Underneath the Stars is a new festival, set up by local folk star Kate Rusby, her family production team and The Nicholson Family who run the Cannon Hall Open Farm. The farm has hosted many concerts to raise funds for local projects like the pre-school, and this year sees it branch out into a full weekend of music and camping for the first time. Set on the land at Cannon Hall this cute little event already looks like it will become a staple to the festival diary. With two stages showing top folk acts and other things to keep you entertained it’s a lovely little festival nicely local up’t North for once! And guess what? The sun shines throughout… yep it rained over night, but there are no late night events here so it does not matter. The dome stays open until 10pm with chill out music and fractal effects however…
Catering I would say for true lovers of folk music, the audience here are mostly middle aged with young children. The two stages, the main Planets Stage and the smaller Bitter Boy Stage alternate acts. The Bitter Boy also doubles as the bar, with pints costing around £3 (and no more than £4 for the strong 7.5% cider). There is a cute little white picketed fence outside the tent with seating. What I have not yet seen at a festival though are the main stages featuring chairs throughout. The Bitter Boy has picnic tables and chairs covering the floor of the tent, and the much larger Planets Stage has chairs running all the way up to the stage. There is no pit so the crowd can get right up to the front and sit on the grass (the stage is quite high, above the average person’s head height). The back lighting for both stages is stunning… circular lights in rows behind the artists, and the artists themselves are lit really well. The sound is also spectacular, whether you are inside the tent or outside it.
In between the tents are a couple of oldie looking fairground rides… the high flying swing boats and the big wheel. For £2 a ride it is worth it, we went on the wheel and there are great views around Cawthorne and the festival site, and it goes quite fast for an ‘old looking’ bit of steel!
Next to the site are the Maize Maze and Cannon Hall Country House Museum, and with a weekend wristband you can gain half price entry to these attractions. The Cannon Hall Farm has a stall within the festival grounds, and also you can visit the farm shop and amongst other meals get a full breakfast for £4.95, all produced on the farm! The quality of food within the site again are excellent… there are only a handful of stalls but there is more than enough for your needs… a wood fired pizza stall, Mexican stall (we got a generous sized bowl of chilli chips and cheese for £3.50) fish and chips with a twist, vegan curry, vegetarian falafels, Thai food, tea and cake and retro sweets and the Cannon Hall BBQ with pulled pork rolls at only £3.75. Why can’t all festivals serve this delicious food for these prices?
Apart from the official merch stall, where you can buy mainly Kate’s merchandise like canvas bags, tea towels and songbooks at very reasonable prices, there are only a few stalls selling their wares here, namely a bag stall, a clothes stall and something that you don’t see at many festivals… a binoculars stall. It’s a reyt idea, we test the samples out like a few, like the “selfie stick” (a phone monopod) to hold the phone up to film a song without disturbing those behind you too much. As a result a few people are using binoculars at the event. Also a mention of Tyre Junkie Furniture, who make old tyres into garden furniture that is very comfortable! There’s a stall here for the RNLI lifeboat service, musical instrument stall and a van called Beetlejuice selling cocktails.
For the kids, and there are plenty of young children here, very well behaved I might add, there is a treasure hunt, story tent, arts and crafts, sing-a-longs and games. There is a workshop tent for the adults and kids too, with clog dancing workshops, tai chi, drumming with the Pennine Rumblers, Moll Amour’s ukuele workshops and stories for all ages with Taffy Thomas. There is a signing tent and many of the main acts are on there. Kate Rusby sits for almost two hours signing on the Sunday afternoon.
We especially liked the Planetarium Science Dome, which looked like an inflatable bobble hat from the outside. They had showing ever half an hour, which were nearly always full. We were lucky enough to get in watch the Walk through a Night Sky… a journey through our solar system looking at stars, zodiac constellations and our sun. The images are projected onto the dome in a 360 degree fashion, and lovely commentator Steve talks us through the skies. There were many films over the weekend on in the dome on the hour, like Zula Patrol, Dark Star Adventure, Astronomyths and Oasis in Space. Highly recommended if you can find it anywhere, they do play festivals and have ex Ozric Tentacles bassist Greyum May spinning the chill out tunes chill you relax and lose yourself in the projections.
The camping for this festival sold out in advance, and again what’s nice is that you can park next to your tent. Car parking is also free and just outside the arena entrance. A weekend ticket costs just shy of £100 for an adult, half that for a children’s ticket (under 7s are free), with camping (per tent) at £20 for a small plot or campervan or £30 for a large plot or caravan. There are free showers in the campsite and the toilets are not portatoilets but mobile toilet cubicles. This is great, but my only gripe about the whole festival is that there are not enough ladies loos in the arena. We did not camp so I didn’t see the queues for the campsite ones but apart from when the headliners were on there was a longish queue for the ladies.
We only visited the site on the Sunday unfortunately, as there are a large number of great festivals this weekend (Tramlines in Sheffield, Clarence ark in Wakefield) so deciding that we couldn’t decide on one we spent a day at each. This choice was perfect for a Sunday afternoon, chilling out in the relaxed atmosphere with the sun blazing listening to folk music.
Gary Stewart is on the Bitter Boy stage. No stranger to touring this man is also part of the bands Hope & Social, Rosie Doonan and Ellen and the Escapades. Little Rach does have the punk spirit with her, and the crowd warm to her very quickly. The Fresh Dixie Project are now not available to play so a band that is not in the programme, Pete Jazz Band is all I heard (and is not their name, sorry!) play twice to make up for it.
Rachel Sermanni is teasing the main stage front row, saying that she will finish off their ice-cream if they don’t want it. The young singer from the Scottish Highlands is accompanied by her friend on the keyboard and plays beautiful folk music.
The Bad Shepherds were the draw of the weekend for me, with their folk compositions of well-known punk and ska tunes. They gain a bit cheers for ‘My House’ by Madness, there’s a sad reminder as Ade Edmondson says that Motorhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’, which they play in their own way, was one of Rik Mayall’s favourite songs. Covers of PiL, Talking Heads, The Specials are all really well received in the rammed tent. The band have to watch their language because of the kids, which is strange to watch, and there’s a funny tale of Troy Donockley, not good when you swap instruments several times during a song, having a cracked rib from wine tasting on a jet skip in Finland. The loss of fiddle player Andy Dinan is very sad, but the gain of Tim Harries (Earthworks, Steeleye Span) on double bass makes the songs more earthy and danceable.
Richard Thompson closes the main stage to yet another full tent. The history of this man needs no words… OBE, member of the Fairpoint Convention, winner of the Orville H. Gibson award for best guitar player 1991 and having songs covered by a broad range of musical talent, from Maria McKee to Bob Mould to R.E.M. His is smiling from the word go onstage, and plays through an assortment of his past work, with a few songs by himself and Linda Thompson; ‘Walking On a Wire’, ‘Dimming of The Day’, ‘Wall Of Death’ There’s also a Fairport Convention song in there (‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’), and many of his own ‘Pharaoh’, ‘Beeswing’ and finishing with an encore containing ‘I Can Still Dream’.
This festival really is very cute, with Cloud Nine Decors lovely crocheted giant flowers everywhere, naming the programme ‘For star gazers’, it's just the little things that make it special. This is NOT a festival for people who like to party hard or stay up late. The vibe is very much for the older fan and young kids, but I have not yet reached anywhere near middle aged and I enjoyed it immensely. I and no doubt many others will look forward to its return next year.
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