Sunrise Summer Solstice Celebration 2006 review

published: Tue 27th Jun 2006

Friday 16th to Wednesday 21st June 2006
South Somerset (exact location TBC), England
early bird tickets £50 (else £65), campervans £20 & parking extra - telephone 0845 009 6347
last updated: Tue 24th Jan 2006

My festival season 2006 appropriately starts with a brand new festival: the first Sunrise Celebration.

A festival shuttle bus (£3) takes me and everyone else who tumbles out of Yeovil's Pen Mill station to the site. The conductor has a supply of wristbands; she checks tickets during the journey and hands out bands - a great time & queue saving idea! Ticket-less folk get dropped off at some cabin where they can buy one, we others are driven straight onto the site car park, from there it's a short walk to the camping areas (well, I think it is short, but I don't have that much to carry).

The festival site turns out to be a large flat field, with several stages and 12 themed areas (such as Permaculture, Tipi Village, Horsedrawn Camp etc) arranged in a wide circle around a central fire and "free-dome" tent (where everyone can go to jam and/or listen all night long). The layout with 12 "bubbles" and one 13th central one is, according to the programme booklet (£3), based on a sacred geometrical design and features an exact representation of the earth-moon ratio. Well, I take their word for it. It has it's advantages, simple layout and modest size of the festival make it almost impossible to loose your mates for long, wherever I go I bump in to some good old festival stalwarts (you know who you are!), and much rejoicing & collective drinking occurs. By chance, I am introduced to Lui, the youngest Sunrise punter. He's a mere 10 days old, his proud granny tells me. Can't start them young enough!

Friday and Saturday are scorching; there is not much shade to be found on the tree-less site, but many events are in tents offering shelter for delicate skin. The sun takes a break just before the whole festival community turns into lobsters, from Sunday onwards it's much cooler, quite windy and there even is a faint drizzle of rain on Tuesday evening. Not enough to make things muddy, though.

"Family Gathering" are the organisers, and they have geared this festival towards people who want to get involved in all things alternative and green; I meet many punters who are there mostly for things other than music. Imagine the Glastonbury Green Fields taking over a whole festival and you get the idea. If you want an Accuessence Healing Ceremony, Mongolian Overtoning, Tai Chi, Scarelli Yoga, a Psychedelic Conciousness Forum, Chakra Dance, Living Meditation, Sound Therapy, Sustainable Living lessons, a Magical Cactus Talk or anything in that vein, this is the place to get it. Yes, even Shamanic Solutions to the Global Crisis. I'm not much of a Zodiac-crystal gazer/mother goddess worshipper/meditating Shaman myself, but there is some updated info on energy saving, green fuel and organic food (most of the food on site is healthy and tastes great, btw) that is of interest even for an old sceptic like me. And smallish punter numbers mean you don't have to queue or find a tent too full - except for the one that showed the football on Tuesday, of course! Plus there are wandering performers and fire shows galore. Children are well catered for too.

Still, some of us are very interested in the music; I confess to booking my ticket mainly on the basis of some early line up info, so here are my musical highlights: Gaudi - played a great set of his dubby fusion beats, whatever, I can't describe it any better, on the main stage on Friday, and what a pleasant surprise to find him spinning things at 5.00am on Sunday morning at the ID spiral again. He'd played another set in one of the tents a few hours earlier, and I guess he just kept going. Banco de Gaia, one of the best for dancing, was in very good form - I wonder how much attention people actually pay to his sobering projections? Dream Machine, my absolute favourites, play what I consider to be the most innovative and original space/fusion rock around at the moment, the band is a happy union of Italian temperament and British talent, incorporating 2 former Ozrics; I even managed to catch their unscheduled 3.00am warm up gig at the Galactic Central tent on Sunday, so I got 2 fantastic gigs for the price of one! Gravy Train, who play wonderful reggae with an edge. ZEJ, who turned out to be half of Gravy Train with some spontaneous guest flutes thrown in for good measure. Dreadzone! No need to explain that. 3 Daft Monkeys, one of the best for stomping around. ZubZub, one of my favourites for dancing, I really like it if dance music uses some live instruments &... Champignon for chilling with some lovely song based material afterwards. Eat Static: short but krrracking.

Furthermore, I am quite impressed by Dragonsfly, Tarantism (rousing festival veterans), Seize The Day (what would a green event do without the greenest band in the country?), Grooveweird (more space rock, but a half hour set doesn't do them justice), Kill the Boy (folk rock), Mama's Bad Boys (rocking rhythm and blues guitar/bass/drum formation who finished with a fine rendition of Hey Joe), and Rory McLeod's little impromptu gigs with the bicycle driven generator all around the site.

My musical low point is ... well, yes, there is one, but I don't want to offend anyone, so no names shall be mentioned. It's a festival and I can always walk away. I do.

Many bands play more than once at the various stages, the Sunrise Stage is the largest and features most of the headliners, but other stages have a cracking line up too, I end up spending quite a lot of time at the cosy & crammed Small World Solar Stage.

