Midlands Festival 28,29 July
One of the most intriguing prospects for music lovers occurs this weekend in the refined surroundings of Belvedere House in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, a fitting region of the country for what could be billed as a Country and Western music festival. Midlands is in its second year, following the success of the 2006 event. It is unique in that it is a family orientated music festival, with children under 12 going free and a restricted crowd capacity for safety, due to the age groups attending. Compared with the behemoth festivals like Oxygen and its city-sized throng of 80,000, Midland's allows only 15,000. With Belvedere House set in 160 acres of grounds, festival-goers should have plenty of space to run around. Kids facilities include arts and crafts, circus acrobatics and a Lambert Theatre puppet show.
While there is a definite country twang to the music at Midlands, Village can see a larger variety of acts than the C'n'W genre would cover.
Headlining Saturday night at the festival is Christy Moore. A stalwart of the Irish music scene since the 70's, the only definite field Moore stands in is his own (and this one in Westmeath). Many labels could be applied to his music, from Country to Folk to Trad, but the fans that pack the biggest venues in the country do not care what tag is put on him. Guaranteed to impress.
Kris Kristofferson deservedly receives equal billing with Christy Moore, who follows the Texan on Saturday night. Kristofferson is a Country musician with a capital “C”, as his numerous Country Hall of Fame awards attest. Famous for his lyrical flourishes and intelligent song writing, he is touring his 2006 album, This Old Road, which sees him in reflective mood, but is also sure to play his hits such as Me and Bobby McGee.
Going down the line-up for the first night of the festival we come to Steve Earl, an American musician now living in Galway, who has gained the respect of audiences around the world for his original compositions and strong political views. Earl lives up to his nickname “The Hardcore Troubadour”, singing his views on war and the death penalty, but always staying true to his country-rock roots.
Preceding Earl, the Waterboys bring their ever-youthful brand of Celtic rock to Ireland once again, ensuring the revival of many hazy memories of Galway in the 80's.
Aimee Mann is an intriguing prospect. Her long and interesting career in music has seen her veer from punk to soundtrack work, gaining an Oscar nomination for a song on the movie Magnolia. More recently, free from the shackles and interference of the major labels, Mann has released albums of Christmas music. It is safe to say that we do not know what Mann will bring to Midlands, but it is sure to be out of the ordinary.
Another treat is Richard Thompson, a veteran of the British music scene and a renowned songwriter and guitar player (number 19 of all time according to Rolling Stone). Lauded by critics over the years, Thompson has avoided the commercial success he deserves, but has remained a regular on the festival circuit where he is much appreciated.
Another big name from the Saturday line-up is Ricky Skaggs, who is these days called the “Father of Neo-Traditional Country”, but not to his face. He plays a mix of country and bluesgrass, with which he has had innumerable top-ten hits, Grammy's and awards.
Other highlights on Saturday include two Irish acts, Mundy and Prison Love. Mundy had reached the dizzying heights of the music industry by his early 20's, having a record deal with Sony and playing support to Van Morrison and Neil Young. A midlands boy himself, his natural talent shines through at each gig.
Prison Love are a 7-piece from Dublin, playing a highly energetic mix of old-time, bluegrass, Cajun and Gospel. If you are not sure what all those types of music are, this band are an education.
The second day of the festival is equally interesting, featuring fewer big names but many newer arrivals that have gained reputations beyond their years. They include Village favorite Micha P. Hinson who starts us off on Sunday afternoon with his memorable singing style and bombastic electric guitar that should blow away any cobwebs from Saturday night. Wicklow beauty Luan Parle will fool us all into thinking she grew up in Texas, followed by other countrified denziens of the garden county, Bray Vista, who maintain an equally authentic sound.
Veteran Irish rockers Hothouse Flowers bring us out of our country daze before we are taken back to the deep South by the Blind Boys of Alabama, a group of singers with a collective age that is frankly worrying. Singing Gospel for decades, the Blind Boys have remained true to their roots and always will.
Up next, The Be Good Tanyas may be the surprise hit of the weekend. The 3 Canadian girls have so far released a couple of albums of wonderful originality and gorgeous harmony, modern yet sounding like they could have been recorded anytime in the last 100 years. Village waits expectantly.
From Argentina by way of Sweden, Jose Gonzalez is the man of the moment. You may already know his song Heartbeats from the Sony ad (with the multi-coloured balls bouncing down a San Francisco street), but he is far from a one-hit wonder. His album Veneer was a slow burner, making it into the charts 2 years after its release. It features his signature classical guitar style and haunting lyrics, making him one of the most intriguing prospects of the festival, and a brief break from the excesses of country to which we have been treated.
Paul Brady will need no introduction to most Irish music fans. His sold out shows all over the country attest to Brady's enduring popularity. He manages to innovate continually yet never loses sight of the tradition that his followers appreciate.
Paul Brady is the second last performer on the Sunday night and is a hard act to follow. Such a job could only fall to a true star, and Glen Campbell is that. A performer with more awards, top ten hits and albums that all those before him on the day combined, Campbell is responsible for songs like Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix and Rhinestone Cowboy and claims to have sold over 40 million records. What more do you need to say?
Tickets for the Midlands Festival cost €80 for Saturday Day Ticket, the same for Sunday Day Ticket, €150 for 2 Day No Camping and €170 for 2 Day Camping.
Tickets are available from Ticketmaster.
More details at www.midlandsmusicfestival.ie