It’s certainly a novelty for the sun to be shining on a festival weekend, but Saturday 23 July dawned bright and full of the promise of a sultry smasher. Having secured guest VIP passes, we took our time getting to the site at Mote Park, enjoying the feel of the sun on our backs as we walked from the train station at Maidstone.
Much has been said about the queues to get in on the Saturday, but we only had to queue for 10 minutes or so before we were in; breathing in the familiar smell of BBQ meat and hearing the background noise of a sound check still taking place … walking into that field felt like coming home.
The Fair had four stages, set across a fairly large piece of the park; the main stage, the Outlaw Country stage (which became the Blues stage on the Sunday), the Prog in the Park stage and the Rising stage. I already knew who I wanted to see across both days, thanks to the Ramblin’ Man app (much better, it must be said, than some other festivals), so we kicked back in the VIP bar for an hour or so, enjoying some people watching.
The Dead Daisies kicked things off for me on the main stage with their blend of 70’s and modern rock, opening a shining set with ‘Midnight Moses’. Next track, a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Evil’ went down a storm, with people actually getting out of their folding camping chairs to take a get better look. The title track of the new album, ‘Make Some Noise‘ came next, followed by a great cover of John Fogarty’s ‘Fortunate Son’. A competent, funky performance from this supergroup earned them much applause when their set finished – well worth buying tickets to see them tour with The Answer later this year (8/10).
The Dead Daisies, Main stage
Next up on the Outlaw country stage were Arizona four-piece Hogjaw; their set kicked some English butt and they played a short but very sweet set to a packed tent, kicking off with the frenetic ‘Rollin Thunder’. Just as the crowd was getting into it, they slowed it right down with ‘This Whiskey’, before ramping up the pace with ‘Gitsum’. I couldn’t actually get into the tent to see them, but Hogjaw rocked the very appreciative crowd and they’re my hot tip of the weekend (8/10).
Hogjaw, Outlaw Country stage
I stayed where I was to listen to Whiskey Myers; I don’t know any of the track names as I’d not come across them before, but they sounded pretty good; a cool, mellow, bluesy sounding band. Another one to watch, I think (7/10).
At this point it was so hot that I flaked out on the grass and sent my colleague from Dirty Rock Photography to buy lunch. This meant that I missed Terrorvision, although I could still hear them and see them on the big screens. I have a special place in my heart for these chaps as much of the soundtrack to my misspent youth came via their albums’Formaldehyde’ and ‘How To Make Friends and Influence People’. They romped through classics like ‘Alice …’, ‘Pretend Best Friend’ and ‘Oblivion’. I rocked out as much as I could whilst grazing on a yummy, but somewhat overpriced, ostrich burger (8/10).
All I can say about old school old timers, Europe, is that they didn’t disappoint the predominantly middle-aged audience. Wheeling out and dusting off such classics as ‘Rock The Night’, ‘Superstitious’ and ‘Cherokee’, the crowd was lapping it up. The set ended, of course, with the obligatory crowd-pleaser ‘The Final Countdown’. Cue lots of 40-somethings plugging in their air guitars and moshing with imaginary hair for one of the most anthemic songs of our time (8.5/10)… all I really remember is Joey Tempest’s stunningly white teeth blocking out the sun from the big screens. Can someone please get me the number for his dentist?!
The rest of Saturday passed in a bit of a blur, with sterling sets from Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake, who capped off a virtually perfect day of rock in the sunshine.
Sunday turned out to be another beautiful day, although thankfully there was a miniscule amount of cloud cover which kept me from getting sunburned for a second time (and yes, I was using sunscreen!). First act up for me on the main stage was old school, unashamedly southern The Kentucky Headhunters. I knew about this band purely for the Black Stone Cherry connection, but I had never heard any of their music before. Consisting of four mature, long-haired gents, this band absolutely smashed it out of the park, garnering appreciation from all four corners of a somewhat drowsy site. I mean, who else comes out to play the drums with what looked like a fully stuffed raccoon sitting atop their snowy white locks? These guys rocked it up with tracks from their not inconsiderable back catalogue, including ‘Walking With The Wolf’ and Freddie King’s ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’. They played tracks from their latest album ‘Meet Me in Bluesland’, giving a touching tribute to the late almost-family member and fellow musician, Johnnie Johnson.
The Kentucky Headhunters, Main stage
I’d already departed for the next band when I heard the crowd singing along to the Beatles’ ‘Hey, Jude’; I was gutted to find out later that BSC’s Ben Wells had made an appearance on stage with the Headhunters. Overall, this was an outstanding set from a band that have only just made it to the UK; I think the Ramblin’ Man crowd made them suitably welcome (9/10).
Over on the Rising Stage, however, it was time for Illustr8tors (formerly BlackWolf) to kick off an energetic, if slightly tentative set. I believe it was the first time that this band have played since their ‘rebrand’ and they eased into it, looking more comfortable as they dispatched each song, including new offering ‘Something Biblical’ and new single ‘Your Animal’. Sounding sharp, singer Scott and co pulled in a decent sized crowd and pulled off a quietly triumphant debut appearance (8/10). Look out for them touring later this year with the excellent Toseland.
