The weather gods smiled down upon the crowds at Mote Park in Maidstone, as thousands gathered to see some of the biggest names in rock, metal and country come together for this weekend’s Ramblin’ Man Fair.
Now in its fifth year, the eclectic two-day festival kicked off on 30 June, and played host to another impressive line-up that appealed to every type of rock fan. From the southern fried rock of Nashville’s The Cadillac Three to the hair metal pagans Steel Panther. The torrential downpour of last year’s fest was but a mere memory, as the sun blazed down upon the leather-sporting crowd.
Day one’s festivities started with the rising stage, where a number of buzzworthy bands played the big top tent and found an extremely receptive audience hungry for new acts. Even as crowds were still trickling into the grounds, the hard rock outfit from Bridgend, South Wales, Those Damn Crows played to a packed house and declared ‘Rock n Roll Ain’t Dead!’ setting the tone for an adrenaline-fuelled rock fest.
The country outlaw stage was littered with fans who camped out and never left, but with legends like Earle entrancing the crowd and newcomers such as Thomas Wynn & The Believers starting their own tent revival, you’d be inclined to hole up as well.
After touring with blues-rock favourites, The Temperance Movement, Thomas Wynn & The Believers were asked to join the Ramblin’ line-up and played like festival veterans. The soulful Southern-rock group may sound like old-school Memphis, but hails from Orlando, Florida thanks to the fiery vocals of Wynn and co-vocalist vocalist sister, Olivia Wynn. Both siblings could move a mountain with their stirring harmony on tracks like ‘Wade Waist Deep’ and ‘My Eyes Won’t Be Open’, aided by a blazing harmonica solo and pulsing rhythms.
Opening up the main stage were Glaswegian rockers Gun, who played everything from their old hits ‘Better Days’ and their unforgettable cover of Cameo’s ‘Word Up!’ to even paying tribute to The Beastie Boys. With a catalogue like theirs, they fired up the crowd with 90s hits like ‘Steal Your Fire’ and ‘Don’t Say It’s Over’ to their new single ‘Favourite Pleasures’. The Gizzi brothers, Dante and Giuliano “Jools”, were in rare form and their new guitarist Tommy Gentry destroyed his solos and fired up the crowd. “Are you in a singing mood Ramblin Man?!”, the bassist turned singer asked, as everyone sang along. They then closed the set with a rollicking version of the Beastie Boys’ rallying anthem, ‘Fight For Your Right’ as crowds far beyond the stage cheered in unison.
Meanwhile at the outlaw stage, death metal stalwart Adam Darski, (best known by his Behemoth alias Nergal) got to display his Americana tendencies with his recent musical project, Me and That Man. Along with British/Polish musician John Porter, the group played the blues-blasted foot-stomper ‘On The Road’ that could wake the dead.
While yelling ‘Free Bird’ at a concert is a time-honoured tradition, there are few bands that can pull off Lynyrd Skynyrd’s nine-minute long Southern rock opus, but it helps if you have a former member of Skynyrd on hand to help. The former Skynyrd and Blackfoot guitarist Mike Estes now fronts the Nashville outfit Skinny Molly and stunned the audience with his impressive fretwork on the iconic tune.
The feast of Southern rock continued, as another Nashville fixture The Cadillac Three played the main stage to one of the biggest crowds of the day. The country-rock trio blasted through their setlist and appeared to have a hell of a time doing so, playing cuts from their latest record Legacy, including ‘Tennessee’ and plenty of crowd favourites from their 2012 self-debut album including ‘I’m Southern’. The charismatic group have a booming fan base in the UK, and recently had played Download Festival before entertaining the thousands of ramblers who knew every word. With his flying-V guitar on hand, frontman Jaren Johnston proved why they put the “rock” in Southern rock.
After warming up the crowd, the true scene-stealers of Ramblin’ Man, Steel Panther took the stage. The raunchy glam metal group from Los Angeles more than delivered on embodying the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll lifestyle. Through a haze of fog and hair spray, the group heckled the crowd and each other, but through their expertly executed parody of 80s hair metal music, the band sounded better than many revival acts today. Among their other explicit song titles, they played the anthemic ‘Death to All but Metal’ along with a dead-on Ozzy Osbourne impersonation during their ‘Crazy Train’ cover.
On the complete opposite side of the musical spectrum, the legendary Americana singer-songwriter Steve Earle & The Dukes drew in the crowds, reminding everyone what a true country outlaw sounds like. Celebrating 30 years of his seminal album Copperhead Road, Earle’s setlist was a rare treat, playing the 1988 album in its entirety before he heads back to the states for the LSD tour, alongside Lucinda Williams and Dwight Yoakham.
As the sun started to set and offered a reprieve to the sweaty crowds, everyone gathered at the main stage for the evening’s headlining event, Mott The Hoople. The show marked a much-anticipated reunion that saw 70s-era bandmembers guitarist Ariel Bender and keyboardist Morgan Fisher joining Ian Hunter. The line-up also included drummer Steve Holley, a former member of Wings who’d been touring with Hunter’s solo band. Beginning with an ‘American Pie’ intro, the glam rock icons then segued appropriately into their hit ‘The Golden Age of Rock and Roll’. It was a generous set, covering everything from ‘Honaloochie Boogie’ to the enduring ‘I Wish I Was Your Mother’, ‘All the Way from Memphis’ and closing with a rousing rendition of their career-resurrecting hit ‘All The Young Dudes’ that even had The Cult’s Billy Duffy vying for a view.
All in all, it was a smashing Ramblin’ Man Fair, with standout performances by Slash co-conspirator Myles Kennedy and the melodic alt.metal of Northern Ireland’s Therapy?
See you tonight for night two!
Listen to the Best Of Ramblin Man playlist for more fair highlights.