This yearly event has been running since 2013 when London’s Royal Albert Hall was the original venue and artists Van Morrison and Robert Plant were two of the key headline acts. Over recent years the Festival has been extended to include Glasgow and Dublin as cities for the event and this year sees the symmetry of both Van Morrison and Robert Plant headlining on the Sunday night at the 3Arena in Dublin.
The weekend of great music kicked off on Friday night with performances from Ireland’s Ultan Conlon, followed by guitar legend Steve Miller and band; before the headline act of John Fogarty closed the evening on a real high.
Ultan Conlon played a short set which focused mainly on his recent release, Last Days of the Night Owl. Opening with The Town Square, followed by Fond Memories and Twice A Child, Ultan played with a quiet confidence and his assured vocals won over many new admirers in the growing audience as the night began to take shape. Accompanied by Michael O’Connor on guitar and Dave Curtis on bass, the three musicians played together with an easy style and tempo and the appearance of Mary Coughlan for two songs was an added treat and she brought her own individual stamp to proceedings with her vocal colour on A Weak Heart Like Mine and The Measure.
A quick changeover by the very professional road crews that populated the stage throughout and we were ready for the great Steve Miller, all of 75 years old now, but still rocking out like there is no tomorrow. It was a real pleasure to watch such a consummate guitar virtuoso perform and to witness his impressive style across a range of different guitars over a 90-minute set that included many of his well known hits such as Abracadabra, Space Cowboy, Take The Money & Run, Rockin’ Me and the always impressive Fly Like An Eagle, with its space intro where the wonderful band are allowed to stretch out around the lengthy intro to such a showstopper.
The encore included The Joker and Jet Airliner both of which had the crowd singing along with gay abandon. He spoke freely about his career and his easy storytelling style which was well received, especially when he gave a brief history concerning the guitars he owns, highlighting a Coral Electric Sitar Guitar (Vincent Bell design), that he purchased for $150 in the 1960’s only to be offered $250,000 for it recently…
Such an enjoyable set with something for everyone and a timely reminder of the huge influence this artist has made on so many of the bands that followed his lead in the 1970’s and 1980’s – not that he is stopping anytime soon; Steve Miller is still a fine talent who continues to burn brightly. His voice is as strong as ever and surrounding himself with musicians of this quality can only be good for everyone who is fortunate enough to catch him live.
John Fogarty follows with an equally impressive band, which includes his son, and he turns in an incredible performance of great stamina as he runs around the stage during a lengthy set that included pretty much every hit in the Creedence Clearwater Revival songbook, plus a few very tasty covers thrown in for good measure. Travelin' Band, Green River, Hey Tonight, Up Around the Bend, Who'll Stop The Rain, Lookin' Out My Back Door, Long As I Can See the Light, Born on the Bayou, Down On The Corner, Fortunate Son are all played to an increasingly fervent crowd who sing and dance to every note.
It is amazing just how many hits his band had over their career and the legacy lives on with such affection for this artist of 72 years who still sings and moves with such dexterity and ease. The encore included Bad Moon Rising and Proud Mary plus there had also been cover versions of My Toot Toot (Rockin' Sidney), Jambalaya On the Bayou (Hank Williams cover), New Orleans (Gary “U.S.” Bonds cover) and I Heard It Through the Grapevine (Gladys Knight & The Pips cover). He was also joined by his son, Tyler, celebrating his 26th birthday on (Friday 26th)or an energetic and rousing rendition of Good Golly Miss Molly (Little Richard cover) and Psycho (The Sonics cover).
In the band was another son, Shane, who plays superbly on guitar throughout including a terrific trade off with his Dad which proved beyond any doubt that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
The night started with a set from The White Buffalo, aka Jake Smith and his supporting players, Matt Lynott on Drums and Christopher Hoffee on Bass.
He wasted little time in making an impression with songs like Love Song #1, Go the Distance, Come Join the Murder, Home Is in Your Arms, Joe and Jolene, I Got You, Oh Darlin' What Have I Done, This Year, Into the Sun, The Whistler and The Pilot, all performed with an energy and verve from the trio who really make the most of the 40 minutes that they have been given.
Driven by Lynott (The Machine) on drums and with plenty of punch from Hoffee on bass; the White Buffalo gives full vent to his smoky vocal delivery and rhythmic guitar playing. Eight releases under his belt and well worth your attention. Come back soon.
Next up is a sublime set from the glowing presence that is Alison Krauss. As a keeper of the traditional flame she stands in a special place and her devoted stance to preserving the old traditions of the bluegrass, folk and country heritage is laudable in its passion and scope. Over 90 minutes we are given some 20 plus songs that just pulse with joyful delivery and subtle musicianship of the highest order. The band are a complete joy to observe as they play with understated grace and serve the songs so well. James Mitchell (guitar), Ron Block (guitar, banjo), Barry Bales (bass), Matt Rollings (piano), Jay Bellerose (drums) just knock it out of the park. The beautiful violin playing and vocals of Alison are the cherry on top of this cake that tastes ever so sweet. You can hear a pin drop which is testament to the performance, as the previously noisy crowd realise just how special this performance is.
