- 22 Jul 19
Saturday at the Knockanstockan Festival offered a variety of (mostly Irish) acts, including an in-form JyellowL and Junior Brother. It turned out to be a beautiful day!
Knockanstockan is special. You have to experience it yourself to fully capture the magical, hippie-like atmosphere that the Wicklow-based festival creates. Every inch of the festival ground is clean, green, and lovingly decorated. Even the stages are art: the Spirit Animal stage's giant peacock decor, for example, really is intricately woven. That's the spirit in which everything is approached here.
That said, the fans are as colourful as the festival itself. People of all ages – children as well as community elders – come together to celebrate music, art and the importance of being yourself. It's safe to say that there are few festivals in Ireland where the crowd is so kind, peaceful and diverse. We saw crazy costumes, tasty headgear (a hat carved out of a real watermelon?!), and people who were truly living out their best lives, alongside a plethora of incredible musical acts.
The Spirit Animal stage – with its iconic peacock decorations to the fore – welcomed us with what felt like a relaxed atmosphere. We knew that was going to change when Mutefish took to the stage. The multi-cultural outfit (with members from Poland,Lithuania and Ukrains as well as Ireland) played a powerful, energetic set of trad-inspired rock, with the audience revelling in their incredibly danceable and catchy sound. With two guitars, drums, bass, a violin, and a percussionist/keyboardist, they create unique songs, each with a surprise element to it.
After a pause that was needed to resolve a few ear-splitting technical difficulties, Pine the Pilcrow were finally able to take to the Unfiltered stage on Saturday afternoon. They quickly healed our hearts as well as our ears with music that was soothing – and often haunting. The addition of a percussionist, announced last Spring, was a worthwhile move as drummer Shay Sweeney stole the show from the back of the stage. He has a really compelling stage presence. The band played a mixture of old and new tracks, including a stunning vocal performance by pianist Kevin Murray on 'Dahlia'; and the debuting of their song, 'Away', still in the working-title phase.
Faerie Field soon became the place to be at Knockanstockan, starting with Hatchling. Opening with 'Workin'', a song off their first EP, the band set down their funky blueprint, and captured the audience's affections with their heart-thumping guitar parts and bluesy piano. The highlight of the set, though, was when Conor Cunningham yelled, "Oh, it’s the bridge!" and whipped out his flute for a quick ad lib in the middle of a cover of Al Green's 'Let’s Stay Together'. The performance had the crowd on their feet and chanting for one more tune, to which they responded with a head-bopping rendition of 'Sexy B'.
Back at the Spirit Animal stage, the Belfast-based singer-songwriter Kitt Philippa – who identifies as non-binary and asks for the use of the 'singular they' – was up next. Their beautiful voice took us to another place where angels live. Too cheesy? Fine. But their renditions of songs like 'Grace' and 'You' truly sound heaven-made. Their set mostly consisted of powerful ballads and heartfelt piano songs, while the singer harmonised with themself by the help of a loop pedal.
Culture Vultures was a sort of rapid-fire perform-and-answer session, where artists would give a taste of their craft and then offer a behind-the-scenes look at how they created their art for Knockanstockan. Spoken word poet and actress Sarah Richardson drew loud cheers when she opened the series with two poems, spitting compelling lines about female sexuality and #MeToo culture. Afterwards, she opened up about how her experiences shaped her views and turned her into an outspoken feminist. Other notable interviewees included Junior Brother, real name Ronan Kealy, of Killarney, Co. Kerry, who roadmapped his career from touristy pub gigs in Killarney to headlining shows in Dublin. Kealy explained that once he moved to Dublin, he booked as many gigs as possible simply to gain exposure. "Even the bad reactions was character building", he explained. "Negative reactions are more helpful to me than positive ones."
There was no sign of that not-very Knockanstockan style negativity when Junior Brother took to the stage at Faerie Field a few hours later. He electrified the crowd with his commanding stage presence and entrancing guitar playing. Kealy plugged his merch multiple times throughout the set – there's no flies on this guy! – and even tossed in some self-deprecating jokes about his tuning face (one might think he was just punched in the stomach). Those that knew his songs were singing loud and proud from the get-go – and those that didn't know the words were wishing they did. Kealy pulled off a stunning performance of his hit, 'The Back of Her', losing himself in the acoustics and only coming back to reality at the end, when the crowd cheered wildly. He closed the set with 'Castlebridge', bringing everyone to their feet. The people that didn't know Junior Brother at the beginning of this set must have been studying up on the lyrics in preparation of this moment because, by then, everyone at the Faerie Field was singing along and begging for an encore.
Meanwhile, fans of well-crafted indie rock found the motherlode at Knockanstockan with Jealous of the Birds at the Spirit Animal stage. Sporting a mega-stylish pantsuit, front-woman Naomi Hamilton shone throughout, with edgy vocals and a cool attitude. The mixture of rockier songs and acoustic tunes was perfect for the occasion, with some incredible guitar solos serving as the cherry on top. The last song, 'Blues Eyes', from their latest EP Wisdom Teeth is a proper banger and turned out to be the highlight of the set (love those sassy 'yeah, yeah, yeah's).
Dublin-based electro-funk band Zapho pulled out all the stops for their slot on the Unfiltered stage, deploying powerful harmonies and upbeat bluesy synths to get everyone dancing. The combination of the jazz saxophone and hip-hop synths in 'Water Me' somehow worked brilliantly and the crowd let loose into an equally-electrifying dance. Zapho's presence was infectious, as was their energy. They created a great buzz.
Rapper JyellowL lit up the stage at Faerie Field, confirming in the process why he is widely-rated as one of the most promising upcoming hiphop acts from Dublin. His Knockanstockan performance was a knockout! He attracted a younger audience and they were ready to go wild to songs like 'Bulletproof' and 'Men Me Too'. JyellowL certainly knows how to tease a crowd, demanding the highest energy from his audience while putting on an impressively energetic show himself. There were technical difficulties during the set, but the rapper continued to deliver his lines slickly, spitting lyrics taken to the extreme in his newest single 'Tek Time'.
Overall, with music as diverse as its audience, Knockanstockan was a complete joy. No matter who and what you are, in the end, feeling free to be yourself is the most important thing. Seldom is this more apparent than at this beautiful little festival. We'll be back!