Very little has been hit quite as hard during lockdown, then live music. With festivals cancelled and venues closed, sometimes for good. The present and immediate future of gigs and culture is quite a bleak one. This said, organisations and people are nethertheless getting together to find innovative ways to recreate the magic of live music, in accordance with government regulations.
In Belfast, this came in the form of the Lough Down Festival, organised by cultural events organisation May We. Think of a drive-in cinema, but move the screen to one side, and put a stage in its place. Genius! We had the pleasure of heading down on the Saturday to see how it compared to the real deal.
Straight off the bat, I have to say that I was very happy to be in my warm, heated car. Don’t let the photos fool you, it was baltic. That said, the situation was beautiful. Located on the edge of Belfast docklands, right next to the sea, and in front of the Belfast Hills. As we arrived, we were welcomed with a bag of popcorn, a menu, and a flag, to wave someone down for a drink. We were then shown to a parking space, tuned into the right radio frequency for the stage’s sound, sat back, and enjoyed the show.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the crowds, dancing, and madness you typically expect from a gig. But it was clear the audience and acts were still giddy with excitement to be back. Clapping was replaced with honking your car horn and flashing your headlights, mexican waves turned into waves of car honks, and the car-related puns and banter was aplenty.
But on a more serious note, this event was a sign to all the music lovers there, that the Belfast music scene wasn’t going anywhere. The last six months have been scary for musicians and venue workers, and this has certainly also been felt by the event’s organisers May We.
For co-founder Sarah-Jane, this was about more than just a bit of fun. It was ‘a way for people to still have culture in their lives’ in these difficult times. As she rightfully pointed out, ‘if we don’t do things like this now, they’ll be nothing to go to in a year’s time’.
That said, as has been highlighted so many times this year, in difficult times, people really do band together to help out. This was certainly the case for the Lough Down festival, where ‘suppliers and artists (were taking) reduced fees, and volunteering their time’. The organisation of the festival had ‘a real community feeling’, which we certainly felt when at the festival itself.
After we used our flag to wave down some drinks, the music started. The afternoon saw two Belfast artists each with brand new albums take to the stage. First up we had Ciaran Lavery, singer songwriter who has played around with and beautifully embraced, a more alternative style to his new album. Bringing in a more electronic-y sound to his sweeping guitar chords, and a more melancholy feel. He also wore a onesie on stage, just to complete the lockdown gig look.
After, we had a set from Joshua Burnside and his band, who this year were shortlisted down to the final nine acts of the massively competitive Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition. Quite the feat! This afternoon, he brought us a mixture of new material from his new album ‘Into The Depths of Hell’, as well as some older, loved tunes. Cue, lots of tooting and hooting of car horns.
Then we took a break of a couple of hours, before returning for the day’s headliners – And So I Watch You From Afar. The northern coast prog-rock legends did not disappoint on the energy front. People were honking in time to the music, cheering out of their car windows, and doing what dancing and headbanging a car can allow. As Sarah-Jane rightfully said, you ‘still (got) that feeling of being around other people, that community feel’.
All in all, despite my initial reservations about the lack of dancing potential, the Lough Down festival was a resounding success. The thrill of live music was still very much present, and the sound quality from the radio signal was very impressive, and really made the whole event. The event staff were so upbeat and helpful, and the whole thing ran so smoothly. Would I go to one again? 100% yes!