Mote Park, Kent, 19-21st July
There's a sense of deja-vu to Ramblin Man this year, with many of the acts appearing for a second time.
Friday kicked off with torrential rain, reminiscent of a couple of years back. With only one stage open for business, there was an incredible diversity from the acts. Kris Barras made a welcome return. He's certainly been busy since RMF last year, touring with Supersonic Blue Machine, working on a new album and is soon to be hitting the road again with Bon Jovi. He makes his presence known on the main stage, and if anything he probably deserves a higher billing slot next time.
If you thought you heard thunder on Friday, it was probably The Wildhearts' punk infused set. Ginger and co are a band who have braved more than bad weather over their career, and are a inspirational reminder of the healing power of rock. Their set contains passion and angst in all the right doses. Tracks like I Wanna Go Where The People Go and The Jackson Whites still have as much enduring power as when they were first released.
Festival stalwarts FM, continued their run of 80s style rock that never alters across the decades. Their new material on Atomic Generation is every bit ladened with stadium riffs, power vocals and synths as it was in 1986; but that's part of their charm. Headliners The Darkness are another band who are proudly set in aspic. Justin Hawkins' comments that the band's new music doesn't sell like their old stuff is probably true of most band's who have been around for a chunk of time. Their newer material like Japanese Prisoner of Love and Southern Trains, may not have the glittery charm of their earlier tracks, but they slot in well to a broad setlist that pulls out the best bits from their discography. Regardless of whether you think the band peaked creatively in 2003, their on stage looning about and tongue in cheek lyrics, make them a good addition to the weekend.
All that rain brought over from Drownload, gave way to some sunshine for the rest of the weekend, but it didn't stop the thunder. Anybody who ventured into the Prog Stage on Saturday to get out of the heat were in for a bolstering from Swedish meatlers, Pain of Salvation. Daniel Gildenlöw and Johan Hallgren, were on hair whipping form for their 5 song set. Starting with the ten minute opus Full Throttle Tribe where Gildenlöw asks “will you follow me?” With prog metal this energetic and varied it's hard to resist. Riverside and Vola continue to take things into the Euro prog sphere with Vola concentrating on 70s groove and Riverside opting for technical mastery and the award for changing time signatures.
Ugly Kid Joe, best known for their hits Cat's In the Cradle and Everything About You, made the Saturday afternoon slot a memorable sing a long time machine. Songs like No One Survives show Whitfield Crane's stand out songwriting abilities far exceed the hits the band have become notorious for.
Were the legendary Cheap Trick Gonna Raise Hell as the song suggests? Given their age, probably not – but they gave it a fair crack. The bravado was there, along with the larking around, pick throwing and self indulgent rockery. But for fans the boxes were ticked by way of Dream Police, I Want You To Want Me and Surrender.
Those who wanted something a bit less OTT had probably headed over to the Outlaw Country Stage for some stylish blues rock from The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band. KWS returns to Kent with some fresh new material from his new album The Traveler. In spite of the
country blues overtones KWS treated us to some more gritty guitar work via Purple Haze and Voodoo Child. Vocalist Noah Hunt makes a strong steady front man, but all eyes are firmly on the band's namesake for the flashy bits. Yet even during his most overt moments, KWS remains understated, with the cool mystique of someone who doesn't have to prove anything. There's no guitar struts here, and minimal mic spinning from Hunt, it's all about the music: as a result the band are one of the most entertaining entry's on Saturday lineup.
Another band that didn't require any theatrics is the newly formed Allman Betts Band. The late, great Gregg Allman played the first ever
Ramblin' Man Fair, and of course, the festival takes its name from one of the many stand out Allman Brothers songs that helped pioneer Southern rock – even if the band themselves shunned the term due to its politically charged associations during the 60s and 70s, and also because they felt the term was too restrictive. However, it now feels fitting that the progeny of Gregg Allman and Dickie Betts should get together. There's nothing contrived about this, and their band formation was a purely organic process, rather than a manufactured one. There's enough of their own material to fill a set, but they make an exception to do a cover of Purple Rain. Devon Allman takes care of the rockier side of things, while Duane Betts plays more subdued yet tasteful bluesy runs. Black Stone Cherry Guitarist Ben Wells also joins them for I Got My Eyes On You to finish their set.
