Friday 28th July saw the highly anticipated return of what is arguably Northern Ireland’s best festival. Sunflowerfest has gone from strength to strength from its humble beginnings and is now a cornerstone of the summer festival scene for music fans across Ireland. 2017’s roster certainly hasn’t disappointed; since it was revealed earlier in the year, fans have called it the best line up yet.
The weather did little to dissuade eager festival-goers and the grounds withstood sporadic showers as hundreds queued from the early hours. Looking at the queues into the festival presents the observer with a keen view of the vast cross section of fans that Sunflowerfest attracts, young and old from North and South and further afield came together to experience all that the festival has to offer. The famous family-orientated atmosphere was obvious from the get-go; from prams and toddlers to teens, millennials with wheelbarrows of beer and hardy pensioners. The demographic is… well, there doesn’t actually seem to be one.
An exciting aspect for attendees of age were the various bars stationed around the festival grounds, oftentimes at festivals the organisers fall short of creating immersive and entertaining areas which can capture different imaginations and genres, with Sunflowerfest I would say this aspect was a resounding success. With the Northern Whig bar stationed in the main stage area selling everything you could need to things you might not need but might want (Buckfast) plus a very welcome cashback service. There was no shortage of well-maintained toilets throughout the festival grounds – a true testament to the organisers as this is usually an area not given as much attention as it should. Boojum for many was a necessity; as the festival dug it’s claws into people many responded by digging their claws into a burrito.
The festival kicked off early on Friday afternoon with El Cartel on the Electromoot stage. El Cartel was born out of necessity for fans of underground boiler vibes and a dance scene that didn’t quite exist in Bangor back in 2016. Since then they have grown into a force to be reckoned with on the NI music scene – DJs Sean Munn & Gary Nicholl started the day off with some dance vibes – a resounding welcome for fans who’d just spent an hour queuing in anticipation. For many not knowing what to expect, this question was answered at Electromoot, and the scene was set for the weekend. As the clouds got darker overhead the vibes followed suit as Cartel brought out the techno and matched the mood of the first ravers, still clean and fresh, ready to face the coming days.
“That night, our highlights definitely have to be THEMM, Clockwork and Ubblahkan on the Electromoot stage, there were so many people that at one stage we had people crowding round outside. Another highlight definitely for us had to be Neil Kerr for TWITCH hosted in the barn, production was second to none with an amazing array of lights, smoke and sound.” – El Cartel
The mighty Mississippi Boombox rocked the Campfire Stage on their return to Sunflowerfest in one of the most popular sets of the weekend. While not on the prestigious main stage, they were certainly on the beaten track as fans battled the weather to see their contagiously high-spirited performance. Mississippi Boombox are definitely not a band to be missed, it is impossible not to get captivated by the foot-stomping beats and raw harmonies, these guys were the Johnny & June of the festival. Whilst the word ‘happening’ can only inspire cringe there was certainly a special moment, as the band recount themselves:
“Three songs in and the heavens opened, there was a thunder storm, the crowds were dispersing and looking for shelter, so we invited them up on stage. The heavy rain meant the power had to be cut off but the crowd cheered for more. So, with no mics or amps, we kept going and had an amazing singalong and jam session with everyone on stage. The rain only encouraged us to play more and thankfully didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. It’s a reflection of the festival I suppose, that there is that sense of bonding with strangers in the middle of a field, united through music and against all odds keeping the positive vibes going. Great memories and the ultimate highlight for us!” – Mississippi Boombox
These are my fun friends! Mississippi Boombox taking these songs to a real funky and fun place-@sunflowerfestival2017 #mississippiboombox @amandakirkpatrick
Posted by Brendan O'Hara on Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Another performance not to be missed at the Campfire Stage was Battle of the Bands winners The Answer from Planet Mars. This group, made up of young teens from around the country, initially surprised and then enthralled listeners at the Campfire Stage. With covers ranging from Nirvana to Johnny Cash via The Talking Heads, these youngsters definitely lit up a dreary dehydrated Sunday morning. Despite the weather again being typically Irish this group and their boundless energy served to reinvigorate crowds and inspire a legion of new fans, intriguing the older folks in the audience.
