Live Review: Barn on the Farm Festival 2018

botfEven in the midst of the most unbearable heatwave I’ve ever experienced, the best weekend of the year didn’t disappoint. While most festivals would have had people literally fighting over the rare patches of shade, or disappearing to watch the England match and causing havoc on their return, this is Barn on the Farm we’re talking about. Everyone that’s been to this little patch of paradise can attest to the indescribable sense of community, and for whatever reason that feeling was stronger than ever this year. On the year where the festival returns to its roots in breaking new artists, I was lucky enough to occupy Over Farm for the full four days and catch all the action. 

Intimate Thursday really lived up to its name, so quaint and cosy that it almost felt like being part of some secret inner circle for this first batch of sets in the eponymous wooden barn. The soulful young Abbie Piper was the first act of the long weekend, bringing real glamour to Gloucester, shortly followed by the heartfelt lyricism of Irish singer/songwriter Eve Belle. Piano driven pop trio Arctic Lake lured you in with the ethereal vocals and expressive brushed drums. Dan Owen gave what may be his best performance yet, with his powerful gritty vocals and his frantic foot-stomping blues practically shaking the very rafters. At long last I finally managed to see farm favourites Matthew and the Atlas and their enthralling performance was certainly worth the wait. Billie Marten couldn’t have been more suited to intimate Thursday as the cosy crowd sat around her, which felt worlds apart from when everyone crammed into the barn for the evening’s secret headliner Zak Abel.

After a sleepy start on a melting hot morning, Friday soon got into full swing. The first set was on the brand new tin barn stage, and much like how fine champagne is needed to christen a ship, it took a sublime singer/songwriter like Ark to play the stage for the first time. The incredible duo Ferris & Sylvester were one of my favourite discoveries of the weekend as they brought their own mix of folk and blues to the wooden barn, followed by the piano balladry of Kin in the tin barn as he did a mash-up of ‘Wonderwall’ with his song ‘Courtside’.

The incredible Keir gave one of the stand-out sets of the weekend. Though endearingly shy between songs, when he unleashed that god-like voice he performed like a man possessed. Lauren Aquilina made a rapturous return to the farm, her first performance in three years, and with the entire crowd loving every minute it was like she had never been away. After checking out farm favourite Orla Garland for the first time, I’m mad at myself for all those years of missing out on her. Friendly, quirky, and endlessly fun, her set even saw Lauren return for a little 80s medley. Hudson Taylor played a unique set as they all gathered around single mic, before the headliners Honne brought the day to a close.

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As the floodgates opened to welcome the weekend crowd, the intimate family gathering gave way to an infectious party atmosphere. Apre brought some 80s synths and funky bass to the main stage while Stereo Honey stunned the outdoor stage with their soaring falsettos. The Howl & The Hum proved to be one of my favourites of the day over in the barn, thanks to their unique lyrics. They remind me of Courtney Barnett as they craft songs around the most unlikely of subjects. It was an eclectic afternoon on the main stage, with Kara Marni offering up a great cover of Childish Gambino’s ‘Redbone’, followed by Catherine McGrath bringing a hint of country pop to the West Country.

Aquilo pulled in a big crowd in spite of clashing with the England match, and if anything their performance was further fuelled by it. Sunset Sons were just pure fun as they played track from their new EP alongside old favourites. The main highlight of the day however, and perhaps the whole festival, was Tom Walker. With his fantastic gritty vocals, a killer drummer at his disposal, and the best guitar solos of the weekend, he stood out as a potential future headliner. Nina Nesbitt played a packed out barn before Tom Grennan took to the main stage. Of all the headliners over the years, he’s the one that’s surprised me most, putting on a superb show with an interesting blend of slick rhythm and blues and raw, streetwise charm.

While I was expecting Sunday to have a slow start, it began with Marsicans playing the biggest morning crowd I’ve seen yet. Anteros had the outdoor stage hanging on every note thanks to their killer bass lines and charismatic frontwoman, and geordie lad Sam Fender proved to be a real indie chameleon, shifting his style from airy soundscapes, to driving riffs, to somber singer/songwriter territory. The lush sounds that Matt Maltese brough to the wooden barn made it feel more like a luxury lounge in Las Vegas. Freya Ridings was one of the acts that I was most looking forward to seeing, and she definitely didn’t disappoint as the crowd hung on her every word.

Eliza and the Bear yet again proved to be one of the high points of the festival. As well as re-enacting their annual super soaker fight with the audience, they played a fun medley of covers including ACDC and Nirvana, and just generally created a fun party atmosphere unlike anyone else. Thanks to a myriad of technical problems, Mystery Jets only played a short set, but it was quality over quantity as they had the whole crowd dancing to ‘Bubblegum’ (one of our favourites!). Dermot Kennedy amassed the largest crowd I’ve ever seen on the outdoor stage. He made a big performance from small arrangements, had a voice that could draw in people from miles around, and reminded me a tad of Glen Hansard, particularly when closing with ‘Parting Glass’.

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With Tom Misch bringing another year on the farm to a close, I find myself thinking that in spite of all this year’s struggles and shortcomings (mostly due to the heat) it more than made up for it in other ways. I haven’t discovered as many new artists since my very first year, and even those that I’ve seen numerous times before just seemed to out-do themselves at every turn. The feeling of being a part of a loving farm family was more tangible than ever. And with Barn on the Farm’s 10 year anniversary just over the horizon, and the tantalising thought that there’s something extra special in store to mark the occasion, I find myself eagerly awaiting the next family reunion. Till next year!