Live Report: Green Man Festival 2019
Green Man is magic.
Even from the start of your journey, as you peer out of the windows of the overheated shuttle bus, awed by the natural cornucopia of mountains and rich green pine trees, you will feel as if you’ve stepped into a world where mystical creatures might roam.
The story book beauty continues once inside the festival grounds where, as the night draws on, light shows glimmer on the pond waters and chubby toddlers with flower crowns run about their mother’s ankles. With its rolling hills and family friendly atmosphere, the festival definitely channels bohemian village fete vibes.
And this year, while there were knitting bees, and fortune tellers and friendly chickens for children to hug, it was all scenery to the gorgeous tunes that filled the air. From the distorted ferocity of up and coming buzz bands to the affecting tenderness of folk, the acts on offer provided punters, of various ages and tastes, with a delicious banquet of sounds.
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With Green Man’s history firmly rooted in the folk genre, acts that captured that wistful Woodstock aura were right at home. Bill Ryder-Jones took to the Garden stage on Friday night to deliver a moving set that was worthy of a film soundtrack. ‘Two To Birkenhead’ provided one of the most beautiful moments of the festival, as lovers and friends swayed to its brooding beauty. The sweet creaminess of a brandy infused hot chocolate, on offer from one of the many delicious food stalls, only added to the warm fuzzy feeling.
An equally stunning accomplishment, Richard Thompson’s Saturday set at the Far Out stage acted as a tender portrait of the most remarkable moments in his career. Featuring a rendition of iconic ballads such as ‘I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight’ and Fairport Covention’s ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’, it brought together several generations of music fans, as they sung along in unison to the latter’s melancholic chorus.
Arguably the festival’s most standout moments were delivered courtesy of Aldous Harding and Father John Misty — whose spellbinding sets showed folk to transcend bygone eras. The sun shone down on the Mountain stage as Harding supplied a whimsical yet dainty performance, where gorgeous tunes such as ‘Designer’ and ‘The Barrel’ were bolstered by her trademark intensity — giving her elegant lyrics a new layer of meaning.
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Contrastingly, Father John Misty was the ultimate showman. Summoning the cool of old Hollywood movies, he twirled and danced around the stage like a hippie Gene Kelly. Delivering a high energy performance with considerable humility ("I wasn’t able to eat dinner this evening, I was so nervous" he confided to the audience), he put egg on the face of his critics who called out: "Fuck Father John, it should be Sharon Van Ettan headlining!"
Some of the weekend’s biggest thrills came in the form of straight up heavy rock 'n' roll. New York art-rockers Bodega got the festival off to a excellent start. Mostly performing tracks from debut album, 'Endless Scroll', the Far Out tent was treated to an hour long party of pummelling drums and careening guitars. Their unadulterated energy and zest for life, proved that modern post-punk isn’t just about young guys standing around looking moody.
On Sunday, psych poster boys, Yak somehow managed to combine the wholesome ethos of the festival with multi-generational moshing. Beginning their set with a shoutout to a young fan, they quickly tore through an effervescent track list that mixed shout along choruses with some of the most satisfyingly beefy riffs in modern indie.
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While Car Seat Headrest’s Saturday night set was particularly sublime — Will Toredo’s playful sonic experimentation provided hard evidence for his constant comparison to Beck — it was ruined by a group of loud mouth teenagers who kept trying to piss off the security guard. Yes, a festival can’t necessarily be blamed for it’s more annoying punters, but talking through such a impressive set would never be tolerated.
And this is unfortunately, where one of the problems with the festival lies. Having only just graduated from its folk festival routes, it’s still trying to juggle its family friendly (all ages) atmosphere with a more challenging and left of field offering.
Take for example Fat White Family’s set - although their garage rock sleaze is usually synonymous with frontman Lias Saoudi writhing around on stage like a loon, there was something weirdly reticent about their performance. Blame it on the rain, but it could have something to do with the groups of little ’uns gathered on the grassy banks with their parents during ‘Bomb Disneyland.’
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It’s seem that Green Man is still trying to adjust to its new progressive identity. As part of the after hours offering, Snapped Ankles took to the stage at the dead of night with their angular and particularly feral post-punk electronica. Uncannily clad in antlers, stringy green moss and other forest paraphernalia, their presence seemed fitting in the other wordily beauty of the Breacon Brecons, where they acted a sonic witches, leading the audience in a musical groove of epic proportions.
Although the late night performances were well chosen — Four Tet and Khruangbin in particular added to the after dark trance vibes — it felt like the live performances ended a little too early. Music fans were riled up during the day by excellent performances, only to be left hanging once 1am hit. A DJ set featuring predicable alternative choices such as ‘Rock the Casbah’ is not a satisfying late night stand in.
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What Green Man lacked when it came to the late night party, it made up for with stimulating conversation. At other festivals, the literary area is hidden away in a secluded part of the woodland, where only poetry obsessives and fiction junkies would dare tread.
But the Talking Shop stood pride of place, in a large performance tent just outside of the garden stage. Its spectacular and varied programme meant you could happily whittle away several hours before your favourite acts started. Food critic, Pete Brown served up various beers to match the artists. A deliciously sweet cider for Yo La Tengo’s ‘Friday I’m in Love’? Or a salty ale for Snapped Ankles ‘Tailpipe’?
The space was unsurprisingly crammed for excellent talks by both Caitlin Moran and Jarvis Cocker. Moran championed the superhero powers of motherhood, a lovely thing to see as children turned to their Mums beaming with pride. Contrastingly, Jarv gave a particularly inspiring talk about finding the extra ordinary in the extraordinary, encouraging musicians, writers and artists to look for the muse in everyday experiences.
As the weekend draw to a close, the occasion was celebrated by the yearly burning of the effigy. It was a breathtaking sight, watching the fourteen foot wicker statue crackle with bright orange light, as fireworks of golden ambers and bold reds were released into the sky.
Even more glorious was seeing a thousand faces of various ages, looking up in wonder— it was a final moment that emphasised the festival’s powerful meeting of two timeless ideas: beauty and community.
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Words: Eleanor Philpot
Photo Credits: Marieke Macklon, Chris Almeida, Nici Eberl, Parri Thomas, Patrick Gunning