Rhythmtree started its life as a small didgeridoo festival; and from that niche beginning it has grown into a small but diverse world music festival. It’s been on the radar for a few years – always hearing good things about it, but other commitments have always meant we couldn’t make it. Finally in 2017 we found it fell on a clear weekend and so we made our way down to see what the festival had to offer.
First impressions of a festival can really set the scene. And having been greeted by friendly staff at the ticket office and being given our wristbands and a printed schedule for the weekend, we were impressed by how organized this all was – often smaller festivals make the assumption that, because of the size, there’s no need to communicate exact details or just bury them in the programme, so this was a welcome addition.
Once through the gates it was straight into the camping field, which was pretty spacious and never really got that full all weekend, giving plenty of space for people to spread out and pitch gazebos and claim some ‘after show’ space for themselves. From there it was into the main arena – and into a large open space that seemed to be under-utilised, but I’m guessing gives the opportunity to expand should they need it. Past this space and you got to the more populous space, with the tented Didge Café to the left of you, and then the main stage opposite at the far end of the field. Between these was a good mix of food and clothing stalls, as well as a kids stage – placed in front of a large boat which would be familiar to anyone who went to Bestival in recent years. Behind the Didge Café is a small woodland, and a third stage could be found nestled in a clearing here – as well as providing a third music venue, this also provided some welcome shelter from the sun that beat down over the site over most of the weekend.
Having scoped the site out, we did the one essential thing at festivals – get a drink! The main bar was situated to the left of the main stage and was themed up to look like a small country pub. As you often find at smaller festivals, they are not so beholden to large sponsorship deals and so provide a decent range of drinks rather than the usual lineup of Carling/Strongbow/Tuborg etc. Rhythmtree had a decent selection of drinks, both on tap and in bottles, including a healthy selection of real ales and – much to our joy – a full range of Brothers cider – well if it's good enough for Glastonbury!
The music was, as you would expect form a World music festival, pretty eclectic. Across the weekend I think we must have seen almost every style of music performed – from Afro beat to Zouk, by way of folk, pop, country, rock, rap and even classical. And the quality of the music stood out to, I can’t actually recall seeing a particularly bad act either – quite a rare thing at a festival.
Friday’s musical standouts included French band Vaudou Game; John Murry – whose drawly blues bought to mind Nick Cave; and Transglobal Underground – although it was odd seeing them perform in daylight – I’m usually dancing along to them in a small and slightly sweaty tent, as well as the headliners the Stereo MCs. I’m not sure what kind of deal frontman Rob Birch has done but he seems to have hardly aged in the 25 years since they first appeared. Time hasn’t diminished their performance either, with his laidback delivery and slacker attitude providing an interesting contrast with the two far more energetic backing singers/dancers. We finished off the evening in the Didge Café where local legends Ska’d for life were working their way through the catalogue of Ska music for a frenetic and now packed tent.
Saturday continued in much the same vein – providing a good selection of music for every taste. Particularly welcome was the return of local band Weatherkings after several year’s hiatus, with their musings on life, love, animals and washing up bowls. Other highlights included the London African Gospel Choir – whose faultless performance of Paul Simon’s Graceland album reminded me what a great album it was. Surprise of the Day was from Mad King Ludwig and Co, whose performance at another festival didn’t really grab us – however with a later evening slot and a larger crowd the band came alive – their mix of funk and jazz infused rock shining through. Mad King Ludwig himself lives up to his name leaping round the stage and the crowd while firing off bursts of energetic Sax. The evening was closed out with headliners Lightning Seeds providing a crowd-pleasing trip down memory lane, while in the Didge Café festival legend Beans on Toast was giving his usual great, but relaxed performance mixed with stories form his life.
The final day of a festival can often be slightly odd affair, with the crowd aware that this is the last chance they have to enjoy themselves, so wanting to go for it, but at the same time, struggling with two (sometimes three) days of enjoying themselves too much. Fortunately the lineup on Sunday seemed to take this into account, and so the early afternoon was a fairly relaxed affair with the main stager reverberating to the country rock sound of Southern Companion – I don’t know what it is about southern American rock, but it seems to perfectly suit the warm Sunday afternoon – and even managed to convince a few brave souls to move out of the shelter of the nearby trees to have a dance. By total contrast the Didge Café had classic quartet The 4DGs performing excerpts of concertos and arias for the crowd. This talented group made me feel particularly old as the youngest couldn’t have been more than about 7, while there combined age barely reached my own 40+ years.
The rest of the day really belonged to the acts on the mainstage however, with local band Nakamarra belting out soul influenced rock for all their worth – while notional headliners The Blockheads were cool yet empassioned. It’s never easy for a band to continue when you lose a frontman as unique as Ian Dury, however ‘Derek The Draw’ is a worthy replacement, and performs the songs with an affection for Ian’s trademark style. Final act of the evening was Tankus the Henge, whose energetic sound and humerous performance drew together elements of ska, gypsy, rock and roll into a captivating performance complete that garnered them several new fans (myself included).
Going to a festival for the first time always has an element of uncertaintly about it, especially one you’ve heard good things about as the weight of expectation can ride heavy on it. I’m pleased to say that Rhythmtree has borne out its’ reputation, providing a fantastic mix of music and atmosphere in a really lovely venue. We’ll be adding it to our regular list, and I would recommend checking it out if you’re after something a bit off the beaten track.
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