12th - 15th Aug 2021
Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, Herefordshire, HR8 1EN, United Kingdom
Tickets for adults (with camping) from £99.00
By any criteria Lakefest 2021 maintained its position as one of the leading festivals in the UK. Factor in the impact of a global pandemic, and their success is all the more astonishing. In the worst of times, Lakefest 2021 delivered the best of times.
The last Lakefest was excellent (Read the FFA Lakefest 2019 Review for just a hint of the flavour), but in 2021 they roared back bigger and better. More stages, more non-music shenanigans, and a wealth of additional kids, workshops, and wellness activities. This review focusses on little of that! Lakefest 2021 was a celebration of the fortitude of the human spirit. This was a festival of the people – for the people, and here, they are firmly centre stage.
In a country where its major supermarkets can’t stock their shelves due to broken supply chains, for these guys to plan and successfully build a small town in a field, for a weekend, and then host one of the best festivals around, is a remarkable achievement. Overlay that with the ongoing worries of ever changing Covid regulations scuppering the event entirely, and Lakefest 2021 was truly an awesome success on every level. Like the rest of the planet, Lakefest has been hammered. The sad loss of a popular team member only added to the woes. But there is spirit here, an unstoppable fire in the belly. The organisers have it, the lovely stewards and support staff have it, and most importantly, their crowd have it. A passion for life, an enduring human spirit. A sense of collective comradery and shared purpose. They won’t be beaten, that Fire will face it all down and eventually win the day. The Lakefest Fire may have taken a right good kicking, but it always paused a moment, picked itself up, dusted itself down… and went again. If the organisers ever have any self-doubt about the magnitude of their achievements – go stand in the middle of the arena and just look at the faces. Feed off the love, feel the fire radiating from the unbridled joy of that crowd.
A true festival is its people. They ARE the festival. It takes a very special event like Lakefest to nurture and grow that bonding; that Lakefest family vibe. One complete whole. No one is a spectator here, the crowd are integral players, in-play from the off. One of the most diverse and friendly audiences on the festival scene, who genuinely try to enjoy everything and everyone… all prejudices and preconceptions left at the gate. No need for forced audience participation with this crew, they are singing, clapping, and dancing from the first note. This year more than any other, we have all been Individuals longing to become a Crowd again, and the Lakefest tribe seized the opportunity. The vibe they generated was truly awesome. A wonderful bunch of people, many wearing, it has to be said, some great and frankly outlandish fancy dress – one guy even spent all weekend in a parachute harness!
With more than half a dozen performance areas, plus a pulsating EDM scene, including the new Retrospective Of House tent, and a wealth of non-music events happening across, and above the site, your intrepid FFA Reviewers could only absorb so much before peak pleasure kicked in and we were lost in the zone. With probably the most diverse festival line-up this wizened Reviewer has ever encountered at an event of this size, here’s a savagely edited snapshot of just some of what worked for us. If you were there, your pleasures and delights will be different… let’s agree to differ, omission is not a sin!
Even I’m surprised at some of the fabulous acts and experiences that did not even get a mention in the final cut. What I do know is that every single artist appeared on merit, and all appeared a little overwhelmed by the unadulterated joy of returning to live performance again. The wonderful Lakefest audience simply amplified the experience. It had been a long long time. Were the performers fired up? With this Lakefest crowd - certainly. A tad under-rehearsed? maybe. It didn’t matter. The collective experience of The Entertainer and The Entertained was the thing. At Lakefest there is no barrier between the two – that Lakefest Fire bridged the gap. Artist and audience in total unison – as it should be.
In the fickle world of the music business artists drift in and out of fashion, so it goes. It is a rare blessing to witness a living legend, an iconic artist already at the top of their game before many in their audience were born; an 81-year-old man cooler than a cool thing. In 2021 he became the oldest artist to top the UK charts with an album of new material. Let that one sink in. Those who may have been dismissive are way behind the curve. Ladies and Gentlemen – Sir Tom Jones at Lakefest was absolutely stunning. How easy to rock up with your old hits and take the money… not this night. Astute enough to surround himself with outstanding musicians, Jones featured heavily on new material, but with enough hits in the mix to keep the balance. Most of this back catalogue was reworked too – no easy ride for Tom here. No banks of backing vocalists to carry him along; this was a stripped back set of The Man and his musicians. Pure soundscapes, and frankly wonderful. This set was genre defying, but it was perhaps Jones, accompanied only by gentle keyboards for the poignant ‘I’m Growing Old’, that stole the show. Got to say it – Magnificent.
One of the many commendable threads of the Lakefest tapestry is their promotion of emerging artists on the BBC Introducing Stage. FFA’s find of the festival had to be Ranagri: Eliza Marshall. Any band featuring a Bass Flute, Bodhran, and Harp has to be on to a winner with this Reviewer. Excellently woven tunes and some fine musicianship – do check ‘em out. The superb Dolmen excelled on their deserved Abbey Stage slot. Commendably hard to define (New Age Gypsy Folk Rock Psychedelia anyone?), the band were electric. Visually dynamic, and musically sound, their intense high energy blitz blew the bouncing crowd away. One of the sets of the weekend. Over on the Floating Globe, Darren Eedens & Slim Pickins excelled with some cracking Americana and full-on country blues. Splendid.
