Tubby’s farm was back in full swing again for this year’s Sunflowerfest, and it didn’t disappoint with exceptional acts, food and fun. We arrived at the campsite as the sun shone above us…until we unwrapped the tents and it bucketed down for 20 minutes. Thankfully the rest of the Friday was unfazed by the weather and we were able to explore the various stalls and food trucks before taking in the first performances. It’s hard to find a festival that is so friendly and willing to cater to everyone, it is always a fun and safe environment and I was never concerned about leaving my belongings unguarded for the day. Any beer left in the tent remained untouched…at least by passing strangers. The food stalls were so diverse including crepes, pizza, hog roast, noodles and vegan options. You’d never need to go hungry, and additionally everything was quite reasonably priced! The kids zone seemed to delight the younger punters with giant bubbles and arts and crafts. This really is the festival for everyone.
► Day One – Friday
By the time we got the tents up and running the first band we caught was Bangor grown Palm Tree Dynamite, arriving on stage in red suits, they worked their funk sound and really got the crowd moving. Their performance seemed to compliment the mood of the audience as spirits were high in anticipation of the weekend ahead. I spoke with Palm Tree Dynamite drummer Adam Strain about the bands move from the Barn Stage last year to the Main Stage, “we were the first band up on the main stage so it was easy to get people up dancing and joining in. The main stage gave us more exposure and people came up to us afterwards saying they’d never heard of us and really enjoyed the set.”
LORIS brought a special brand of electropop to the main stage, Loris have been selling out shows in Belfast since their launch in 2013 and have gained quite a following deserving that spot main stage, front woman Frances Mitchell’s soaring voice echoed over the crowd as people soaked up big hits such as ‘Crazy’, ‘Yeah’ and ‘Black Magic’. I spoke with lead singer Frances about their experience on the main stage, “it was such a buzz, and so fun being on the main stage! The crowd was really great. I loved Sunflower Fest this year!”. Loris have a very clear chemistry on stage and work in perfect synchronisation with each other, something that can only come from their vast experience from previous projects and solid dedication to music. Northern Irish music veteran Michael Mormecha took the stage with Loris as their newest addition to the band, having previously been in the producing role. Mike had this to say about what it was like playing with Loris on the Friday and his band Malojian on the Saturday, “this year Sunflower was special…a bit different. It is really becoming its own thing, I was lucky enough to play two shows with Loris & Malojian. To look out from the main stage with the sun shining and see the place full of people of all ages was class, also with Malojian, the campfire stage is a go to for people who like the more organic, raw music and we had an amazing show.”
As the sun beat down there was no better place to be than at Dawson’s Campfire Stage. It was utter bliss to sit in the grass and relax while Portadown’s Naomi Hamilton owned the stage with her creation Jealous of the Birds. An especially good moment was when she played ‘Parma Violets’ which fully encapsulated the crowd with some very beautiful lyrics and an easy listening tone. Later in the evening festival favourite The Twisted Sisters played and really got the crowd engaged with their hilarious lyrics. The Armagh band always pull a big crowd but it gets bigger every year. Their music is very tongue in cheek with adult humour that didn’t go a miss with the crowd. Out of their set it was ‘I Don’t Want to Die in Big Knickers’ that especially hit a chord with everyone. The hilarious lyrics were easy to dance and sing along to and this performance saw some of the best audience participation seen at Sunflower this year. The atmosphere was truly fantastic – you can’t watch The Twisted Sisters and not be buzzing afterwards. After such a fun and positive performance, many will be excited for their ‘Pure Hallions’ Album launch in the Sunflower Bar on the 19th.
Following The Twisted Sisters we saw No Oil Paintings take the stage and allow us to jig to some folk tunes that turned the front of the stage into a light hearted jamboree. Their folk and country sound was so authentic they could be straight out of Alabama. The performance was just what we needed before hitting the Main stage again for big name Dublin band Le Galaxie’s electro dance spectacular. Le Galaxie had a similar sound to Depeche Mode and VNV Nation. The crowd went bananas, I feel like everyone at Sunflower stood in awe at that stage. The feeling was like shared euphoria as people commented on how into the moment everyone seemed and how Le Galaxie owned the crowd. Everyone was feeling it. The light show shone out into the darkness and I couldn’t think of a better way for the Friday festivities to end. It would be talked about for the rest of the weekend with great adoration.
► Day Two – Saturday
Saturday started with a banana and nutella crepe and a leisurely walk around the stalls at the Magnus Viking Village, which historic recreations of weapons, cooking demonstrations and time appropriate jewellery up for grabs were felt like we had stepped into the past. The weather started off a little shaky but as the day went on we saw enough sun to leave me with a very burnt nose. Never forget sunscreen!
Needing to recover from the previous night we took in some easy listening supplied by former Chordblossom Kickstart winner Lauren Bird as she opened the Campfire stage. There was a chilled vibe through out the crowd as they were enthralled by Lauren’s soft tone and compelling lyrics. Speaking to Lauren she commented that, “I loved playing at Sunflower Fest, I have been applying for the last few years so to finally get the opportunity was amazing. The Campfire stage was completely my vibe and the people who watched were so lovely. It was really relaxed and the weather was actually good. I would definitely go again next year, playing or not.”
