All Photos used with kind permission of Nick Padmore Photography
I’m chatting with a guy from Hertfordshire as he keenly looks around. He’s considering moving to Devizes, but this Saturday thoroughly convinced him to do exactly that. Enthralled by our neighbourly ambiance, the friendliness of everyone present, I advise him it’s like this much of the time, although what he sees around him is quite unique for Devizes; sadly, we don’t get a Saddleback Music Festival every weekend!
Possibly a relief for the organisers, who put amazing effort and months of hard work to bring us this show. After an astounding appetiser of Sweet Home Alabama, waving long mousy-blonde hair on stage, dynamic frontman of Norfolk’s Bad Touch, Stevie Westwood praises the festival, stating he cannot believe it’s only the second year. This sentiment is echoed throughout the day by all I converse with, as the Saddleback Festival was hailed a success for its professional but welcoming attitude and, well, stonker of show!
Despite Friday’s downpour, the sun kissed the Devizes Sports Club, occasionally taking a welcomed break behind a cloud. It made the perfect location, a large open space and its locality within town. The opportunity to camp was taken up by a few, and everyone converged beyond the rugby pitch to relish a fairly diverse range of rock, funk, and blues. While Saddleback remained faithful to last year’s blues label, perhaps the opening of other genres allowed it wider appeal; the field was teeming.
Never a doubt local legend Jon Amor would rock the show, after a year away from Devizes. However, a highlight of this diversity for me being Innes Sibun, who’s blues band were indescribably funky, and but a dash of Latin influence could’ve rivalled Santana. Likewise, when the crowd grimaced somewhat at the cliché of John Verity wailing out an electric-guitar version of The Star-Spangled Banner, thanking Christ Trump hadn’t been passing through, he clinched the moment by sliding neatly into the perfect rendition of Purple Haze.
Whilst stalls for the supported charities, Julia’s House and the Wiltshire Air Ambulance positioned at the entrance, beyond two abutting main stages, in which one band tuned while the other performed, lay a passage of stalls, bar, ice cream van, and activities for children, as any good festival should. As this was advertised as a family event, and kids went free, perhaps there could’ve been a tad more to prevent little-ones from bordering boredom, but really, not many turned up with children, therefore additions were adequate.
Herein lies an issue, to stage such an amazing event costs, we know this, still there was tension over a £25 ticket-stub. In this day and age where every penny counts I cannot help but agree, it didn’t come cheap; show me festival which doesn’t, I challenge you. Ever a risk, but in my opinion the organisers must consider price, should they wish to pull a crowd of our younger generation.
Pardon the pun; it’s between a rock and a hard place, deciphering how to achieve maximum effect at low cost, in an era with an abundance of small festivals. With space plentiful at the Sports Club, a popular “well-known” headline act is a valid option to attract, though would sadly not help reduce the ticket price, unless Saddleback gamble it’d generate ticket sales, or even, if they wish it to.
I get the sense they’re content with the setup, organisers have suggested prior they wouldn’t wish to expand the festival to huge degrees. I offered my tuppence on its future; after dropping the “blues” label, perhaps drop the “music” too. For all are aware festivals are predominantly music, and word-of-mouth alone will confirm Saddleback’s dedication to quality musical acts, so how about adding other popular elements of larger festivals; a comedy tent?
I reached out to a couple of organisers I stopped for a brief chat with, perhaps, dare I say it, a dance tent, or reggae stage. They hum at the idea, but it seems suggestions to introduce circus and street theatre acts was the final straw! I digress, for variety of elements make the difference from a “festival,” to a “concert,” whereby people freely wander, involve themselves with a happening, or else move onto the next.
For Saddleback, at this early stage, perhaps catered for an older crowd, content to pitch a sunblock and deck chairs, and remain situated while the music came to them. Which is dandy, and for this Saddleback gave the most excellent experience one could wish for. Part of me longed for these crowds to saunter past the beer tent, and rather than just headlong for the loos, observe Saddleback had a smaller acoustic stage where the upcoming local talents ruled the day.
Shamefully I felt more could’ve been done to enhance this, the “stage,” little more than a gazebo and the PA insubstantial, there was an air that this was merely a bolt-on. The location of this segment was justified by organiser Mirko, who explained the tuning of the main stages would’ve drowned the sound from this acoustic area should it have been situated closer. I nodded; fair point. I consoled with the notion it was near the bar, and many did attend when thirsty, particularly when Phil Cooper unexpectedly arrived to accompany Jamie Hawkins on a cajón, which produced an excellent and most welcomed set. Again, gathered around the acoustic area Mike Barham I thought really gave it his all too, with his usual thoroughly entertaining and amusing elegance.
Coupled with two reasonable food stalls, it was great to see local ale brewer, Glen Upward’s Devitera stand, of which I attempted to drink dry. By mid-afternoon this whole area transformed into a haven for the lesser wishers of sitting idle at the main stage, and it bustled with Devizes-fashioned merry laughter and revelry.
Maybe to squeeze everything in the timeframe, which again justifies the price-tag, I’m darned if those Saddlebackers were overly keen to kick it off early. A mere few hours late I missed a few acts I’d considered worthy of headliners. I’d been eager to catch Mollie, the daughter of Small Faces and Humble Pie’s Steve Marriott, and was surprised they’d put her on so early.
I was also stumped why the brilliant George Wilding opened the event before I could even taste the toothpaste, and I’d like to have caught Strange Tales’ Sally Dobson too; but I cannot blame Saddleback for my own indolence!
For despite aforementioned inconsequential and debatable glitches, I loved it all, I loved the non-existence of a DJ, a format with a constant flow of live music. I loved the sociability, I loved the way the performer’s hair got longer with every act introduced!
Saddleback gave it their all, was superb in every detail and this can only raise all eyebrows as to how they will attempt to top it next year. For this alone, they should be celebrated and thanked, as it undoubtedly will go down in Devizes history as our town’s proudest of musical moments.