Not much happens around Stevenage. So it’s odd that I have never been to Wilkestock before, a music festival in a field just outside Stevenage. Despite spending buckets of cash on SXSW, I am always a bit sniffy on spending money on festivals in fields until I know what the weather is going to be like – especially as there’s so much cheap indoor music available in London.
This year, Slaves were headlining the Saturday night, so I decided to take a punt. I’m so glad I did. Wilkestock is a gem of a small festival.
One great thing about Wilkestock is that it is a charity event with profits going to selected charities. Everything about this festival just felt right.
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a festival in a field where it is so easy to move around between stages – not that many people did. The site is compact and but the stage times staggered so there is very little overlap. There’s lots of little spaces to chill out in and people found a comfortable chair and seemed to stay there. Yes, I did say comfortable chairs. This is a different type of festival.
The lineup wasn’t necessarily top names. Instead the lineup was full of top quality up and coming bands. The main stage featured bands that are just knocking on the door. The second stage featured a some of the best local bands during the day and in the evening some bands that will hopefully feature on the main stage in the next year or so, such as one of my favourites, Avalanche Party.
The mix of national and local acts is a good combination for a festival line this, using the big names to make people aware of bands who play locally to help the increase their audience. Music on all stages was programmed by Juicebox Live who programme the Horn, so I’d seen many of the local acts already.
As with any stage showing local music, it will always be a bit hit and miss. Most of the bands I had seen previously at the Horn. But it’s always worth giving a local band a second listen. They often aren’t fully formed yet and their performances can quickly transform from something terrible into something great
Highlights were Carretta, a band I’ve seen a few times with a great front man and new band for me, Wink. I believe they are from St Albans but all studying in Leeds.
On the main stage the Pearl Harts impressed again. I’ve seen them many tines playing the Horn and in London. This was the first time I had seen them play a big stage and although the crowd was still pretty small when they played, they went down well.
First highlight of the day was Lady Bird from Kent. Signed to the Slaves own label and sharing some of the same DNA, this three piece, showed the same high energy pop punk sensibility as the Slaves raising the energy of the audience to the point where some people actually got out of their chairs to form a mini mosh pit.
Next, one of my favourite bands of the moment, Life. Mixing songs from the first album and upcoming album. Previously, I had only ever seen them play small venues like the Old Blue Last. But Life proved they have what it takes to play big stages
The Slaves closed the main stage to a swelling crowd. It’s sad that many only arrived to watch the Slaves as they’d missed some great bands. As you would expect the Slaves set was energetic and frantic and lapped up by the excited crowd. They are pretty much the perfect festival band. Pop punk with tongue firmly in cheek, it’s hard not to like them.
Sadly, after Slaves finished, the late comers all started to disappear off back home. With was a pity, as on the Bella stage, music continued into the small hours with excellent sets from the Dunts, the very impressive Strangebones, and personal favourites Avalanche Party.