Sidney and Suzanne Cox also join Alison on harmony vocals and add so much colour to renditions of so many favourite songs. Her set was River in the Rain (Roger Miller cover), I Never Cared for You (Willie Nelson cover), Stay, Forget About It, Baby, Now That I've Found You (The Foundations cover), Ghost in This House (Shenandoah cover), Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson (Little Milton cover),The Lucky One, Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us (Sam Phillips cover), It's Goodbye and So Long to You (The Osborne Brothers & Mac Wiseman cover), Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground (Willie Nelson cover), Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby (traditional), I Am Weary (Let Me Rest), Down to the River to Pray (traditional cover), Gentle on My Mind (John Hartford cover), When God Dips His Love in my Heart, Walk Over God's Heaven, When I've Done the Best I Can, I Want My Crown, It Is Well With My Soul. Pure bliss from start to finish and a real highlight of the weekend.
Counting Crows are celebrating 25 years as a band and they arrive back into Dublin after a few years since last performing here. The majority of the crowd have been eagerly anticipating this headline act and the energy prior to the performance is clearly evident in the talk and t-shirt displays around the arena. They take the stage with a less than dramatic entrance and their down tempo performance mirrors this laid-back attitude to proceedings. There are of course highlights when everything comes together but a lot of the performance seems unfocused as the ramblings of the past from Adan Duritz labour somewhat across the set. His tendency over the years to portray an angst-ridden, misunderstood thespian wears just a little thin as he faces his middle years and hangs on the nostalgia of a past that can never be relived in reality. There is no questioning his vocal delivery when he is on it, but his too-casual approach to much of the set does nobody any favours. Disappointing, despite the fine band who excel in moments throughout and bring the evening to a close with understated farewells as they leave the stage…
The set list covered 16 songs and included were:
Mrs. Potter's Lullaby, Angels of the Silences, Omaha, Scarecrow, Miami, Colorblind, God of Ocean Tides, Washington Square, Round Here, Recovering the Satellites, Mr. Jones, A Long December, Hanginaround, Rain King, Holiday in Spain.
Friday and Saturday night reviewed by Paul McGee.
Due to unforeseen circumstances Paul was unable to cover Sunday. So thanks to Ronnie Norton and Joanne Cody for supplying these notes on the evening.
Through the years I have always found Van Morrison off stage to be distant, reserved, and all in all not the most sociable dude in the world. But close your eyes when he’s on stage or listen to his records and a totally different artist appears. His Dublin appearance copper fastened that opinion for me. He pumped out hit after hit and the fans were enthralled. From the first notes of Days Like This I knew we were on to a winner and once again Van the Musician kept me locked into his dedicated herd of die hard listening fans.
I never was a Led Zeppelin fan. It clashed with my Dublin Folk Boom era. But then we got Rising Sand with Alison Krauss! However the guy that played the 3 Arena was a totally different performer altogether. This guy hit the ground running and didn’t stop. A very minimal stage set with very effective and syncopated light which matched the moods from start to finish. The band were amazing and as tight as a well tuned Bodhran. Let’s just say I was really impressed and might even grab an album or two of his to fine tune my Robert Plant appreciation.
It being the first time to experience Van Morrison live, I can't compare this with other gigs he has played but I do think we may have witnessed one of his best. He certainly seemed very relaxed and the performance just flowed. There was just one moment where we thought we going to see it all go wrong when he halted a song due to feedback but seconds later all was good again. Again seeing him for the first time, it did feel odd that he doesn’t engage at all with his audience but I think he just lets the music say it all.
Among his set list he played hits like Brown Eyed Girl, Moon Dance, Real Real Gone, and Days Like This. Really feel we very privileged to see this performance and also although he may not have mentioned his band as other artists do but I really have to try and catch him agin
Robert Plant turned it up a gear as soon as he hit the stage. At 70 years of age he still oozes cool! He mentioned early on in the set that this was their last gig in a tour of 70 performances and he really wasn’t sure were they would go next. One thing that was for sure is that it really showed that he and the Sensational Space Shifters decided to make this gig special.
Robert stated how he has been influenced from his early teenage years by artists such as Buck White, Sonny Boy Williamson and LeadBelly. The music with the Sensational Space Shifters is very much a mix of combining Zep numbers with Robert’s love of the artists above and also the music of North Africa. His set included Black Dog, Carry Fire, Babe I’m Going to Leave You, Little Maggie, Fixin’ to Die, When the Levee Breaks, New World and Whole Lotta Love.
The Shifters showed us how it should be done with roaring quitar solos, drum solos, electric fiddle. It was a night where we were witness to musical masters at work and showing that they still have it. I was in awe.
Photography by Ronnie Norton