V-Dub Island sells itself as a family-friendly festival for lovers of music and VWs of all types. While the festival proper takes place form the Thursday to the Sunday, it also allows VW lovers to come and camp for the week leading up to the main weekend.
Since we were last here in in 2013, it's been on the move. After leaving its home for the first three years in 2014, it briefly flirted with the site of the original 70s IW Festival at Afton Down, Isle of Wight before moving to its new home at South Fairlee Farm – part of the campsite for the current IW Festival. On arriving at the site Thursday evening it was clear that it hadn't completely recovered - running through the main arena was a scar of bare earth that marked the main walk through the campsite. Apart from that the site, although a little uneven seemed to be in good condition. The main arena is made up of the usual mix of festival stalls, and a small but decent mix of food venues offering Chinese, Mexican, Fish and Chips and Vegan food. In addition were the VW-centric stalls offering themed souvenirs and clothing.
Entertainment in the arena comes from two tented areas, the 'air-cooled' main stage, and an acoustic stage at Grace's Café. Additional music is also available in the campsite at a third stage in the Sunset Café. Another regular to this festival is the 'beach' - a giant sandpit for the kids to build sandcastles and dig for 'treasure' - coins that can be redeemed for sweets. At one end of the arena is an exhibition area for vehicles, although for a large part of the festival this was most noticeable for not having that many vehicles in it, but more on that later.
I think it would be fair to say that, like many of the festivals that took place this weekend, weather was high on the agenda for everyone, with some serious rain forecast over the weekend. I think that while frustrating for everyone, a good dowsing of rain can reveal how well organised a festival is. The good ones seem to soak it up, while the poor ones will quickly drown if not ready for it. V-Dub was put to the test with a yo-yoing weather situation. The build-up and Thursday was warm and dry, Friday had an almost biblical downpour that lasted throughout the day, Saturday was perfect festival weather with clear skies and bright sun, while Sunday morning saw another deluge, that cleared by mid-afternoon to a warm, if very blustery evening. I have to say that the organisers coped well with the weather, and although large puddles were a feature of the site, straw was liberally spread at the worst parts, and bore holes were dug to help the standing water drain away. While mud did appear in places it didn't overwhelm the site.
Unfortunately the rain caused a headache of a different kind for the organisers. Whereas at a traditional festival revellers tend to develop a Dunkirk spirit and just party on through it. VW Camper owners, with a nice warm and dry campers will hunker down and stay where they are. This, combined with the local day visitors staying at home left the site almost completely abandoned - with maybe little more than a 100 or so visiting the main arena and meaning most venues were almost empty. For those who did brave the weather there were treated to some really great performances from The Others, October, and tribute act Duran 2. Highlight of the day musically for me was Blonde Bombshell - who cover cheesy 80s pop songs, but reinvented as bombastic garage rock. Once you've heard 'I Think We're Alone Now' with a sawing guitar riff under it, Tiffany's version will never cut it again! (The reviewer would like to note that this sentence is for comic effect, and at no point in his life has Tiffany's version ever 'cut it').
With Saturday providing the best of the weather, the site came alive with both campers and day visitors coming in to enjoy the day. As well as the music, there were also opportunities for revellers to enjoy chilli-eating contests, dog fancy-dress parades and belly dancing exhibitions on site. The only thing that was missing were the VWs themselves. In previous years there was an exhibition area where a steady stream of proud owners could show off their vehicles. This year however we had to go searching through the campsite to try and find any. Even allowing for a drive-out round the island on the afternoon, there still were surprisingly few on display. I would have possibly blamed this on the weather and the issues with moving vehicles round the site, but actually Sunday afternoon had the largest number of vehicles in the display area, so the mud wasn't an issue with getting them out there.
Music on the Saturday was a varied affair, with an interesting split developing between the two stages. On the main stage there was a succession of the sort of bands you'd find playing the pub circuit, and while this isn't a problem, the fact that they were all covers bands apparently drawing from the same setlists - I swear I must have heard Pharrell Williams' 'Happy' and The Smiths 'This Charming Man' at least six times during the day. The crowd seemed to tire of this too and the main stage was largely abandoned apart from the bands followers and a few curious others. Cover bands are all well and good and can build up a good sing-along, but they really need to be balanced by some acts with original material too. By contrast Grace's café seemed to be almost permanently full, with a string of original acts such as protest singer John Wroath and jazz-pop act Something About Mondays.
Having just told you that there were too many cover acts on the Saturday, I'm now going to have to swallow my pride and admit that actually the best band of the day were also performing covers. Billed as 'The Commonjets does 80s' the set was actually more 90s music, but that didn't matter. The band were at their absolute best and clearly having a whale of a time playing their favourite songs. They were helped by a crowd that after a sunny day were ready to party.
The return of the rain on Sunday morning was finally too much for most people, as arriving on site we were surprised to notice the campsites half empty. In addition a lot of the stallholders were also packing up, leaving the site with an air of post-festival Monday morning, rather than an event in full swing. Which was a shame as the line-up was one of the strongest of the weekend, with some of the best of the weekend playing. From the energetic indie rock of Duveaux, through last nights heroes The Commonjets playing their own music and the entertainingly offbeat Bohemian Blues, to blistering ska from Shoot The Moon. There was a lot to like about the main stage line-up and these bands deserved to play to far larger crowds than were left on site. The festival was bought to a close by regulars Dub Pistols, who were typically on-form and as entertaining to watch and listen to as ever.
It's been interesting to watch this festival grow from a fairly humble beginning into an established event in the Isle of Wight's festival calendar. And while it's still an enjoyable weekend there are a few niggles that prevent it from being up there with the best. One of the main problems this weekend was communication. There was very little to tell you what was happening and when, the programme was only basic and had no times. The tents had no information either - a chalkboard outside could have provided daily timings. As such you wound up having to guess and estimate when people were on, and you struggled to find out who they were. The Sunset Café had absolutely no information - not even a line-up which meant that you had no idea who was supposed to be playing. Equally the entertainment away from the music had little information, and so the only way you knew something was happening was when you stumbled across it. Hopefully they will sort these issues out and return stronger next year
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