Live Review: Barn on the Farm Festival 2016

001.JPGFor one brief golden weekend this gorgeous little patch of English countryside undoubtedly holds the title of the happiest place on Earth. As well as having built a reputation as one of the keenest eyes for new rising talent, Barn on the Farm above all else boasts an inescapable atmosphere of joy and togetherness. With so much in it’s favour it’s little wonder that I, along with the rest of the ever-growing Farm family, eagerly made my way back to my spiritual home for another year of incredible music and priceless memories.

At first glance there were a few big changes in the form of a new main stage, bigger and better than ever before, and a new main bar with all the gorgeously quirky decoration that I have come to expect. Some thing never change, chief among them are peoples’ fascination with the ostriches and the high quality of music that surrounds you. Irish indie band The Academic christened the new stage in style. Though by their own admission they come from “the middle of fucking nowhere” they will certainly be going places judging by the crowd’s reaction. Skinny Living were making waves in the eponymous wooden barn, with an infectious sound that was at times a curious mix of James Morrison, Jamiroquai and Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’. Brother & Bones provided one of the heaviest sets of the weekend thanks in part to their two drummers. They were equally at home with both dark and sinister alternative rock and upbeat indie anthems.

Belwood award winner Samm Henshaw brought the house down. His soulful style, commanding stage presence and his clear and deep abiding love for his band the Sound Experiment had the audience enraptured. I would put good money on him one day performing at the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury. Isaac Gracie’s set in the wooden barn was completely captivating. Channelling Jeff Buckley, his intense and impassioned songwriting provided one of the most memorable sets of the weekend. On the Outdoor Stage Flyte provided a feel good mix of indie rock and 80s new wave. They made it clear that they haven’t had much experience performing live but they took to it with the greatest of ease. A brief but ferocious downpour put a damper on proceedings and called for a much needed cup of tea in The Den before the radiant Billie Marten brought the sun back out. Her delicate songwriting and fragile vocals create a sound that you simply can’t help but get lost in. Her hit single ‘Bird’ got the biggest ovation of the festival, much to her surprise and delight.

The big talking point of the weekend was the Farm Band, the festival’s exclusive supergroup consisting of Amber Run, Gabrielle Aplin, Hannah Grace and Hudson Taylor. They all have a deep affinity and longstanding history with the festival and I get the impression that they will keep turning up regardless of whether they are invited or not! A lot of work clearly went into bringing this project to light and it certainly showed, it was like a whistle-stop tour of the festival’s greatest hits. Closing with their own Woodstock moment by performing ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ in the style of Joe Cocker, they created the defining moment of the year despite some slight technical trouble. There was no such trouble for Saturday headliners Oh Wonder who perfectly matched the album versions of their songs. Anthony and Josephine came across as two of the loveliest people you could ever hope to meet and they performed in such perfect harmony it was as though they were one spirit.

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Soulful singer/songwriter Lily Rendle-Moore opened the barn on Sunday morning, bringing a hint of Amy Winehouse to her acoustic set, whilst over on the Outdoor Stage Pleasure Beach combined indie and psychedelica to create the perfect summer soundtrack. Though many people were suffering, they braved through their hangovers to create a massive turnout for farm favourites Port Isla and shortly afterwards Dan Owen wowed the barn with his foot-stomping blues and his gritty and powerful vocals. One of the highlights of the festival was undoubtedly Eliza and the Bear on the Main Stage. Their set was pure unfiltered joy, with great banter back and forth between band members and a water pistol fight with a member of the audience; something that appears to have become a tradition.

One of Belwood’s favourites Rationale won over many new fans with his hits ‘Something for Nothing’ and ‘Fuel to the Fire’, alongside new material from his upcoming debut. I said last year that Jack Garratt gave the best performance of the weekend and this year he was the headliner, so the pressure is now on for Rationale following his flawless set. Hudson Taylor returned after their triumphant performance in the Farm Band to do a secret set in the barn and the piano balladry of Frances left many teary eyed at the Main Stage. There were some phenomenal vocals over the course of the weekend but few could match the dark R&B of Rag’N’Bone Man on the outdoor stage, at one point singing without his band in an electrifying display of talent. Now a regular part of the farm family, multi-instrumental maestro Jack Garratt brought the weekend to a close with a set that included impromptu covers of S Club 7 and the Fresh Prince theme and a mass sing-along of ‘Weathered’. With his setup now expanded to include a full drum kit the crowd had even more reason to be in awe of his immeasurable talent.

The atmosphere of this special little festival is unlike anything else. I was fascinated by it’s aesthetic, humbled by it’s warm and friendly nature, privileged to meet so many artists and awestruck by their unfathomable talent. Barn on the Farm has long had a reputation for spotting the next act to make it big, but this year I felt like they went one better. Some of the people over the course of this magical weekend have the potential to be unforgettable artists that help define a generation. That alone makes it worth coming back year after year, but what truly makes it special is the people. Being there you really do feel like part of a family, part of something greater. Till next year…