots” this year.

I have little frame of reference as I hadn’t been for so long.

All I know is if I could live at Solfest all summer (or at least have stayed a few more days) I would.

It certainly felt like I’d gone back to my roots, more important than ever in this increasingly technologically connected, socially disconnected world.

Solfest brought it all back together again. Well done to all involved.