Every festival has it's own distinctive feel, and as the Isle of Wight Festival enters into it's fifteenth year (or eighteenth if you include it's 1970s namesake) it is fairly well settled into it's own variation on the formula – start off with a couple of legendary acts as headliners, then add in a mix of crowd-pleasing regulars and established favourites, then finish with a couple of up-and-coming acts. It's a formula that has largely worked for them, and although in recent years it has expanded out to include several smaller venues, for most people it's all about the big top and main stage line-ups.
Arriving on site on the Friday we caught the tail end of Busted's set on the main stage. I've never been a great fan of the band, but had to say that they certainly gave it their all, and their feel-good pop sounded pretty good as we made our way across the field.
2016 has seen a major shake-up in the layout of the site, with several areas being moved to new locations. One of the most noticeable was moving the Hard Rock Café Stage to the back of the main arena, leading us to question whether this could cause sound clashes being in close proximity to the main stage. Another change was swapping the Kids Zone with the Kashmir Café - on one hand this seems to make perfect sense as it now means that families can drop in and out of there while still remaining close to the Big Top and Main Stage, however it also meant that Kashmir was no longer placed for popping in for their cherry beer and real ales as you moved around the site! By compensation Kashmir had also got the larger tent it so desperately needed, but has lost the garden area that made an excellent chill-out zone when you needed to take a break.
A new stage for this year, building on the recent popularity of all things 80s is the Electro Love tent providing an outlet for tribute bands and retro DJs. In the middle of this were local band The Commonjets, who treated us to their covers show, which although billed as 'Commonjets do 80s' it also included a fair few 90s tracks as well, but given the members weren't born until the tail end of the 90s you can understand their haziness. Confusion aside it was one of the highlights of the day, the Commonjets always give an electrifying performance, whether performing their own material or covers. Well worth checking out if you get a chance.
We stopped off at the Hipshaker to refresh our drinks and catch a couple of songs from Samuel S. Parkes and his Northern Soul Band. One thing that seems to be a big problem at the main bars is the queuing, previous years they operated a ticket system so you could buy tickets up front, then quickly trade them for your drink of choice. This year they have reverted to cash bars, but the first seen, first served system meant that a 20+ minute wait was not uncommon. Things were better at the smaller bars, but often meant leaving your chosen spot for a longer walk to get to one - and only a small bottle of beer/cider rather than a pint to show for it. Prices were about typical for a festival, with a pint costing you £5, or £5.50 for something a bit better quality than the Heineken/Strongbow options, or £4.50 for bottled Heineken or Bulmers.
Friday night's main performance was brought to a close by co-headliners and festival stalwarts. First up were Stereophonics who gave a solid performance, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary, even though they probably claimed the crown for track of the day, closing their set with 'Dakota' which came complete with fire, confetti cannons and all the lights they could throw at it. Faithless, who had the honour of closing the stage, gave a typically energetic performance, they are a band who seem to become more rock and less dance as they get older. Biggest reaction of the set came from their song Muhammed Ali – played as a tribute to the recently deceased boxer.
Although the main stage had come to an end - IW Festival is one of the few festivals with a curfew stricter than Glastonbury's, due to it's location on the edge of the largest housing estate in Newport – there was still plenty of action on the smaller stages. and so we took advantage of this by first watching Dub Pistols on the Cirque Du Quirque stage - an odd venue that felt as if it's existence was due more to a bit of space in the field, rather than actually being a practical space for a venue. The small stage meant that half the band were invisible to the audience to fit on there. This was compounded by the dancers and performers in front of the stage, who's dancing and juggling, while certainly talented, only detracted from the bands performance. Dub Pistols none-the-less did the best they could, and even sound trouble and a passing rain storm failed to dim their usual energy. Last band of the evening for us was another local act. Duveaux are natural successors to the legacy of eccentric British pop, drawing heavily from the likes of Bowie and Franz Ferdinand, their performance have a rowdy air about them, that spills over to get even the most stoic members of the crowd dancing. A good end to what was, minor niggles aside, a pretty good day at the festival.
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