Once More Doune The Rabbit Hole - Review 2019

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As summer rolls by once again with the effects of climate change affecting our Scottish weather in ways that grow ever less predictable, we can at least place confidence that our festival season will provide a selection box of musical and cultural experiences. We at Frogbeats feel that as in many things, Scotland punches way above its weight in terms of the festival scene it offers, and nothing is more archetypical of that idea than Doune the Rabbit Hole. Various members of our squad have attended the festival over the years, but as this year brings the 10th anniversary of the festival, we were all the keener to attend to consider where the festival has come from, how it is today, and where it might go in future.

To that end we had planned a real behind the scenes look at Doune, with interviews planned with the various key movers and shakers that work so hard to make this such a unique event. However, best laid plans being what they were, we didn’t actually get around to this. This is solely the fault of the writer as the Doune organisers were more than willing to meet with our writing team to facilitate the article. As it happened, when we arrived we had such a rollicking good time that professional journalistic duties took somewhat of a back seat. In the eternal words of Hunter S Thompson; “buy the ticket, enjoy the ride”. And so did it come to pass!

Our staggered arrival to Doune happened over the course of the initial Friday under torrential downpour that might have necessitated Noah’s Ark as our chosen transport as opposed to our friend’s Corsa. Initial impressions of the arena really impressed upon us how the festival has developed in the years – my own last attendance at Doune was four years ago, and the way in which the festival has scaled up without losing any of its charm or intimacy is a testament to the care and consideration placed by the festival’s curators. You enter via the campsite, as good-natured security staff politely remind you to either finish or deposit in the recycling buckets your campsite cans, into a wide expanse with smaller tents, craft shops and food stalls dotted around the perimeter. Two big stages represent the musical lynchpins of the event, one covered and one open. A dog-leg at the far end of the arena tails off in to a small collection of the – shall we say – more specialised stages, representing the folk area, jam tent, and a stage who’s name We can’t quite recall but  will refer to in Bill Bailey fashion as the “apocalyptic rave zone”. We quite liked the apocalyptic rave zone. By the late / wee hours of Friday night / Saturday morning the space was jam packed with assorted sonic youth bouncing and flailing to an act that mixed live instrumentals with Prodigy-style beats. And so we bounced and flailed till 3am before retreating to our campsite. Day one down, so far so good.

And so on to Saturday. Helios had successfully raced his chariot across the sky rewarding all down on Earth with a beautiful warm day. It being of vital importance to carb load for the day’s festivities we availed ourselves of the breakfast and coffee options and grabbed some deckchairs to while away the late morning. Deciding the break of noon was a sensible time to move on from coffee and bacon rolls to pints, the atmosphere of the festival truly began to descend upon us.

Colourfully-clad Sweet Aerobics kids games!

Colourfully-clad Sweet Aerobics kids games!

Let us take a moment to reflect here. Is there anything finer than wondering from stage to bar to stage, a cold (plastic) glass of thistly cross in hand, the smell of drying grass and the sound of fine music filling your senses? Truly we arrived, and we were happy to be there. It was at that point that We realised part of what makes Doune such as wholesome and fun experience, during the day at least, is how family centric the event is. Having attended all sorts of festivals over the years, while maybe a reflection of one’s own developing priorities in life, We personally found it a far more heart-warming sight to have a festival site replete with hippy-families and laughing kids than wide eyed wasted teenagers. That’s not to say there wasn’t a healthy teenage contingent, but at no point does the atmosphere approach that edgy sketchiness, often found in other festivals, that does a disservice to the wider vibe. The organisers really do a stellar job to ensure there is plenty for the wee yins to get up to, with a kid’s area dedicated to party games, jugglers, workshops and various wholesome activities. This was typified by the Sweet Aerobics crew, in their multi-coloured lycra get up, organising water fights and tugs of war for kids of all sizes to get involved in. This writer gamely got involved in the tug of war but clearly more gym sessions are in need as victory was not forthcoming.

Day was turning in to evening, and recollections grow hazy. The highlight of Saturday night was by far the legendary Sister Sledge, an act we never thought we would get to witness. Absolute feel-good Motown classics filled the main arena, the space filled with smiles. Samson Sounds deserve an honourable mention too, for their DJ set, a change from their usual live set, did Live-to-DJ sets proud and got us warmed up for the evening, with guitarist “Willie One-Skank” stealing the show.

Niteworks, swinging by fae the Isle of Skye, also put on a sterling show of Celtic-electronica fusion, neatly bringing in a real Scottish element to the festivals diverse programming, bringing traditional music into a contemporary foray in a way reminiscent of the late, great Martyn Bennet, albeit with a much elevated energy.

Sunday is always a hazy one at Scottish music festivals. There’s a tendency for good food, and, for us, endless cold pints of Thistly Cross. With the weather gods looking favourably upon the “Sunday Funday”, we decided to melt our way through the day. The food was something to be commended, we enjoyed a vegetarian savoury Crepe which was enough to feed 2 people and quite reasonably priced at six of the Queen’s sterling for what you get, especially when as compared to what was being charged back in Edinburgh for The Fringe.

Music-wise, it was again a melting pot of international and genre-spanning acts. Sunday afternoon saw the syncopated percussion of a Ghanaian 5-piece entertain at The Ward, with one of the band members managing to get the whole crowd involved in an aerobics-come-traditional-dance session which was ideal to get the muscles moving despite the inevitable carry-on from the night before. A rare appearance from psychedelic rock legends Hawkwind were no doubt a priority for the many parents at the festival having been around in their hay-day - it was never-ending rock royalty from start to finish with kids looking upon their parents, awestruck at this vision of their own future as they head-banged all the way through their set. Kathryn Joseph’s performance was where the adventure ended for this writer, her emotionally-driven lyrics landing me gently into the post-festival climb-down.

For us, Doune often marks the closing of Summer festival season, and like a curer does for a hangover, they let us down gently. The welcoming, family vibes made a welcome change from the usual “let’s fuckin’ go!” approach typical of the usual UK festival crowd. The programming of acts that Doune put on wins 2019 in terms of diversity, quality and consideration. They seemed to have every audience-base covered. It was a real talking point amongst a lot of our cohort all Summer, and probably the festival where the least time was spent in the campsite. We were there for the music, man.

If we had to give one pointer to the festival, we would like to see more evidence of the offsetting of the carbon footprint. While we are confident that the organisers make a massive effort to be environmentally conscious, it would be nice to see that consciousness being shared with the attendees in a more overt way. This isn’t a nit-pick about Doune specifically but goes for all other music festivals as well. We would love to see festivals making more explicit efforts to tackle the climate crisis (we did see Extinction Rebellion present at the festival). Festivals are a great place for people to engage with issues, being an environment where most people feel a bit more in touch with the world and other people. Artists and bars should be getting on board with this, as should the marketing teams.

All-in-all we cannot recommend Doune the Rabbit Hole enough. Whether you are relatively new to the festival scene or a long-toothed veteran, we think you will agree with us in the opinion that Doune the Rabbit Hole provides, in a confidant and charming way, a totally unforgettable experience. Long may the Rabbit Hole continue.