2018 is a big year for the Isle of Wight Festival, as it celebrates its 50th, or golden anniversary. This benchmark sounds impressive, until you stop to consider that after the 1970 festival there was 32-year ‘break’ before it returned in 2002. When the Festival announced its intention to celebrate this, hopes were high that we would see something special, especially when combined with the diversion to Glastonbury weekend to mop up those looking for an alternative to that venerable old institution on the festival scene - last time Glastonbury had a fallow year, they pulled Tom Petty, Pearl Jam and Brice Springsteen out of the hat. What we actually have, is a bit more disappointing, at least on paper, with a lineup made up largely of repeats from the decade or so. If your being generous you could call it a greatest hits compilation, but coming into the weekend the feeling was that the ‘something special’ was missing from the weekend.
The other big issue of the weekend is the collision with the football World Cup. If you've been a regular at the IoW Festival and been active on the forums at all, they you may already be aware that there is a specific history with the football, and not always a good one. In 2004 an ill-judged decision to show an England match (which they lost) on the main screen before David Bowie’s performance destroyed the atmosphere and left David with a hill to climb to regain it again. Subsequent festivals have relegated the football to another field, but every year it seems to change the atmosphere of the weekend. This year the festival has taken the decision to show, not just the domestic teams matches but all the games, and so concerns about seeing a festival held hostage to the the whims of the football fans there added up to a dubious weekend.
Isle of Wight has a fairly well settled system now, with Thursday night being for the campers, who as well as the fringe venues can enjoy performances in the big top. This year the headline slot went to The Wombats, recently reformed and back on the circuit again. I have to confess to quite enjoying them the first time round, and time hasn't diminished their appealing mix of punk and indie, with songs such as ‘Let's All Dance to Joy Division’ and ‘Kill the Director’ getting the crowd going - if this year is a greatest hits year, it's off to the right start.
On paper Isle of Wight Festival 2018 appears to be no more than a greatest hits compilation with many of the artists featuring in previous festivals.
Friday see the festival open its gates to the day visitors and very quickly the site seems to be full to capacity, the festival is boundaries by a road on one side, and a river on the other, meaning it is spread out along a chain starting with the main arena at one end, then stringing through fringe areas, campsites and car park at the other. Interspersed through this are plenty of trees which unfortunately limits the paths through, and can cause some significant pinch points. In previous years reviews I've said that 10,000 less would make the festival much more easy for its visitors, but this year it seemed to be more noticeable than ever.
Out of all the days, I can honestly say that the main stage held very little appeal today, so instead we headed into the rest of the site, to track down the Kashmir Café. This small stage is run by the local arts centre, and is the place to go if you don't want the typical Carling/Strongbow combination that the rest of the bars sell. The bar offers a range of locally brewed beers as well as it's now almost legendary cherry beer. As well as the best drinks, the venue also has a full programme of music, mixing local artists with the best of the UKs festival circuit acts. Tonight we were entertained by such acts as Mad King Ludwig and the Mojo Co. - whose raspy voice and hard-driven bluesy psychedelica are fast making waves across the country, and garnering them airtime on 6 Music; as well as stalwarts of the festival scene 3 Daft Monkeys, who confusingly now boast four members, who filled the tent with hi-octane folk and country riffs.
In the midst of this evening in the Kashmir, we did make one excursion to see Feeder in the big top, and we're very pleased we did. Although having seen them a few times previously they seemed to be a band in their element this evening. Always good to get an audience going tonight they managed to to exceed expectations performing the best I've ever seen them. Finishing with the classic "Buck Rogers". Although they didn't headline, on the strength of this performance, they probably should have been.
Returning to the Kashmir we saw one of the standout bands of the evening for us Rusty Shackle, a Welsh group who bought to mind early Mumford and Sons (before they disappeared up themselves) - definitely one to watch out for in the future.
This brought our first evening to a close and as we walked beach across the arena it was really depressing to see all the rubbish that was strewn everywhere. While it's easy to blame people who drop their trash where they stand, it was also noticeable that the bins that were about were full to overflowing quite early on, clearly it was insufficient to handle the amount of rubbish generated. Hopefully this will be sorted as the weekend goes on.
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