Words by Karen Hetherington
Main Picture Credits: Sophie Lily Hextall Photography
Additional Picture Credits & Words: Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
Since its conception in 2015 the Ramblin Man has been regarded as my favourite festival bar none, however, the negativity on social media in the run up to this year’s event could hardly fail to escape my attention. Much ado was made about headlining acts not being of legendary standard, a particular bands set being too controversial for a festival touted as “family friendly” and late announcement of line ups. Complaints of overpriced tickets and camping charges coupled with rumours of poor sales and resales were also thrown into the mix and despite there being plenty on offer to satisfy my own personal musical tastes, as I rambled into Mote Park for the fourth year running I wasn’t quite sure what to expect…
The Ramblin Man festival site has never been the same twice and I have grown to accept that the relocation of stages is an endeavour by organisers to improve sound quality and the overall experience for festival goers. This year they were one stage less with what was formerly the Prog Stage alternating as the Outlaw Country Stage and Blues Stage respectively. My first impression of the site this year as I had a quick look around was that it was filling up pretty well despite so many threatening not to show up!
The usual array of liquid refreshments were on offer for revellers who were soaking up the fabulous Kent sunshine as well as a wide variety of reasonably priced merchandise targeted at the festival minded audience.
I had a couple of firm favourites on my ‘must see’ list this year along with a few vague possibilities – having learnt that the best laid plans can go badly wrong in an environment where so much is on offer musically, I thought it best just to see where the day took me. As it happened I was in the vicinity of the Outlaw Country Stage just as Thomas Wynn & The Believers were kicking off and I figured their Southern Rock vibe was a great way to start the day, so I stuck around for the full set which was mighty impressive to say the least.
The Florida based band belted out some stunning vocal harmonies, fronted by siblings Thomas and Olivia Wynn [who had also played a set on the Friday night at Maidstone Leisure Centre as part of ‘The Road to Ramblin’ Man‘, I nearly felt like I had been transported to another time, in another place. I hung around for the first couple of tracks by The Adelaides before heading down to check out Gorilla Riot on the Rising Stage.
For the past couple of years the Rising Stage has proved both a blessing and a curse. It has introduced me to up and coming bands which may otherwise have escaped my notice thus causing me to forego more familiar bands I was en route to see. Luckily for me there were no clashes on Saturdays musical agenda as Gorilla Riot’s set was definitely worthy of attention. The Manchester 5 piece describe themselves as a Dirty Rock ‘n’ Roll Blues Machine and who am I to argue? Their overall sound was amazing, they play the kind of rock I love and I can’t wait to check them out again – without a doubt they are deserving of more than a 30 minute set allocation. Indeed as the Rising Stage was alternating with the Prog Stage I did consider some of the afforded slots all too short…
Next up for me was Skinny Molly back up at the Outlaw Country stage. The atmosphere was buzzing as they wowed the crowd with “Devil in the Bottle” and For Y’all. The undoubted highlight of their set was an extraordinary rendition of Skynyrds “Freebird” (a song which no doubt singer/guitarist Mike Estes is all too familiar with playing), it ensured a captivated audience including a few seagulls which were circling above. The customised and elongated version of this classic had a few false stops during which I asked myself a couple of questions (a) is it ever going to end? And (b) do I really want it to? I have to confess that I’m a sucker for a good cover version and they completely nailed this one.
With Southern Rock seeming to be the order of the day for me I made my way to the Main Stage for another dose of Nashville’s finest in the form of The Cadillac Three… I have been eagerly awaiting the live experience of this three piece for a while now and they did not disappoint, in fact by catching whispers of conversations they seem to have earned themselves a few hundred new fans and were definitely one of the most praised bands of the day with many surprised that such a big sound could be produced by just three musicians.
After The Cadillac Three had wrapped things up, I once again found myself migrating to the Outlaw Country Stage where Steve Earle rather unexpectedly opened up with “Copperhead Road” unquestionably his most famous track which I had suspected he would save for the finale. I was hellbent on leaving halfway through his set to check out all the fuss with Steel Panther but I was captivated by his sound and stage presence and alas I could not tear myself away. By the time he played “The Galway Girl” he had the crowd spellbound and much singing, dancing and general merriment was observed around the peripheral of the assembled crowd.
[Editor’s note: SO… you missed Steel Panther Karen? This is what you missed !!]
Despite the negativity surrounding the headliners of the day, I was eager for the nostalgic throwback provided by Mott the Hoople – I wouldn’t describe myself as a die hard fan (I do love a few songs), however I did feel they were worthy of their place as the final act on the main stage and I was hopeful they would end the evening on a high. The veteran musicians were in fine form blasting out “Golden Age of Rock ‘N’ Roll”, “Roll Away the Stone” and the penultimate track and ultimate crowd pleaser “All the Young Dudes”. The band members seemed to be immensely enjoying themselves and unsurprisingly, as darkness fell the vibe rippled throughout the crowd.
With the day drawn to a close and the venue starting to empty out in its customary and (possibly unusually) orderly fashion, I took the opportunity to discuss the events of the day with others who had obviously had an entirely different experience to myself. Although experiences were varied, the consensus was uniformly the same – phenomenal music, amazing company in a fantastic setting with a relaxed atmosphere. With this in mind, I recalled an earlier comment from one of the bands that Ramblin Man is one of the fastest growing music festivals in UK ( a comment I heard repeated several times throughout the weekend) and pondered how much more it would have to grow to fall into the ruination that has beset some other festivals. THIS festival offers a variety of musical genres to appeal to varying tastes and all age groups in a venue which on no year to date could be described as overcrowded, ease of access to facilities and the genuine friendliness of festival goers combine to make it a gathering like no other. In my consideration it’s a winning formula and with this happy thought in mind and in high spirits I set off to recharge for day two…
AND IN ADDITION
So whilst Karen was off on her tour of the festival, what else went on?
Our photographer Sophie was off shooting great sets from Skinny Molly, Myles Kennedy, GUN, Therapy?, No Hot Ashes and more.