It was another rockin’ day in Maidstone, as the Ramblin’ Man Fair continued for day two on 1 July, this time with the side stages offering prog and blues while the Planet Rock main stage played host to headliners Blackberry Smoke, Halestorm and The Cult.
As the crowds entered (albeit a little worse for wear), spirits were still high as upcoming blues-rock guitarist Connor Selby blessed the blues stage with his passionate playing. At age 20, he’s part of a new promising generation of artists keeping the blues alive.
With another glorious day at Mote Park, revellers wandered the grounds to explore the various tents set up around the three main stages. From the supersized Harleys, to a rock’n’roll tiki tent with an endless array of Jack Daniel’s, and even a holographic concert experience featuring GrooveMe’s 3D holographic imaging. Tucked away in an unsuspecting circus tent, visitors were treated to a “live concert” of The Boomtown Rats, Steve Harley, Arthur Brown and The Damned. The KEF Audio tent was also not to be missed, where fans got to experience an intimate Q&A with some of big headliners of the day.
Over on the main stage, Ramblin’ Man favourites Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown brought their blistering Tennessee rock to Kent and got the crowd worked up even in the mid-afternoon’s heat with ‘Lipstick Wonder Woman’ and some Muddy Waters, ‘Got My Mojo Working’.
Meanwhile, those in the VIP section enjoyed a special performance by Mike Gray and Phil Conalane from Blackwater Conspiracy, Northern Ireland’s answer to The Black Crowes. After playing the rising stage at last year’s Ramblin’ Man, the group went on to great success, releasing their debut album, Shootin’ The Breeze, shortly after.
For day two, things got decidedly more metal as the prog stage welcomed Finnish prog-metal acts Von Hertzen Brothers, whose extraordinary vocal harmonies and envious musicianship call to mind a younger Dream Theater. Speaking of Dream Theater, just a stone’s throw away, the prog-metal supergroup Sons Of Apollo were wailing on the main stage, featuring former Theater bandmates drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Billy Sheehan sporting a massive double-neck bass.
Even at the blues stage, the music was getting heavy, thanks to the possessed vocals of Jim Jones And The Righteous Mind. Just like the bluesmen before him, it sounds as if some devilish bargain was struck on cuts such as ‘Boil Your Blood’ and the melodic ‘Till It’s All Gone’, with Jones’ growl containing the darkness of Nick Cave and the grit of Tom Waits.
After joining the Jim Jones cult, it was time to hustle back to the main stage for Atlanta Southern-rock revivalists Blackberry Smoke, who drew an impressive crowd for their swaggering numbers ‘Waiting For The Thunder’ and ‘Flesh And Bone’ off their new album, Find A Light. The group delivered some good old Southern rock and played hits from their 2016 album, Like An Arrow, which featured the late Gregg Allman on vocals, before launching into a country-fried version of The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’.
Shortly after, Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke headed over to the blues stage to play with Southern jam band bastions Gov’t Mule, founded by Allman Brothers Band guitarist Warren Haynes. As one of the finest guitarists out there, it’s no wonder he draws special guests every time he plays. For their Ramblin’ Man set, Haynes also enlisted the help of Bernie Marsden of Whitesnake for Bobby Bland’s ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’, famously covered by the hard rock band.
One of the true highlights of the day was American hard rock act Halestorm, fronted by one of the finest voices in metal, Lizzy Hale. The frontwoman can shred with the best of them – and in six-inch heels, no less, leading the crowd on their anthemic hits ‘I Miss The Misery’ and ‘I Am The Fire’. While Hale’s range would shred the vocal chords of a lesser singer, it was clear she could pivot from metal scream to a soulful delivery, as she did on the a cappella intro to ‘I Get Off’. After selling out their tour in the UK, it’s clear that the rest of the world is ready to be stormed.
After Halestorm wrapped, most of the crowd stuck around to secure a good position for the main event, post-punk legends The Cult. As Ian Astbury, Billy Duffy and co’s only UK performance of the year, following their acclaimed March 2016 tour, the anticipation was palpable. Emanating the same aura of mysticism that made him a star in the first place, Astbury led the iconic outfit on a tour through the band’s evolution, from ‘Spiritwalker’, off their 1984 debut, Dreamtime, to ‘Nirvana’, from their divisive yet massively successful Love album, and material from their latest record, 2016’s Hidden City. With his white Gretsch in hand, Billy Duffy transported everyone back to 1983 and closed out Ramblin’ Man with their biggest hit, ‘She Sells Sanctuary’, to the delight of all. It was an electric set and served as a reminder of what makes this festival stand apart from the rest, honouring both legacy acts but also showcasing new ones who are keeping the spirit of rock’n’roll alive.
That’s another Ramblin’ Man for the ages. See you all next year, and stay tuned for our exclusive interviews and performing sessions from all the biggest acts at Ramblin’ Man 2018.