All roads let to Seasick Steve’s headline slot. To say the man had the Lakefest Fire in his eyes was an understatement. This was one of his first gigs in two years and let’s just say that he and the Lakefest crowd got on! The man appeared genuinely humbled by the experience and the warmth of this fantastic crowd. He produced a thunderous set, featuring striptease, a walkabout, a beautiful serenade to a lucky punter plucked from the audience, and some wonderful dirty country blues. Lakefest you spoil us. Mad Dog Mcrea rocked up a right old storm in the Floating Globe. Always worth the bother, if only for one of the best versions of ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ you are ever likely to hear. Great set.
Lakefest is a multi-faceted / multi-media extravaganza – just take Saturday will yer; one of those hazy lazy days where the music takes second place to the wealth of other goodies on-site. First up – they only had the Red Devils parachute display team dropping in! A thrilling spectacle as the guys descended across the site into the drop-zone on One Love Sign Hill. Follow that with some first-class BMX displays…. FFA were transfixed. Genuinely awe inspiring. Wandered around the wonders of the second field for ages (ok, ok, Cakefest), and took in the charming magic of Mr Alexander, miscellaneous malarkey in the Pen & Parchment, and some fine beats in FunkyTown, but the real highlight was yet to come – the bloody SWW Wrestling!
Only Lakefest could feed me the line that I missed much of Stereo MC’s brilliant set cos I was otherwise occupied baying at professional wrestlers. It was superb fun, and so, so, funny. Don’t get me wrong – these guys are top notch exponents of their craft and put on a great show, but Mrs FFA lost her voice screaming. We had to retire back to the tent to regain our composure. Thank you SWW for providing a unique and highly entertaining festival highlight that will live with this seasoned Reviewer for many a year. Got to get this crew back.
New Model Army certainly had the Lakefest Fire in their bellies. Delighted to being back on stage, they simply fed off the crowd’s energy. A blistering ‘No Rest’ did for us. Class act. If crowd reaction be the judge, one of the sets of the weekend had to be Scouting For Girls. This had to be one of THE most up-for-it crowds in Lakefest history. It was buzzing. It got to front man Stride as soon as they hit the stage – the guy couldn’t stop smiling. And what a show he and the band delivered. The crowd singing was deafening, and with ‘Elvis Ain’t Dead’ the whole Deer Park echoed to the packed arena belting out ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’. Elvis never left the building.
Town of Cats literally filled the Floating Globe stage with an excellent multi-genre mash up to a wild crowd. Throw in some Capaldi beats plus a few shapes and all was well with the world.
Roving Crows enthralled on the Abbey Stage. The bands style continues its evolution with a more mature, layered, textured feel these days. Still a wonderful Celtic folk-rock outfit, but now with added substance as they would surely say. Fine musicians producing some excellent soundscapes. Loved it. Even more great fiddle was in store with another find, Noble Jacks. Will Page’s playing was exceptional and the crowd knew it. Great vibe going down.
FFA caught the omni-present DJ Martin Newell laying down some merry tunes in the Brethryn, in anticipation of his later outing in The Silent Disco. Hope you chose the Blue Channel pill everyone! FFA, erm, hopped aboard the Vengabus for the Vengaboys Europop party. It was certainly an experience, looked good fun, and the crowd were manic; just the ticket for Sunday afternoon. Ash were right on the button with a fine set before Razorlight hit the main stage. Bloody ‘ell, Borrell had the fire in him. An absolute blast.
Now then, the infamous Lakefest Silent Disco is the final, emotional, gathering of the Clan and certainly the best SD this Reviewer has ever experienced. It’s where it all comes together. It’s the final jigsaw piece. The diverse chaotic patterns of a whole weekend of experiences folds in on itself like a completed Rubric’s Cube – leaving only Red, Green, and Blue. Pick your side. It was a swirling sea of thousands of dancing lights and smiling faces. Particularly in the context of the global shitshow of the last 18 months, this Reviewer found the experience overwhelming. Humanity coming together as one single entity for that last group hug. Our commonality proving far stronger than our differences. People loving people loving life. It was genuinely a beautiful and uplifting experience. Then DJ Shippers did the business and played the last two songs that embodied it all. ‘Hey Jude’ has always been the final explosion of emotion at Lakefest. That long goodbye. You can add another to that canon now. ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ hit home on multiple levels. Still a song for these times. A past torn apart and how we handle the regret and loss. How we shape the future, or let the future shape us. The crowd got it and raised the roof. Genuinely spine tingling.
Through bittersweet tears of emotion, I thought I even caught a fleeting glimpse of the Lakefest Fire, stood over by Geordies Bar, raising a glass to all those lost, and to all our futures. We owe it to all those who didn’t make it through to live our best lives; and if the future’s going to be one hell of a party, it started that Lakefest night. A fabulous festival.
So, from one gobby Manc to another, I’ll leave the last words to these guys:
“Slip inside the eye of your mind
Don't you know you might find
A better place to play
You said that you'd never been
But all the things that you've seen
Slowly fade away…
… My soul slides away
But don't look back in anger
Don't look back in anger
I heard you say”
Article and Snaps by Barrie Dimond