After The Darkness came the light – as Friday night’s thunderstorms segued into Saturday’s sunny afternoon, Ramblin’ Man Fair gathered pace. Here are the Rushonrock highlights.
All(man) Betts Are Off
Due on the Outlaw Country Stage at 6.15pm, there was still no sign of The Allman Betts Band by 5pm and plan B was firmly in place. Had the star-studded US collective failed to make their connection from Europe in time to Ramble on then none other than Northern Ireland’s finest – Blackwater Conspiracy – were set to step into their considerable shoes. But at 5.25pm the call came to stand down as Devon Allman and Duane Betts were spotted in Maidstone ready to rock. Panic over, they proceeded to deliver one of the sets of the day and the introduction of good buddy and Black Stone Cherry favourite Ben Wells for a brief cameo (check out the Rushonrock Facebook page for a clip) delivered an added bonus. Wrapping up with Long Gone, this was a case of Bettser late than never.
So Blackwater Conspiracy missed out on their biggest gig to date…and almost missed out on the reason they were prowling around Mote Park in the first place. Scheduled to play a hotly anticipated semi-acoustic set on the VIP stage, the lads were set up, plugged in and ready to go, only for the on-site generator to go down. Cue an awkward silence, the opportunity for keysman Kevin Brennan to strike some impromptu poses for the nonplussed photographers and several apologies from the clearly frustrated sound guy. Conspiracy theorists suggested Ramblin’ Man’s headline acts were simply in no mood for Phil Conalane and co. to steal their thunder but 10 minutes later than billed the boys were back. The Monday Club suited Saturday just fine and drummer Fionn O’Hagain wasn’t missed as he celebrated his wedding – former Million Dollar Reload man Davy Cassa back among friends and loving every minute.
Ramblin’ Man Fair might book some of the biggest names in rock but their reputation for nurturing the next generation is second to none. And this year’s Rising Stage was no different. Playing out of the back of a lorry, a truckload of talent capitalised on a golden opportunity but there was denying the band of the day. Hotly tipped hair metal heroes Collateral are cornering the market in chorus-driven rock and roll, harking back to the Sunset Strip’s golden era and the Kent natives cut loose on home soil. Big Shot says it all about an impossibly infectious band that knows no bounds and, as the breeze stiffened, Going With The Wind allowed charismatic frontman Angelo Tristan to prove his class. In stark contrast, Rainbreakers’ bluesy, prog-tinged melodies provided the perfect contrast to Collateral’s balls-to-the-wall bluster and the West Midlands quartet – think Cream rebooted – ran their rivals close for Rising Stage band of the day. Just not quite close enough.
The Main Men
Headliners Black Stone Cherry aside, it was down to Ugly Kid Joe, The Temperance Movement and Cheap Trick to battle for the hearts and minds of the main stage masses and all three went for the win. Whitfield Crane’s constant badgering of the crowd to show him some love belied a supremely confident frontman basking in the glory of a triumphant Ramblin’ Man debut. And if guitarist Dave Fortman, balancing a beer on his head, attempted to steal the show then this set belonged to Crane and his crazy antics. The Temperance Movement’s Phil Campbell is another firecracker of a frontman and rarely has the gifted Glaswegian looked or sounded so utterly engaged. If ever there was a festival fit for the saviours of British rock then Ramblin’ Man is it and this felt like a homecoming – and a home crowd – for a band fresh from another successful stint in the US. Bringing on bass player Nick Fyffe’s daughter for a touching cameo during Pride provided the most beautiful moment of the day but you simply couldn’t take your eyes off Campbell. Winsome and winning, the singer was imperious during a dazzling rendition of A Deeper Cut. Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander had it all to do to run Crane and Campbell close but one of rock and roll’s most seasoned pros loves a challenge. The biggest finish of the festival to date – The Flame, I Want You To Want Me, Dream Police, Surrender and Goodnight Now – was on a different level but once again the environment took a battering. Everyone loves a plectrum but Rick Nielsen must get with the programme and cut down on the plastic!
Cherry On The Top
Two-time Ramblin’ Man Fair headliners Black Stone Cherry represent one of modern rock’s greatest oddities: huge over here and treading water back home, there’s a strong argument for the classy quartet and their extended family to relocate permanently from Kentucky to Kent en masse. There’s a genuine love for Chris Robertson and his brothers within Mote Park and the feeling’s mutual. If the band’s most recent UK arena run saw BSC take tentative steps towards recapturing their very best form then this stellar show felt like the final destination. Eighteen songs, endless energy, smiling faces and strength of character. That just about sums it up. There have been more flamboyant shows in recent years but the odd blast of smoke aside, this was more about the substance than the style. More about the music than the performance. More about reconnecting with BSC’s loyal British fanbase and getting back to what this band does best. Cramming in classics Rain Wizard and Blind Man early doors set the celebratory tone while Family Tree was the perfect pick prior to the encore. Ask Robertson and he’ll tell you Ramblin’ Man Fair feels like family and feels like home.
Images By Adam Kennedy