In an economic environment where many boutique music festivals come and go, Kelburn Garden Party feels comfortably alive and growing.
Kelburn Garden Party | Rating: **** | Largs Kelburn House
It’s an organic entity, a feeling which isn’t only added to by the wonderfully unique sense of community and family-friendliness generated from early in the morning until late on into the night, but also by the site itself; the forested hillside grounds of Kelburn Castle, set just south of Largs on the Ayrshire coast, which makes it one of those rare festivals where the location is arguably the main attraction.
Created and operated with the full support and involvement of David Boyle, Lord Glasgow, Kelburn Garden Party is a uniquely novel approach to the question of how to make a stately home succeed in the 21st century. For four days (Saturday, Sunday, a recently added shorter programme on Friday, and a sort of chill out wind-down on Monday) the festival fuses the well-organised professionalism demanded by the modern festival-goer with a sense of the relaxed and anything goes attitude which informed free festivals in the 1970s or free rave parties back at the turn of the 1990s.
The music is well-chosen and balanced, largely from a pool of some of the best young artists in Scotland, with a glut of recognisable names late on Saturday night. On the DJ-heavy Viewpoint Stage – a wooded clearing on the rim of the valley down to the Kel Burn from which the estate gets its name, over which tightrope walkers teetered on Saturday afternoon – this included masterclasses from house producer Medlar, fast-rising Glasgow producer Denis Sulta and Jemes Lavelle, creator of the Unkle brand a decade and a half ago, with a special AV set. The same stage also saw lively ska and carnivalesque world music sets from Sea Bass Kid and Mango Rescue Team.
Elsewhere on the Saturday, the Pyramid Stage bore a burning woodland campfire; a fusion of fluent, emotional singer-songwriting and conscious rap from Dundee’s Be Charlotte; a rich blend of spoken word and music from Bella and the Bear; sharply-arranged electro-pop from Tongues (their chillwave take of Phil Collins’s In the Air Tonight was a highlight); and a richly improvised set of organic strings and ambient synths from Edinburgh’s Lipsync For a Lullaby, Tokamak and Asthmatic Astronaut, all working in tandem. Set amid the estate’s outbuildings, The Square Stage bore a town square feel, and sets of winsome country rock from Kirsten Adamson and powerful, celebratory protest rap from Stanley Odd.
Beyond the music there was so much more, from all-day kids’ activities, storytelling sessions and circus skill demonstrations, to the Secret Forest trail and the Neverending Glen, both installation-strewn adventures into the heart of the estate.
Gleefully self-described as “free from corporate interference”, Kelburn Garden Party remains – even amidst the sporadic drizzle this weekend saw – a festival founded on a feeling of community and like-minded escapism. This summer, especially, it’s what everyone who went really needed.