A short stroll through the football pitch in the main arena was The Barn; a safe haven for everything metal; full on rockers in attendance with kids and veterans of the NI hard rock scene. Lisburn natives The Crawling played a blistering set enjoyed by all ages and were a spectacle to behold for the younger fans who have no doubt gone home to purchase leathers and grow their hair out. The new melodic death metal track ‘Hymn of Flawless Darkness’ will undoubtedly bolster their current fans and engage new ones. Dublin three-piece Dreaming of Jupiter blew the roof off The Barn on Saturday evening, with their blend of ambient electronica and mellow vocal stylings it was definitely one of the highlights of the festival from fellow artists and fans alike, they are a band who know what they’re at and what the crowd want. Their debut single ‘Light of my Life’ went down a treat and many who were just passing through The Barn or seeking refuge from the heavens stayed to witness the entirety of their set. “[Sunflowerfest] was very chilled out. Beautiful atmosphere. We are looking forward to come back next year. The staff were so nice and very helpful and the sound companies behind it were excellent.” A sentiment that no doubt many fan and artists share.
The Sunflower village was stationed by the Heverlee area; a stage with live music, a sponsor infused live cooking show (nod to Chef Jeffers for the hangover friendly Heverlee Poached Pears). Some highlights were Alice Millar; a Co. Down girl with soulful and haunting vocals which broke through the surrounding madness of the day 2 festival blues. Her solid 40min set consisted of some great covers and originals notably ‘Mrs G Told Me’ and ‘Sleepy Valley’. Backed by acoustic guitar Millar is undoubtedly one to watch, mellow and unassuming yet with a hint of attitude that is refreshing from such a laid back acoustic set, her forthcoming album Prosseco will be something to look out for. Another Heverlee, nay, heavenly highlight was Belfast busker Emma Stirling whose original songs captured the mood and imagination of the audience and set an awesome atmosphere in the crowd – as well as back at the campsite where acoustic sessions, face paint and free-spirited onlookers were the order of the day.
Once you’ve chilled by the campfire, survived The Barn, browsed your way through the Sunflower Village and been dragged kicking and screaming out of the Heverlee Tent you may well find yourself at the relaxing cocktail bar by The Pond. Staffed by festival regulars whose names vanished as cocktails were consumed. This bar offered a chance to have a bit of craic and soak up some of Richie’s Reggae selections, this is a guy who really knows his reggae; providing a blend of foundation ska, rocksteady and rasta reggae this mix of classics which was held in exactly the right place and allowed some R&R to take place in the company of some Reggae infused R&B, cheered on by all genres of music fans and what must have been authentic Jamaican smoke machines… Also not to be missed at the Pond stage was the perhaps mildly eccentric Will Softly whose credentials include a headline slot at the St Patrick’s Day Treasure Beach festival in Jamaica and who has supported bands such as Alabama 3 and Lee Scratch Perry.
Around the twists and turns of the forest path resides the Forest Stage, whether you have sought it out or stumbled upon it accidentally this represented the end of the first lap of the festival grounds. A lovely wooded area quickly gives way to a crowd and 30 Ukuleles blasting out ‘Psycho Killer’. This was definitely a highlight of the entire weekend and Belfast Ukulele Jam are not only the ‘preserve’ of the Sunflower Bar but certainly a festival favourite to be reckoned with. The ukulele collective are definitely crowd pleasers, playing a couple of sets over the weekend including the main stage and no doubt a 10 man tent near you, they are a sight to behold and provide an enjoyable and often immersive experience, they go beyond being merely family friendly and come across as a happy-go-lucky family themselves. With their extensive catalogue of 1500 songs they have something for everyone and are a must see at least once at every festival. Another hidden gem of the Forest Stage was John Andrews who enthused the audience to join in and have a bit of craic, but also belted out some great original songs with a well-travelled voice accompanied by mellow acoustic, Andrews is a talent to look out for and his encore proved it. Word in the forest says there’s a new EP on the way – so stay tuned.
