The welcoming gates of Eden Festival 2016 opened up for the eighth year in a row last weekend, and this time to a sell-out crowd of 8000 festival goers.
This surge in popularity has been a steady process, with its consistently strong roster of musicians and acts coupled with a family friendly ethos.
Situated in the stunning Raehill Meadows of Dumfries, Scotland, set against a backdrop of rolling green hills and lush woodland. The sheer beauty of this carefully crafted ‘Garden of Eden’ is enough to suck you in.
Mythical creatures roamed the site in celebration of this year’s theme, with several unicorns, elves and a rare sighting of the elusive Bigfoot. Also sighted was an eclectic mix of headliners, from psychedelic pop-folkster King Charles, the soulful Andreya Triana to trip-hop legends Skye and Ross from Morcheeba. The line-up reflected the truly diverse nature of Eden Festival, with just as much attention paid to local acts as well as those who came from slightly further afield. Unicorns and humans alike could enjoy music from each corner of the world, all day and well into the wee hours.
Arriving early afternoon on the Friday I made my way to the wonderful Devorgilla Stage, the festival’s main stage. The tortoise shell-like structure was today home to foot stomping festival favourites The John Langan Band, whose mix of Celtic, Gypsy and Balkan influences got the crowd into a frenzy, one ‘do-si-do’ later, the festival has begun!
Another notable performance from the main stage was Nottingham’s Harleighblu who was sassy as ever with plenty of soul to boot. King Charles finished on a high with the exuberant Love Lust, before there was a performance from UK Junglist Congo Natty who was joined on stage by both his son and MC daughter. Together they brought a raw reggae sound to the crowd, punctuated by political observations and bass-heavy beats.
A quick reccy mission around the festival site brought the Drive-In Cinema to my attention. Sitting in an old Morris Minor watching ‘Labyrinth’ on the big screen seemed a perfect excuse to shut out the midges and eat my dinner in peace in my first David Bowie sing-a-long of the festival.
The Furry Chillum tent was next on my agenda to see brass collective Hackney Colliery Band who specialise in brass band covers of contemporary artists such as Kanye West, Blackstreet and Prodigy, as well as their own original compositions. Their energy was infectious, with tempo-changes that kept the crowd grooving and a sound that brought together elements of jazz, ska and funk in a seamless fashion. This was perfectly complimented by a Soulsville set brought to us by DJs Ewan Evans and Calum Evans. The boys were also the inventors of the ‘Ron-Fast’ cocktail – easily the drink of the weekend. And yes, that does include a healthy measure of Buckfast Tonic Wine!
Mungo’s Hi-Fi were kicking about a lot this year with a bass set on the Friday night in the tropical Ghilli Dhu Dance Emporium, which was this year moved to a bigger tent, then a set featuring Eva Lazerus on the Saturday night this time on the Boardwalk stage aka the cycle powered reggae stage. This Scottish outfit’s sound is rooted in late 80’s dance hall to form a more contemporary dub reggae style that easily kept revellers dancing until near-sunrise.
If you weren’t feeling motivated enough then Saturday was the day for you with the arrival of Eden festival regular Mr Motivator. In his spandex, he was like a super hero here to rescue us from our hangovers, one hip thrust at a time. This was followed by a mass paint fight, which I felt this year lacked an abundance of paint or maybe the kids got in there too quickly!
Exploring the festival a bit more, I stumbled across the woodland sauna and the Melodrome stage which provided theatre in the woods and tree swings for the kids….and the big kids. Basically if the kids weren’t hogging the paint they were hogging the swings! I should note that even though I’m not a parent I do know that if I was a child I would love this festival. With a Ferris wheel, circus skills, a dress-up procession and lots of workshops, there was something to do at all times in what felt like a totally relaxed and safe environment.
Later on that afternoon saw a set on the Devorgilla stage by Withered Hand who must have found themselves in a surreal situation with interjections from people dressed as a giant caterpillar, a bank robber and my dancing. I wish they had more of a crowd as frontman Dan Willson is one of my most-loved musicians right now, but they delivered a solid set finishing on the pop-punk filled ‘Heart Heart’.
Local bands and Eden’s relationship with the Dumfries community is integral to the whole event, otherwise it just wouldn’t happen! Nothing better exemplified this than sets by the Dumfries and Galloway Choir and the Feral Choir. Who doesn’t enjoy a hearty choir performance?!
The next two bands I had to check out were local reggae dub crew Ska Ya Man who effortlessly mixed live drums, bass, trumpet, guitar and observant lyrics and the rowdy Have Mercy Las Vegas. The latter turned Rabbie’s Tavern into a proper hoe down with their heady fusion of folk and blues.
Skye and Ross from Morcheeba were quite a welcome act to follow such a heavy day of dancing. I got to stop for a minute and breathe it all in as they played through hits such as ‘The Sea’ as well as some new tracks. A cover of David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ was unexpected but provided my second Bowie sing-a-long of the weekend! It was a perfect cover and a mesmerising performance throughout ending with a gorgeous fireworks display.
As the crowds migrated towards the Snake Pit, DJs Swank ‘N’ Jams treated everyone to tropical beats in the Furry Chillum. Later I slinked off to watch Numbers Are Futile in my first visit to the Vishnu Lounge. A hammock-filled tea den, the Vishnu Lounge provided a perfect area to chill and take stock, but not tonight. This band were absolutely spell-binding. Just two guys making what can only be described as a wall of sound. The subtle note changes and pacing coupled with thrashing, tribal drums and intermittent shoe-gaze lyrics make this Edinburgh based band one of the most exciting things I’ve heard in a long time.
Sunday brought the sunshine, finally! It was a rainy Eden this year, but it didn’t hamper anybody’s spirit. It certainly didn’t put the Yellow Movement off from this year’s festival. Having worked their way up the stages over the years, Colonel Mustard and the Dijon Five treated a yellow clad audience to a set filled with much frivolity and an overarching message of peace, love and of course mustard. It wouldn’t be a Scottish festival without the Dijons and long may it continue!
Now the most bizarre act of the festival goes to The Barrow Band who delighted a crowd of all ages with their songs about fruit and vegetables. Informative and unabashedly entertaining stuff. Next up I was back to Rabbie’s Tavern to soak in the musical styling of Elisabeth Flett. We share a last name so I was obviously intrigued to check her out. Rooted in traditional Scottish music, her own compositions on the fiddle are incredibly sophisticated and were beautifully executed by herself and fellow contemporary Joanna Stark. As the rain thrashed down outside, Afriquoi took to the Devorgilla stage. Dancing in the rain felt liberating and their strand of African music, Congolese guitar with influences from hip-hop to jungle really invigorated a damp crowd.
As the night drew in it brought the cumbia rhythms of Maxi Roots followed by an outstanding set by Craig Charles who brought his ‘Trunk of Funk and Soul’ to a heaving Furry Chillum tent. I began to flag in the heat so moved up to the Melodrome to catch Captain Hotknives and I’m very glad I did. With PG rated tunes such ‘I Hate Babies’ and ‘I Skanked Me Nana’ this cheered right up and for this reason he was my find of the festival. He is spot on, insightful and genuinely hilarious. I hope to see him up in Scotland again!
There was one last skank to ASBO Disco and that was my Eden over, although many partied into the night. The festival felt a lot slicker this year. It was busier but there was always something to discover and friends to make. The diverse range of acts and attendees, alongside its unique community spirit makes Eden the paradise it claims to be.