On Sunday evening, following the lovely Mirrorsystem chill out set (completed by a beautiful belly dancer) at the busy ID Spiral venue, I get to hear the first of many announcements: things don't add up. The organisers are £50k down and are asking for donations to help them break even. Bands scheduled to play later on won't get paid, some pull out, others decide to play anyway. After digging around for a bit more information it turns out that there are about 8000 people on site, but only 3500 of them actually bought a ticket. The other 4500 are not exactly gatecrashers or fence jumpers - most of them have wristbands and are there in some work/entourage function or other. It is admirably generous to give free tickets to people who promise to tell a few stories in some quiet corner (yes, I actually came across someone who got in for free for doing exactly that), but it won't help the organisation break even. There is so much alternative lifestyle advice, organised talk and therapy to be had, punters can barely utilise it, there are enough performers and events to keep a much larger crowd than the existing one entertained, massaged, gong bathed and occupied around the clock, even spread out over 6 days.

Come Tuesday (20/6), some enterprising research is needed in order to find out who is actually playing where and when, according to the revised line up. There are some acts I really do not want to miss, but even the bands don't know for sure when they are on, at least not the ones I get to talk to, so in the end I decide to descend upon the remarkably unfazed sound man at the main stage mixing desk and he kindly lets me copy the band list he's been given for the day. I don't know his name, but a big thank you to him, this list gets copied and passed around many times throughout the day, and proves to be the most accurate info available on site. Except, no one told him that Eat Static would be playing after all, but the man was so chilled and down to earth, I bet he took that little surprise in his stride at the end of a long day. It later turns out that the whole will they/won't muddle is down to botched communications between stage, organisers and band, but having spotted Merv on site earlier on I was always quietly confident that they would.

For future records, festographers and other obsessives, this is the list of the final line up on 20/6 (without the few brief interludes): Char Dash (not 100% sure of spelling), Seize The Day, Willow, Kill The Boy, George Solar Quest, 3 Daft Monkeys, Arthur Brown, Dream Machine, Tarantism, ... and a short Eat Static set. Short because the main stage has a curfew, although the festival has a 24 hour license.

Unsurprisingly, the solstice sunrise on Wednesday morning at the Woodhenge area is the best attended "gig" of them all, complete with drumming - although the sun took a long time to really break through the clouds.

For atmosphere, Sunrise Celebration ranks amongst the best festivals I've ever been to, and I can't find a single punter who is not enjoying themselves - despite some teething problems it's a great event and should attract a lot more (paying!) people if it can be repeated, perhaps in a slightly consolidated form. Many seasoned festival goers I talk to praise the Sunrise as everything a none-corporate festival should be (and compare it to the Big Green Gathering). It is also an admirable attempt to stage such an event with minimal environmental impact. With some luck (and some more donations) the organisers might break even and pull off another event over the August Bank Holiday weekend next year - at least that's the plan from all I heard. But I guess all booked bands will want to see their money up front next time round!

So, to make it even better event, here are some comments on problems (other than money)...

Organisation, communication & timetables
It's a festival, and everyone expects some changes and delays, but they could be communicated better and more widely, particularly if they are as fundamental as the programme changes on Tuesday. Also, some people complained about missing talks/workshops they were interested in due to poorly communicated changes. Stage management and organisers gave conflicting (or not enough) advice and info to some of the performers, and many messages were not delivered (hence the general confusion over the Eat Static set ). Lots of people were given wrong information about ticket availability and prices. Friends of mine took a young woman in a wheelchair to the site and camped in the disabled camping area, but there were no suitable facilities for them (and the one w/c friendly toilet I found wasn't functioning properly).

Horsecart transport
Things loosened up a bit over the last 2 days, but musicians were not allowed to drive their cars up to the stage in order to unload gear in the beginning. This wouldn't have been a big problem had there been enough horse carts at all times, alas, there weren't and people driving the carts got seriously tired. Besides, they were not meant to run their carts in the dark. Some people ended up carrying amps and other very heavy equipment around the site, and in one case, someone who drove up to play on Friday night had to wait for so long for assistance that he finally turned around and drove back home. The band pulled through without him, but still, it's a shame.

And finally, compost loos .....
.... are a great idea, in principle. They are environmentally friendly, don't turn into grim little sweat boxes in the heat, and smell less. But as with all great ideas, there is room for a little improvement. So here it goes (avert your eyes now, those of you who do not like the subject). Separation. Apart from some urinals for the boys who need to rid themselves quickly of all the real ale waste products, there is no point in having loos for one or the other only. Without going into too much detail, it's not always possible to do a number one and two separately. Besides, in the dark there's no telling which toilet is dedicated to which function, so things get mixed up, anyway. Forget about it. It's all or nothing! Privacy. Gusts of wind struck the site over the last 2 days, sending flimsy curtains flapping and strands of soiled paper flying. Not nice, and a hygiene problem. The partitions ought to be a bit higher too. Yes, it's a festival and I do like meeting friendly strangers, but Beer/Tiny Tea tents are much nicer places for socialising. I asked around, and most people felt a bit uncomfortable with the lack of privacy (even the boys!). Finally, the few portaloos (we could have done with more of all types of toilets) were not cleaned often enough, particularly towards the end, and ended up in a really grim state by Tuesday.

But all that can be sorted. I am looking forward to next year's Sunrise event!
review by: Katharina

Friday 16th to Wednesday 21st June 2006
South Somerset (exact location TBC), England
early bird tickets £50 (else £65), campervans £20 & parking extra - telephone 0845 009 6347
last updated: Tue 24th Jan 2006

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