Later Susie Blue having performed on the Pond stage last year took to the Campfire and surprised the audience with a hugely powerful voice from lead singer Susan. She has an incredible range to her voice that perfectly expressed the emotion behind some very deep and sorrowful lyrics. Susan told us “Sunflower Fest is our new favourite festival to play at, beautiful crowd, exceptional talent and the friendliest staff”, hopefully we continue to see the talented Derry based Susie Blue perform at Sunflower for years to come.
The pond stage had a spoken word poetry performance, starting with Dave Wilson, who while very passionate, swore a lot and seemingly scarred the surrounding children. American turned Lisburn native Willetta Fleming read some very powerful words on the persecution of black people in the United States that seemed to really resonate with the audience. Dublin poet Richard Brennan then graced the stage with delightful poems on enjoying the simple pleasures in life such as a Saturday morning before the kids wake up. It was a very interesting mixture of talents and thoughts and I’d definitely recommend it for a break from the musical performances.
Trucker Diablo took to the main stage and I heard many comments of anticipation in the crowd before the band even started playing. Hailing from Armagh these good old rock and roll guys injected a real energy into the crowd that had people up dancing and cheering, all hangovers long forgotten. This energy only expanded when Pocket Billiards claimed the stage afterwards. These guys have been a staple of Sunflower and the NI music scene for a long time. The 9 piece band from Belfast set alive their varying instruments and trumpets blasted and drove the crowd crazy. Classics like ‘Belfast Town’ had everyone singing along and fist pumping. Their ska punk style fully reflected in their setlist; there wasn’t a moment of pause in the crowds enthusiasm.
Having thoroughly enjoyed what the Main stage had to offer we moved to the Barn stage for Nasa Assassin. They call themselves psychedelic pronk, but it’s hard to pinpoint an exact style, with some songs sounding punk and rock or a little more traditional. The audience was very responsive to their style and they held a crowd that filled most of the barn. The highlight for me was when they did a cover of Gary Numan’s song ‘Are Friends Electric’, they definitely did it justice and it was nice to hear the song performed in a different style.
Taking the stage after was the always mind blowing The Bonnevilles, completely packing out the room. Andrew McGibbon Jnr was on vocals and guitar and wow could he command the audience, his voice ripped through the audience and figurative set the place on fire. After that it was non stop for the whole set with people dancing and screaming. At the end everyone that could fit jumped on stage and surrounded drummer Chris McMullan, it felt like something from a movie. Everyone was rocking out as Andrew and Chris continued to play for another 5 minutes, it was an incredible experience.
The night ended at the Main stage with Cavan band The Strypes who held a decent crowd in front of the stage, however there seemed to be more people looking on from afar. This was a more chill end to the night than the Friday had been but still an enjoyable band that reminded me of the Arctic Monkeys at times.
► Day Three – Sunday
Sunday was the most chill day and allowed time to take in the stalls, practice some yoga, or get a massage in the Bliss Well Being area. Sunday saw its fair share of rain that only cleared up at a few points. This made the Main stage and the Electromoot stage popular areas for people to gather as they provided some shelter from the raging weather. Laughter Yoga is my first memory of the day as they tried to break the world record, it didn’t happen this time around but it was definitely a hilarious experience and there’s always next year!
The Gilded Thieves, a five piece from Newcastle Upon Tyne they managed to gather quite a sizable audience considering they’d played at the Campfire stage the day before. Clearly people wanted more of their country folk style and who can blame them with violin, mandolin, bass and guitar producing upbeat sounds among their front women Laura Jackets’ powerful voice. Laura shared these words with us, “the crowd is full of such welcoming, friendly people. Most of all, the organisers and audiences were really supportive of original music. We had several fans come to greet us who had seen our sets last year and had come especially to see us once more. That is what makes us want to return to this beautiful place – the people. We have played all over the UK, and the welcome and atmosphere is completely different in this part of the world. Relaxed, but with an energy that never sleeps.”
DJs including Deep City Groove, Chris Frieze and WotD kept us entertained and spirits high in the Electromoot stage. Keeping the rain at bay and the beats pumping. Then it was back to the Main stage for Amanda St. John, she gave a memorable performance showing off her strong, layered voice and energy. Her lyrics were sad and beautiful and this kept the audiences attention as they watched in awe. Speaking to Amanda she said, “Sunflowerfest has a very special atmosphere, it feels like a mini Glastonbury. It has very laid back vibes with great variety and fun all at the same time. I love playing the festival as the crowd really get behind the bands.”
The Emerald Armada then took to the Main stage, these guys have gone from strength to strength over the last few years and gained a huge group of fans and supporters. Asking them for thoughts on the festival they said, “Sunflower Fest is such a diverse local festival it’s hard to know where to begin. This year they really stepped up their game and booked a great line up across the board! Really enjoyed our set as it was our first gig since May. We are rusty, but we still had the craic”, and they definitely did as they gained one of the biggest audiences of the day and solidified their position as a festival favourite this summer.
Coco & the Butterfields finally took their well deserved position as the final act on the Main stage, having performed on the Campfire stage at last years Sunflower. The folk, pop and hip hop tone was brought to life with an array of instruments including, a guitar, banjo, trumpet, saxophone, and double bass. These classic and country instruments were mixed with rapping, alluring singing and some beat boxing. The audience was engaging and everyone seemed to be surrounding the stage to dance and swing together. It had a very easy and carefree vibe and brought Sunflowerfest to a close in the true spirit of the festival.