The 4th Ramblin' Man Fair was nothing if not diverse with classic rock to prog and glam metal to blues on the menu over the weekend. The lineup may have caused a few low murmurings among hardened ramblers for such era spanning tastes and unusual headliners, but such a mixed bag is one of the joys of a festival environment and Ramblin' Man in particular. There are not many festivals outside of Worthy Farm where you could see the outlandish Steel Panther alongside the legendary Mott the Hoople. Traditionally the festival had four stages (main stage, rising stage, blues/outlaw country and prog) this year there are only three with the prog and Rising Stage sharing the space on alternate days. From the point of overlaps it works much better, giving the crowd time to see each artist without having so much leg work around the park. Also in previous years there have been problems with sound interference from multiple stages all playing at the same time, this has thankfully been eradicated too. The friendly, chilled, old-school rock vibe has remained a constant over the last four festivals attracting a regular following to embrace the roots and legacy of classic rock music.
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Florida natives Thomas Wynn and the Believers no doubt felt at home in the
sizzling weather opening up on the Outlaw Country Stage. The band are already pretty well known at home, and their brand of rock infused with gospel and blues has seen them gather more than a few fans, judging by the T-shirts being worn, since performing with the Temperance Movement earlier in the year. Alter Bridge
frontman Myles Kennedy (who Thomas Wynn is supporting on his US tour) steps onto the country stage to perform tracks from his solo album The Year of the Tiger. For most of the set it's just Myles and his emotive vocals, no loop peddles and plenty of percussive guitar playing. There's the odd treat too by way of Alter Bridge covers and a blinding rendition of Iron Maiden's The Trooper which has the crowd singing along so loudly it can be heard the other side of the park. Skinny Molly honours their Lynard Skynard linage with Freebird, and Steve Earle headlines the Outlaw Stage by celebrating the 30th anniversary of Copperhead Road.
Things continue to take an Americana vibe on the Main Stage with festival favourites The Cadillac Three returning for another superb show, even if they do mention whiskey at least three times in every song. Maybe it's the hot weather, but there's a lot of swearing over the weekend too with Therepy? Contributing to
the blue language. There is something pretty amazing at the whole of Mote Park putting their horns up and shouting ‘James Joyce is fucking my sister’ during Potato Junkie. Gun have been on the periphery of the rock scene for several years, but their latest album Guilty Pleasures has catapulted them straight back onto center stage. Their set is energetic and packed with plenty of memorable tracks and summertime style riffs that should ensure they continue to rise up the bill at festivals. Speaking of guilty pleasures, the hair metal camp of Steel Panther had some audience members shocked by their lascivious, non PC jokes and others throwing giant priapic inflatables in the air: definitely not for the kids.
Steel Panther's glam inspired antics did set the stage for Saturday's headliners, the legendary Mott the Hoople. The ageless Ian Hunter and the band perform tracks from across the years and have lost none of their appeal. As one of the 70s most iconic, influential and distinctive acts, their top billing needs no explaining. Flamboyant guitarist Ariel Bender is thoroughly entertaining to watch alongside Hunter's more reserved R and B man. A rousing rendition of All The Young Dudes ends day one on a high.
Everyone was hoping for a storm on Sunday to break this dry spell, well we did get one, but perhaps a little different than the rainy type by way of Halestorm. Lzzy
Hale and her band were as hot as the weather and Lzzy's, raunchy vocal raised the temperature even more! She rocked her inner Pat Benatar and Joan Jett showing that she can out rock any of those cock rockers on the stage. A fantastic show, filled with confidence with from a band that tour endlessly and left the crowd cheering for more.
Blackberry Smoke carried over the country vibe from Saturday with a typically robust set. Prog supergroup Sons of Apollo displayed their technical abilities and musicianship that were indeed worthy of the Gods. Equally gifted musicians, but perhaps a little more subtle in their execution of technique were the Von Hertzen Brothers on the Prog Stage. Starting their set with the epic title track from their new album War is Over the band were able to demonstrate their profoundly progressive leanings, but thoroughly melodic too. Kris Barras has had quite a year since performing at Ramblin Man in 2017. He's signed to Mascot, toured with Beth Hart, released a stunning new album and found himself as the frontman of a band that wowed the crowd last year – Supersonic Blues Machine. With a crateful of raw energy and armed with strong blues-rock licks, it's not hard to see why this rising star has been causing such a stir in the community.
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Big Boy Bloater is slotted into the bill as a last minute replacement for Chas N' Dave. This reliable bluesman is not only fun to watch, but he's also the only person who can make changing a string on his guitar entertaining. Gov't Mule returns to the festival with a more varied and energetic set than before that sees Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden join Warren Haynes onstage for a few numbers including Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City. Fish struggles with some technical issues headlining the Prog Stage and has to abandon a few tracks, but manages to perform most of his final album with Marillion, Clutching With Straws, and a few songs from his solo works: Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors and Suits.
All eyes were on The Cult to finish the festival, with several of the other artists including Halestorm all poised to watch as Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy launched into a crowd-pleasing set leading the way with Wild Flower and Rain. Echoes of the 80's nu-romantic rock make their way into their set, not so much regarding their dress, but in the understated theatricality of their performances and moody lighting. Astbury's vocals as percussive and absorbing as they have ever been. Their signature tune, She Sells Sanctuary, is a welcome encore rounding off the festival.
The crowd number may have been down compared to previous years, but in terms of atmosphere and quality of musicianship, Ramblin' Man Fair is still one of the best festivals around.