The Witnness Festival
Saturday, August 4th, 2001
Amid grazing pastures, on the verge of the blanketed Irish midlands lies the fenced in strip of fallow that is Fairyhouse. This turf, most accustomed to the pummelling of horses hooves and the attendant activities of the race meet, now for the second year running plays host to the two day long multi-part musical circus that is Witnness.
Neil Finn, an old hand at this festival lark, efficiently delivers his melodic guitar pop and attempts to bring the main stage to life. People amiably wander and bop, supping from carton cups. 'Shower over every one,' he sings, a soon-to-be-fulfilled prophesy.
Pierced teens with big jeans and green hair seize the self-created opportunity
to (ahem) osculate wildly. They may well have paid a visit to one of the entrepreneurial
booths on site, providing every manner of service from Henna tattooing and Thai
massage (I kid you not), to Eyebrow and Belly-button piercing. Better than Sainsburys
- here you can buy everything. Food options range from The Gourmet Diner, which
puzzlingly seems to serve only chips and burgers, to vegan and vegetarian wholefood,
to Japanese noodles and American-style waffles. Waterproof hats for sale (very sensible),
sunglasses (necessary, we hope), Indian silk tablecloths (hmm), jewellery, t-shirts,
inflatable chairs (practical) and lampshades (uh huh).
As early as 4pm the Caf?Tent is the designated chill-out zone for the kids overcome with what could be post-oscular exhaustion, but more likely results from some other form of over-exuberance. Nice vibe here, with new face Cara Dillon sweetly singing to the gathered. One hour later on the Main StageThe Waterboys are sounding stronger than ever, pounding out 'Fishermen's Blues' as the rain (appropriately enough) begins to tinkle down. Never mind, the outdoor-types determinedly make merry and eejit-dance, and rightly so because we didn't come here to be beaten by the elements. Let the record show that when the flood came we partied on regardless, up to our unmentionables in beastly mud and oomskah.
Just witness (sorry!) the hordes running, nay sliding, pell-mell through the
steadily coagulant mud to the More Tent, to gratefully sampleEvan Dando's sunny Californian fare. 'I lied about
being the outdoor type.' Yes, well, quite. The ever-affable tunesmith holds
the damp but far from miserable crowd in the palm of his hand. Evan commands we
take three steps to our right, so we duly shuffle. Ah Evan, we don't need to be
'Paid to Smile'.
The sub-Radiohead yelpings of Muse serenade the dinner queues to the far left of the Main Stage. Whether your cup of angst or not, their sound somehow perfectly reflects the moody, inclement turn of the weather, while Future Pilot AKA does his funsome best to fly the sparse population of the Rising Tent out of the mud pit. Much of the assembly, now adorned in the white logo-emblazoned bin-liners that the festival organizers are freely handing out, looks like a corporate sponsored Klan gathering. But the air has cleared and everyone is happy back at 'The Treatment', where punters with blue wristbands get to mix it up with the media / celebrity contingency, having been randomly selected via e-mail submission for a ticket status 'upgrade'. The Relish boys are posing for photographs with a coterie of giggling female fans, while queues are forming outside the TV Tent - an enclave set aside for off-the-cuff acoustic performances from whoever may care to drop by. As the rain stays clear, The Charlatans are bringing cheer back to the masses from the Main Stage now and the Ferris Wheel is back in business.
Luminous headbands abound. We must be in the Dance Tent. The two frontmen from Alabama 3 are stalking the stage and working the audience into their slouchy groove. Now the party is really starting, with everyone bigging it up in soggy footwear. Tindersticks are onstage in Rising. To the scene of couples embracing and the waft of joints being lit, cinematic violin sweeps and Staples' inimitable croon turn the tent into a smoky, bluesy ballroom of beautifully failed romance.
Back in the Caf?tent, Turn are setting up a big guitar rumble, bringing those seated in inflatable chairs or, too muddied to care, on the sodden grass floor of the tent, to their feet. It's no time at all before The Frames are onstage at Rising and the tent fills up, front to back, quicker than an off-license on the eve of Good Friday. They pound through oldies, 'Revelate' and 'Monument', and deliver faithful renditions of more recent material. Hansard - ever the jester - dives (ahem) headlong into the fervent crowd, only to return minutes later, miraculously unmolested.
The true highlight of the Frames' set, however, comes only minutes before this,
as a visibly excited Hansard and company are joined by Mike Scott and Steve Wickham
for a version of The Waterboys' 'Be My Enemy'. Then, 'Red Chord' rings out the last
of the evening in the Rising Tent. Stereophonics have performed their level best
on the Main Stage, sounding as true to form as a recording and generally ensuring
that everyone had a nice, erm, evening. Now Faithless are playing it large in the
field, their shiny techno ringing on past midnight while the wearied begin to trudge
bus-ward or tent-ward in unrecognisable shoes, some intent on returning todo it all again tomorrow.
Check out the CLUAS coverage of Day 2 of Witnness