The third instalment of the annual Sunniside Live festival promised to be the best yet with acts such as The Farm and Happy Mondays lined up to perform. Unfortunately, the promise of a great festival is all it came to be, as the execution of it all fell way below par. Organised by the owners of local bars Bar Justice and Gin & Bear It, Sean Maddison and Helen Davies made the decision to extend the festival to 2 days for the first time, leaving plenty of time across both days where nothing of note took place. Should it remain at 2 days next year, the line-up is crying out for a wider array of musical styles and genres.
The organisation of the layout was the first noticeable mistake, with only 6 toilets on hand to manage the 4,000-strong audience. It isn't hard to work this out yourself and recognize this would never be enough, leading to huge queues snaking across the already small festival area. Combine this with the lack of choice for places to purchase drinks, there were even more queues to push through if you intended to move anywhere. Better planning is absolutely essential in future if this sing-song in a park is to ever be considered a decent festival.
As the day went on more and more issues became apparent, one of the most problematic being the location of the stage. Sitting atop an upward slope, unless you were positioned in one of the front few rows, you were guaranteed a restricted view as anyone slightly taller than the norm blocked the way for everyone. This could have easily been avoided by simply placing the stage at the bottom of the slope. The issue of restricted views was made worse by the fact that it was all too easy to watch the performances from behind the barricades with just as good a view of the stage, having not paid a penny towards the ticket fee.
Between acts across both days there was often extremely lengthy gaps, and due to the event only having one stage this meant there was nothing to do in these gaps aside from stand and wait. Some of the acts, however, did put on a good show. Happy Mondays performed with their usual charisma and got the crowd involved and moving for one of the first times across the entire weekend, 'Step On' proving to be as big a hit with the crowd as expected. They followed The Farm, who's front man Peter Hooton appeared to be doing his best Liam Gallagher (and any other Northern singer from the 90's) impression, yet another act more interested in appearing cool than truly feeling the music and letting it speak for itself. One of only two moments during their set in which the crowd appeared interested at all was during a spontaneous chanting of "There's Only One Bradley Lowery" a fantastic touch and a beautiful tribute to the young Sunderland fan, who'd lost his battle with neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer, just a day before. K-Klass provided a similar moment the day before, dedicating their set to Bradley, living up to their name and showing true class. The other moment that lifted the crowd during The Farm's set was predictably their performance of 'All Together Now'. Altering the lyrics to "All together now in Sunderland" in order to get cheap roars from the crowd whenever it was sung.
The personal highlight of the weekend was during Chris Helme's set when he began performing 'Five to One' by The Doors, the very first moment thus far in which the music was captivating enough to demand my full attention. Unfortunately this was swiftly ruined by him electing to switch over to Survivor's 'Eye of the Tiger' which admittedly, did get the crowd singing along. Perhaps there lies the problem of Sunniside Live however, everything about it seems to be aimed at the karaoke singing middle aged demographic, who cling to their youth and follow 90's rock has-beens, and not nearly enough to the loud and vocal younger generations who can truly make a festival atmosphere great. Wandering around there was a massive lack of anyone under the age of 30 and this was evident in the atmosphere, no matter where you stood the prominent sound was the mindless conversations of those around you and not the music, it never felt like a festival, and the music was for the most part always treated as background noise rather than the main event that it should be.
Unless Sunniside Live is given a clear direction and identity, I see no reason to ever go back and experience it again, both days felt as though there merely happened to be a lot of people crammed into one tiny park for no specific reason rather than it being a large audience there to experience the music. At a cost of £35 for the full weekend, it is cheaper than most other festivals, but just because it is cheaper doesn't mean the money is at all well spent, the negatives far outweigh the positives and as such unless changes are made this isn't a place I'll be returning to in a hurry.
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