Vibes, scribes and festival good times

The sun was setting over Dun Laoghaire harbour as jazz sorcerer Kamasi Washington embarked on his umpteenth dazzling solo of the evening.

Vibes, scribes and festival good times

Kamasi Washington, Beatyard, Dun Laoghaire

The sun was setting over Dun Laoghaire harbour as jazz sorcerer Kamasi Washington embarked on his umpteenth dazzling solo of the evening, writes Ed Power.

The saxophone player led his band through a series of sci-fi jazzscapes. It was hypnotic and phantasmagorical — pop music from deep space refracted by an artist with the conjurer’s knack.

Washington was one of the biggest names at Beatyard, the three-dayer that has evolved into one of the circuit’s most smartly curated festivals.

His prominence on the bill is at least partly due to his association with rapper Kendrick Lamar.

The jazz doyen’s wizardry elevated Lamar’s 2015 album, To Pimp A Butterfly, drawing a line between Lamar’s political hip hop and the Afro-futurist movement that for decades served as a safe space in which African-American musicians could explore and play with concepts of identity and freedom.

On day two of Beatyard, Washington was flanked by an ensemble that included his father, Rickey, and by vocalist Patrice Quinn, who arrived on the Los Angeles jazz circuit after a spell on Broadway.

Her thespian instincts chimed with the band leader’s off-the-cuff showmanship, as they proceeded through highlights from 2015’s double-disc sprawl, The Epic, and this year’s Heaven and Earth.

Beatyard is pitched at foodies and families as much as at hardcore festival-goers. An Eatyard area offered vegan burgers and Korean bao buns while a kids zone featured crazy golf and CoderDojo classes.

The same omnivorous instincts informed the bill. Opening night was headlined by The Jacksons, playing Ireland for the first time (and on the 30th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Páirc Uí Chaoimh show).

Saturday saw a rare Irish turn by Little Dragon, whose frontwoman Yukimi Nagano brought theatricality with red gloves stretching to her elbows, a green veil and an extravagantly bonkers dancing style.

Watching was a laid-back crowd many of whom had wandered over from the Hidden Agenda dance tent, where David Kitt was DJ-ing under his New Jackson alias.

Back on the main stage, Washington eventually made way for Scottish-Irish indie quarter Django Django who pinged their way through an energetic set (they would later take to Twitter to apologise that technical issues had forced the cutting short of the performance).

But for many the lingering memory will be of Washington and his band, owning the twilight and setting the night ablaze.

All Together Now, Curraghmore House, Co Waterford

Back in 2004, John Reynolds begat a new era for Irish festivals when he attracted about 10,000 people to the very first Electric Picnic, writes Des O’Driscoll.

Fast-forward 14 years — via his departure from the Stradbally event in 2014 — and the entertainment entrepreneur has just completed the first instalment of his latest venture.

All Together Now has taken some of that vision from the early Picnics and transported it 100km south to the Curraghmore estate in Co Waterford.

Curraghmore House, Co Waterford, provided the setting for All Together Now.
Curraghmore House, Co Waterford, provided the setting for All Together Now.

Punters’ expectations have gone up quite a few knotches in the intervening years, and these were mostly satisfied with an impressive production in a gorgeous setting.

The overall ‘experience’ of a festival has probably overtaken the music in terms of importance, and ATN obliged with the add-ons of fancy foodie fare, big comedy names and literary pursuits with the likes of Will Self and Reggie Watts.

Organisers even managed to bathe the site in sunshine for most of the weekend.

Like many festivals, one of the major challenges for ATN was the main stage. There are a lot of summer events, and only so many acts that can rock a sizeable outdoor arena. Such setups are ideal for big-sounding guitar bands but, for better or worse, the changing music landscape has ensured there are fewer of them of them on the circuit.

On Saturday, Roisin Murphy got the evening started with a lively set mostly drawn from her dancey solo material.

Amidst several costume changes, the Wicklow-born vocalist finished her set with Matthew Herbert’s sublime, slinky mix of her former band Moloko’s hit ‘Sing It Back’.

She was followed by Mura Masa, the creation of producer Alex Crossan, who gave a glimpse into the rude health of the genre-melding British urban scene at the moment. At the other end of the electronic age-range are Underworld, with the veterans’ storming set ticking many boxes for a late-night festival crowd.

Another popular set came from Cork house DJs, Fish Go Deep, who were immersed in some rare theatricality when they took over the Arcadia Spectacular, a 360-degree stage installation that blasted jets of fire into the night sky.

First Aid Kit and Fleet Foxes gave the main arena a gentler atmosphere on Sunday night, while reggae legend Jimmy Cliff had provided one of the other highlights.

It’s a tough task to find a niche in the crowded festival roster in Ireland, but with plans already in the pipeline for next year’s All Together Now, this new kid on the block looks like being a serious contender.

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