Illustr8tors, Rising stage
I stayed at the Rising Stage, although I could hear the most excellent Irish rockers, The Answer over on the main stage. I was waiting for Dirty Thrills, a long time favourite of mine (you can find the interview I did with them here), although we had already been treated to an impromptu acoustic performance over in the VIP area a couple of hours beforehand. As it happened, due to circumstance, I only managed to catch one song, filled with energy and attitude, with a pride-inducing large crowd gathered from the first note. I think it’s fair to say that Dirty Thrills are definitely on the up (8/10).
Dirty Thrills, Rising stage
It was with great impatience that I weaved my way nearly to the front of the crowd over at main stage for The Cadillac Three; this is a band who I discovered a couple of years ago through Classic Rock Mag, but never had the opportunity to see. Wearing shades and baseball caps, looking achingly cool and effortless up there on that huge stage, TC3 kicked off a sublime set with the sultry ‘Peace Love and Dixie’ from the EP of the same name. Such immense blues/country/rock tracks as ‘Tennessee Mojo’, ‘I’m Southern’ and ‘Back It Up’ showcased fantastic musicianship and genuine love for playing live (9.5). They had a fantastic and well deserved reaction from the crowd and I’m seriously excited for their tour later this year – I would highly recommend that you get tickets.
The Cadillac Three, Main stage
I was in two minds about seeing Thunder; I’ve seen them so many times and they always put on a good show, so I settled for sitting at the edge of the VIP area and watching them on the big screens. There were newer songs in the set, but also they rolled out absolute classics such as ‘Higher Ground’, ‘Backstreet Symphony’ and ‘Love Walked In’, finishing with the banging ‘Dirty Love’. The issues they had with the sound didn’t seem to dampen the atmosphere and once again their set was competent and accomplished (7/10).
So far, so epic. A fantastic weekend of music, beer, friends and the most glorious sunshine. How on earth could an already amazing memorable two days get any better? Well, it turns out it just needed three little words … Black. Stone. Cherry. I believe this was my fourth BSC gig and the third time I’ve seen them at a festival, although this was the first time they have headlined a UK festival. The anticipation was almost palpable as Chris, Ben, John Fred and Jon took to the stage with an explosion of House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’.
Black Stone Cherry, Main stage
Going straight into ‘Me and Mary Jane’, with the crowd knowing the words and singing along, the whole band were on superb form and sounding note perfect. The energetic ‘Blind Man’ followed and ‘Rain Wizard’ drew a most favourable response from the assembled fans. Chris took the opportunity to introduce the band, before launching into the epic ‘Soul Machine’ followed by a very competent cover of George Thorogood’s ‘Bad to the Bone’. ‘Soulcreek’, ‘Maybe Someday’ and ‘Rescue Me’ followed, leading to an emotional rendition of ‘It’s In My Blood’, with Chris leading the audience in a repeat of the chorus of the track, having shared some confidences about depression and his personal struggles with thousands of people as if he was talking alone to his best mate. I have to confess that I did shed a few tears during ‘Things My Father Said’; as I recently marked the two-year anniversary of my Dad’s death it was a rather poignant moment for me. Thankfully the pace picked up after that with the marvellous ‘Cheaper To Drink Alone’ – the first live performance of that track.
Last two songs were the crowd pleasing ‘White Trash Millionaire’ and ‘Blame It on The Boom Boom’, which finished an epic and highly emotive set. The reflective, beautiful track ‘The Rambler’ – closing song on the new album ‘Kentucky‘ – kicked off a three song encore; the anthemic ‘Lonely Train’ leading to a final and fitting tribute to late Motorhead front-man Lemmy with ‘Ace of Spades’. I think BSC can be forgiven for getting emotional on what was, frankly, a triumphant and engaging first headline festival appearance. Many people present had not seen them before and I’m 100% sure that they made a lot of new fans based on the performance they gave (10/10).
Black Stone Cherry, Main stage
We couldn’t have asked for a better finish to a festival that, despite some teething problems (more toilets and please, please give the stewards better information about queuing to get in next year!) is rapidly rising to challenge other, bigger festivals in the UK for the title of the best. This was only the second year of Ramblin’ Man and I was blown away by the nice atmosphere and the overall laid back attitude that pervaded the site across the two days. I already have my ticket for next year so I hope to see you there!
Thank you to Chris at Dirty Rock Photography for the fab photos!
- Ramblin’ Man Fair
- Dirty Rock Photography
- The Dead Daisies
- Whiskey Myers
- Thin Lizzy
- The Kentucky Headhunters
- Dirty Thrills
- The Cadillac Three
- Black Stone Cherry
Footage of Illustr8tors – https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fthemusicjourno%2Fvideos%2F1257576554283347%2F&show_text=1&width=560” target=”_blank”>Illustr8tors
Footage of Dirty Thrills – https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fthemusicjourno%2Fvideos%2F1257606827613653%2F&show_text=1&width=560” target=”_blank”>Dirty Thrills