Another weekend means another festival for Dom Kureen – here’s what the man with mud and music in his veins made of Rhythmtree.
It was immediately clear from the familiar ruts underfoot and comforting pong of mellow herb that another music festival had arrived during a season now positively crammed with them.
Right from the start there was no doubting that Rhythmtree had little intention of following the worn out blueprint utilised by a myriad of its flat pack, paint by numbers contemporaries, with an unshackled aura taking the place of tawdry amusements and £6 pints of under-strength ale.
That said, this is a festival that knows the limitations it faces, with few tickets selling for the diminutive, unassuming Calbourne farm venue, the two main stages only a couple of hundred metres apart and a demographic mainly consisting of families and hardcore hippies.
Glastonbury this ain’t.
Not that any of the above is necessarily negative, for what sets Rhythmtree apart from the tens of local summer music festivals and hundreds of national ones is a celebration of natural phenomenon.
The scene is eerily reminiscent of the inaugural Bestival, where local attendees were bound to cross the path of at least a dozen familiar faces during a soiree from one end of the site to the other.
The friendly, unassuming atmosphere organically promotes a desire to approach new people without fear of offending them, and the usual drama seeking rabble associated with such occasions are notable only by their absence.
The music over the weekend complimented the surrounding energy, with reggae, funk and psychedelic rock the genres most often audible, although far more besides were touched upon.
Stand-out performances came from a multitude of acts:
Willie and The Bandits arguably provided the highlight of the weekend. The Cornish rockers followed up their stellar Glastonbury set with another sensational performance, sending a crammed Didge Cafe Stage into raptures.
Particularly eye-catching was the 6-string bass guitar wielding Matthew Brooks, whose original take on the instrument perfectly complimented the band’s unpredictable compositions.
Prince Fatty was another groovy addition to the line-up, bouncing between memorable instrumental backdrops with breakneck lyrics and effortless crowd interaction.
Fellowship of Groove played a tricky midday slot on Sunday, filling the silence with sounds that surely forced even the crankiest attendee to crack a wee smile and suspend any lurking alcohol fuelled friction.
Tankus The Henge‘s hour long set on Saturday night was intoxicating. The London based 5-piece rattled along, with their steam powered piano and thunderous tempos ensuring that even the regular rabble of Sudoku filling chillers synonymous with the Didge Cafe were soon jumping around like Kriss Kross in their 1992 pomp.
Other bands of note were bongo/guitar duo Rabbit Foot, who engaged a small crowd despite some initial audio issues and local indie-rockers Duveaux, a group that seem to play at every festival I attend, but I’m still not sick of the sight of them, so that’s got to mean something, right? (They debuted a new single at Rhythmtree and put on a good show as always.)
Of the headliners, The Bees made a rare appearance on the Isle of Wight as a collective – trumpets and guitars blaring and funk driven reminiscence of seminal album ‘Free The Bees’, which shot the guys into the nation’s consciousness during 2004-05.
Despite their star dimming over the course of the past decade, the joyful, infeasibly catchy ‘A Minha Menina’ (below, as featured on the soundtrack for ‘Kick Ass 2’) provided one of the lasting memories of the three days.
Aswad, on the other hand, blended into the scenery with a set that varied between autopilot and apathy. Pulling out their big guns ‘Don’t turn around’ and ‘Shine’ during the encore didn’t compensate for a below-par set that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the mid-card.
Of course, the music is only one aspect of the festival and for the most part it was exceptionally booked, delivered and received.
That could be any music event on the loaded calendar though, what made Rhythmtree stand out was the dearth of commercialism, the celebration of nature and an as yet unspoiled gathering of people all looking to have a good time with no concern for the superficial.
The woodland area could do with being utilised a little more fluidly during the daytime, so beautiful a canvas it provides, but everything else ostensibly ran like clockwork.
If you’re looking for a festival in 2015 that is a throwback to less corporate times then I can’t recommend Rhythmtree highly enough, it might be one of the few remaining whose predominant focus is music and celebration rather than lining pockets of already wealthy promoters and, refreshingly, there were no tacky sponsor signs blasting visitors in the face upon arrival.