Keswick Mountain Festival offers something a little different

Keswick Mountain Festival 2015 review

By Trevor Eales | Published: Thu 21st May 2015

around the festival site

Thursday 14th to Sunday 17th May 2015
various venues, Keswick, Cumbria, LA9 4ES, England MAP
£55 for the weekend
Last updated: Mon 18th May 2015

Keswick Mountain Festival presents something a little different. Set in the heart of the Lake District it offers a raft of outdoor activities including guided mountain walks, fell races, wild swimming, kayaking, triathlon competitions and a venue for music each evening.

At the heart of the event was a festival village offering shopping, entertainment and activities for all ages. Being A Mountain Festival some of the attractions differed from typical festival fare. Among the wholesome food outlets one could also find sellers of outdoor clothing, cycle helmets, navigation gear and adventure holidays! For children, the usual festival workshops were replaced with den building, tree climbing, and a climbing wall; all with helmets, harnesses and tuition provided. There were no fairground rides for adrenalin junkies. Instead, a zip wire cut across the festival site. In one amusing episode, Damon Gough (Badly Drawn Boy) and friends were seen peering out from one stall, grasping iphones to photograph one of these thrill seekers as he flew, screeching through the air toward them.

I've recently returned from Iceland where they have a saying which roughly translates as, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing." Well, if you chose the "wrong clothing" for this Keswick Mountain Festival this year you might have made some derogatory comments regarding weather!

Friday afternoon offered slate grey skies and a biting wind. By 4pm it had begun to rain. It was still raining when the music finished at eleven. The festival Village that afternoon presented a bleak sight, outwardly devoid of people. Many like me sought refuge in the beer tipis, savouring a choice of ales, warm drinks andfood while enjoying a succession of local musicians. It was warm and thoroughly enjoyable. As a pleasing extra, the beer tent was sponsored by an Alaskan seafood company who plied revellers with an ongoing supply of free Alaskan Salmon based nibbles; very tasty!

The outdoor stage opened at around five with initial music each evening provided by local Cumbrian musicians. The pick of these was Annemarie Quinn, a young singer songwriter with an emotive voice and clear potential. It was a pity that more people were not prepared to brave the elements to watch and listen.

Badly Drawn Boy: Keswick Mountain Festival 2015

By the time that Badly Drawn Boy took the stage at about 8pm there was a considerable crowd. Responses to an early heckler demanding, "Play something we know" ran the risk of alienating the audience as comments about not understanding local accents and comparisons with Geordies were not well received. Fortunately, realisation quickly dawned and Mancunian wit prevailed. Damon played an enjoyable set, mixing newer material with 1990's successes and one track emotionally dedicated to a close friend of his road manager / agent who had died earlier that day.

As the weather deteriorated the crowd needed to be warmed and Peatbog Faeries duly obliged. Playing a high energy set, the bagpipes and whistles, backed by driving jazz, funk and rock beats, quickly got the sodden audience moving. There were even reports of crowd surfers, not seen by this reviewer, who must have been visiting the bar at that point. It was a great way to end the first day.

around the festival site: Keswick Mountain Festival 2015

Saturday was bright, sunny and even colder than Friday. Throughout the afternoon the festival village was rammed with people creating a really positive vibe; a huge contrast to the previous day. Shoppers, browsers and drinkers mixed with fluorescent spandex bound cyclists and their bikes as a triathlon reached its climax in the village.

I took time out in an Ordnance Survey sponsored bubble to listen to a really engaging talk by Bonita Norris. Now 26 and from a very ordinary background near Reading, she became interested in climbing aged 18. At 22 she became the youngest person to climb Mount Everest and at 23 the youngest to ski to the North Pole; a truly inspiring young woman.

Following short outings fora couple of local musicians, Lisbee Stainton and band entertained with a set of pleasing folk tinged songs. The material was well crafted and enjoyable but unfortunately failed to bring most of the audience close to the stage; tracks for listening to in the comfort of home rather than rousing a crowd on a cold evening. It was Danny and the Champions Of The World who were first to entice significant numbers of the swelling audience to the front of the stage barriers. Their feel good blend of rock n' soul caused outbreaks of dancing from numerous mothers and children which really brought the evening to life. Up next were Dodgy, a band I last saw in 1996. They played a crowd pleasing mixture of old songs and new, culminating in a rousing finale of Van Morrison's And It Stoned Me, Staying Out For The Summer and Good Enough.

Dodgy: Keswick Mountain Festival 2015

Most facilities at the event were excellent. Car parking was very convenient and flushing toilets were both clean and without queues. I have to confess that after checking the weather forecast I was too cowardly to camp so can't really comment on facilities there. My only real gripe would be alcohol related. The beer tent and wine stalls functioned efficiently during the day but on Saturday evening, even the addition of a small stage side bar could not cope with demand. I queued for 30 minutes waiting for a beer while watching Dodgy. The organisers clearly underestimated either audience numbers or their thirst.

And so to Seth Lakeman, the closing act. An audience that had grown steadily during the early evening, now filled the arena. Standing stage side sheltering from the freezing wind, I watched and listened as the band warmed up voices and instruments before hitting the stage; worryingly hearing someone say, "I can't feel my fingers."

As with the Peatbog Faeries the previous night, the crowd needed to move to keep warm. Seth greeted the crowd by announcing, "I grew up on Dartmoor but it isn't as cold as this." The band then launched into a rousing set filled with melodic folk flavoured "stompers," (Mr Lakeman's word not mine) sending the crowd home a little warmer and a lot happier.

Seth Lakeman: Keswick Mountain Festival 2015

Overall, this was a really enjoyable couple of days at a festival that was more than a little different. Financially, the music element of the event was clearly a success. Talking to one of the organisers on Saturday afternoon it transpired that numbers attending Friday evening equalled the total attendance over 2 days for the previous year. As Saturday's attendance clearly surpassed that of Friday, the prospects can only be good for 2016.

review by: Trevor Eales

photos by: Trevor Eales

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