The Main Stage played host to some of the best bands Ireland and somewhat further afield has to offer with Limerick lyricists Rubberbandits no doubt being one of the more anticipated bands of the weekend. As they ran on to the Hillsborough stage straight into chants of ‘the Brits are comin’ fans knew they were going to be in for a tongue-in-cheek set. Featuring some of their most popular songs like ‘Horse Outside’, ‘Hipster or a Hobo’ and ‘Fuck a Fella’ the bandits didn’t let their fans down and undoubtedly gained some new ones from bemused onlookers who didn’t want to stray too far from the safety of the bar or too close to the raw energetic crowd, unsure of what they were witnessing as the bag-headed Irishmen waxed lyrical on everything from abortion, gay rights and family disputes to the inherent complexities of equine ownership vs Japanese hatchbacks.
Manchester’s ‘Electro Funk Sonic Soul Collective’ The Winachi Tribe graced the main stage, with their trademark mix of Funk, Electro, Hip Hop and Rock. Sunflowerfest marks the halfway point of their summer tour ‘A Room With A Zoo’ and their set resonated well with the fans and proved them to be made for the main stage.
“The festival was brilliant. Had a very relaxed easy going vibe to it. I think it’s safe to say that was our favourite performance on the tour to date. Everyone came away buzzing and really happy after the set. We all agreed we’d love the opportunity to return next year. We all really enjoyed it.” – Liam/TheWinachiTribe
With their 7th album released in 2015 CrazyP have been doing something a bit special since 1997, constantly touring and recording music they have somehow managed to capture the spirit of house and disco from the early days whilst remaining fresh and relevant. As a genuinely great live band CrazyP are a must on the festival circuit, even if the genre isn’t to your usual taste then CrazyP are the gateway drug. You can be guaranteed the trio have something to offer everyone. Not to be missed – Danielle Moore, Chris Todd, and James Baron know how to get a crowd going and it is their obvious passion for the music which spills into the crowd that makes CrazyP such an exciting band to witness. “The gig itself was wicked and we would take this opportunity to thank all the organisers and crew who made it run so smoothly. We had a fabulous time and saw some friendly familiar faces. If I had the opportunity next year I would bring the family back. It really offered something for everyone.” As well as rocking the stage they were also drawn to the other artists performing “Well I’ll be honest we didn’t quite know what to expect from Sunflower as the line-up didn’t throw any usual suspects, this turned out to be a blessing and a refreshing change.
“I had a little boogie at a disco hut in the woods. The site almost felt like it was cuddling you at every turn with the lay out perfect for the individual stages and indeed music. I saw some alternative Irish folk music which was beautifully programmed in the late afternoon in the woods. The crowd was a total mix of young and old, families and ravers…all really friendly and chatty. Our fave act of the afternoon was Too Many Ts, the rappers and hip-hop artists. Nice lads too…there were so many great young performers there!” – Danielle, CrazyP.
King Kong Company came out in style on Sunday night headlining the main stage. The Company seem designed to grace festival main stages and were penned into Sunflower at an ideal time and location, the ideal crescendo to the final night of the festival saw madness in every direction in the main arena. Possibly their most popular tune ‘Donkey Jaw’ rightfully proclaims them straight away as the hedonists choice and it’s easy to see why; their stage presence and set list was undoubtedly on point and as you look around you have to wonder if their music is life imitating art or vice-versa because King Kong Company definitely know their fans and their fans know what to expect off them. Having been proclaimed Best Irish Live Act 2016 by Pure M Awards and with a debut album produced by Neil McLellen (The Prodigy) it isn’t hard to wonder how they made arguably the biggest bang at Sunflowerfest 2017.
All in all, Sunflowerfest was a massive success, a great weekend with no problems or stresses and an eclectic mix of music, this is how festivals should be and it’s great to see that after 7 years Sunflowerfest has blossomed yet stuck to its roots as a “festival of love, positivity, tolerance and smiles where everyone can relax and soak up the chilled atmosphere and the friendliest vibe.”