Aren’t we all lucky that there are still festivals out that are willing to take risks, to challenge their audiences while pulling in the punters with headliners that appeal to Arthur magazine readers and Latté Guardians alike?
Festivals which maintain that special something that made you fall in love with the event, even when the event grows to fifty times its original size?
That’s right we’re lucky! Otherwise we’d all have to go to the Green Man festival. Whoop Whoop! Now it’s not often I feel like writing something so backhanded and cynical, but this years Green Man was so bland, conservative and hollow (with a few notable exceptions) that it’s tough not to get angry. Why angry? Because it has such potential to be something more (what it used to be…?).
Notable exceptions: Zun Zun Egui, Beth Jeans Houghton, Dirty Three, The Phantom Band, The Campsite, The Food, The Company, A Cricket game, The Mountains, Wooden Shjips, Pivot.
Slightly less notable exceptions: Bon Iver, Animal Collective, Jarvis Cocker, The Leisure Society.
Last weekend was my fourth time at the festival, and perhaps I was biased from the outset. The last time I went, in 2007, my friends and I left on the Sunday morning. We were bored, but that said we had seen some great sets from a wide variety of bands over the first two days in a beautiful location. In amongst the bland filler we had seen and heard some form of unique vibrancy in Dead Meadow, Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, Bill Callahan, James Yorkston, Six Organs of Admittance, Battles and others I cannot immediately recall.
In previous years the same had occurred with Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Voice of the Seven Woods, Lone Pigeon, Silver Jews, James Blackshaw, Bert Jansch, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Circulus, Joanna Newsom, Viking Moses, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Jack Rose, Directing Hand, Alasdair Roberts, Andrew Hockey… I have seen some truly great sets at this festival; it is responsible for introducing me to music that inspired a feverish passion in me, a passion that has often endured the years.
But it is rapidly becoming less and less diverse, less and less stimulating, aiming itself squarely at pleasant, middle of the road, indie-folk (which was always there, but never held as much sway as it does now). The brave streak of Unknown Quantities, Renegades and the Unhinged that used to balance the worthy equation has been reduced to a token splash of loud/experimental bands (and when they’re as big as Animal Collective, they don’t really count as taking a risk) and handful of individualist songwriters, making a very weak brew. There also used to be a wisely chosen bevy of Traditional Folk musicians…
It’s not that I want it to be what it’s not (for that we have the wonderful Supersonic), they can have whatever Kings of Mediocre they want up in the headline slots: Wilco, Adem, whatever! But do they really need to funnel all the money into the big names and pad the rest out with vacuous rip-offs of the aforementioned Kings?
At the same time the festival has seemingly become more popular. Before we get on to the notable exceptions, which will be going up through the week, one last rant… It is an unforgivable sin to give people Wooden Shjips at such a pitiful volume. Did they scrimp on PA equipment (as they seemed to on security, which was grand)? So many bands were a good few notches below what I need to carry me away. We’re not talking dangerous volume here, I frequently use ear plugs, but to be able to have a conversation without raising your voice in front of the speakers at a Wooden Shjips show just isn’t right…
So even if the line-up returns to its former glory in 2010, I can’t say I’ll be going. But I still love you, Green Man, you just need to speak up a little and start saying something interesting again. I know you’ve got it in you!