Headliners Black Stone Cherry prove that Southern Rock is now something to be proud of as they embrace blues, rock and a swinging outlaw sound. Thankfully starting their set with Rain Wizard didn't conjure any more. The crowd were filled with BSC faithful, and those who had yet to experience the Cherry Bomb. Sadly the covers of Willie Dixon and Marshall Tucker classics from the US leg of the Family Tree Tour, were absent and would have been ace for the blues fans in the audience. Tonight the set was crammed with Cherry tracks from across their 18 year career, including Me and Mary Jane, Soulcreek, Devil's Queen and White Trash Millionaire. It was a fierier show than last time they appeared with more passion, musicianship and every bit as entertaining. If you didn't come to Ramblin' Man a fan of Black Stone Cherry, by the time you left, their distinctive southern style would have certainly won you over.
Sunday offered a bit of a divergence from the norm with a few genre mash ups. Living Colour mixed things up with metal funk on the main stage while Everlast, best known for his 90s hip hop group House of Pain, put on an awesome fully fledged blues set.
Ramblin' Man is also a terrific place to see the big bands of tomorrow: Willie and the Bandits, Collateral, and Otis were worthy of a mention. Over on the Rising Stage Ryder's Creed made their huge presence felt and The Fallen State put on an impassioned performance. Having their guitar player Dan Oke absent due to battling illness certainly left a palpable hole in the band. Thankfully Sophie Lloyd jumped in to save the day. The fans' love and support for Oke was evident and we wish him a speedy recovery and hope to see him rocking again soon!
Crobot's quirky set in the Grooverider stage was a thing to behold. Like The Darkness, Crobot is a band that don't take things too seriously – but thankfully the music still holds up. One of the most bizzare moments here were using Toto's Africa as an intro to Drown and a cover of Ghostbusters. Frontman Brandon Yeagley is not only mesmerizing because of his metallic waistcoat, he's also the most animated of all performers this weekend – yes even topping Joel O' Keefe for tomfoolery and cartoonish expressions.
Airbourne's raucous rock n roll set – like AC/DC on speed - saw Joel O'Keffe with his usual grimacing and jumping around the stage in front of a tower of Marshall amps that were certainly not just for show.
At one point O'Keffe jumped into the crowd and mosh pit appeared – much to the disapproval of the average Rambler (it's not that kind of festival). It terms of fun it was the most crowd pleasing all weekend. With their entry defined by The Terminator theme tune, their set was without fear, pity or remorse and they absolutely will not stop, ever, until you rock. Oh and they'll definitely be back... to Ramblin' Man.
For those who wanted a quieter, more sophisticated, early evening gig Beth Hart offered a set of music that far surpassed anything else on offer for the whole weekend. Simply put she was phenomenal, and
I don't use the term lightly. Her energy, vocal power and musicianship, puts her into a league that no other artist can touch. Comparisons that are forced upon her are simply futile. Sure she is a bit sassy and has a smokey voice, but there is only one Beth Hart and she is leagues above anybody else. The crowd watched on in quiet awe during her set. Sure there were a few phones out to attempt to capture her genius onto film, but seeing her live, sans technology, is the only way to appreciate her talent – and the audience largely did just that. As she took to the piano to perform some moving solo tracks including Mama, This One's For You before launching into and Sister Heroine, there were grown men and women wiping tears from their eyes. There are few artists that have that ability, and even less that have the ability to use their voice and emotions to evoke the same level of intensity in others. Pure class, and without doubt the best act of the weekend.
Foreigner's headlining slot was filled with wall to wall Jukebox (Hero) hits, and epitomized everything that has come synonymous with stadium rock: showmanship, extolling band introductions and unnecessary drum solos. You couldn't go far wrong with these Anglo-
American rockstars. Singer Kelly Hansen sounded in fine voice, and Mick Jones, the mastermind behind it all, may lack the wide legged stance of your typical lead guitarist, but he makes up for it with aplomb. At only 11 songs long – including encore - it's shorter than some, not all, of their other recent shows: if this were a Foreigner concert you'd feel a little short changed; but it's not, and considering the variety and talent across the day, and weekend, the festival certainly gives you enough bands for your buck!
As usual it's one of the most well behaved and dare I say, sedate festivals around – which is why it's so popular with classic rock/blues fans and an ideal place to bring kid rockers too. There were even remarks on social media that Ramblin' Man was aiming to be the first fully seated festival by next year – that should give you the idea about the lazy vibe. It's even the well mannered kind of place that you can generally squeeze a little closer to the front of the stage without swearing from other punters or being elbowed in the ribs or doused in booze. In fact the suburban fest is typically so goody two shoes that they even clean up after themselves and the campsite and grounds were spotless! Who says rock fans have to be hellraisers?