Green Man: part festival, part hippie commune, part a mystical glimpse into a utopian festival future. With spectacular performances by the likes of Fleet Foxes, an epic final closing set from War on Drugs and the perfectly mesmerising hippie celebration of the burning of the giant green man installation placed at the heart of the festival, this was a pure celebration. A celebration of community, music, and the beauty of the Welsh valleys.
Green Man is worlds apart from other festivals on offer; with its large hill facing the main ‘Mountain’ stage, there is the space to bathe under the sun and stars in the festival’s cosmic out of world surroundings. Such surroundings breed a certain vibe, something that the festival organisers seemed acutely aware of – the line up was curated with the festival’s relaxed but buzzing atmosphere in mind. The festival’s opening band seemed to perfectly embody its combination of community and music. Park Motive, a young enigmatic synth infused band from Bristol, won the opportunity to bring their electronic synth-filled rhythms to the festival’s main stage after winning the festival’s ‘Green Man Rising’ competition, judged by the likes of NME Editor Charlotte Gunn. The musical equivalent of a perfectly refreshing cool beer on a summer’s afternoon, this was the perfect combination of dizzyingly addictive synths with smooth melodies that was both brimming with energy yet also calmly intoxicating. Above all, it was a delight to see such a large crowd sat watching the Bristol band – a triumphant debut festival performance on all accounts.
When Fleet Foxes graced the main stage Saturday night for their headline slot – which drew the biggest crowd of the weekend – no song had ever sounded so perfectly suited to being performed on a stage in the middle of the Welsh mountains as their 2008 hit ‘White Winter Hymnal’. Their typically introverted and soft melodies were able to flourish in these surroundings, and sounded utterly electric as the crowd formed a mesmeric choir in the hills singing every word back at the American band.
Surprise star of the festival carrying on in this vein was Courtney Marie Andrews. Her beautifully sung indie/country/folk was draped in sunshine in her mid-afternoon slot and was beautifully understated yet bold and had a glorious warmth that outshone that of the afternoon.
The Walled Garden stage was a constant rival to the festival’s main stage. Lucy Dacus serenaded crowds on Sunday afternoon. Her performance was one of stunning modesty and a sobering rawness; she interrupts the set to say how ‘I will never get over people who know the words to my songs’. Her performance of ‘Night Shift’ ends the set with a tremendous momentum – a fittingly heart wrenching yet stunning performance with a hitting brutality.
Despite the male heavy headliners, the Walled Garden proved to be dominated by exceptional female performers. Frankie Cosmos also graced the stage, expressing a female solidarity; the crowd cheers when she says how Snail Mail and Lucy Dacus are watching from the wings. Lead singer Greta Kline may have kept expressing her nerves, but delivered a signature performance of delicate vocals backed by contrastingly grittier guitars. Charles Watson of Slow Club also performs on the stage, delivering a set that was emotional and beautifully executed, showing that his talents extend outside that of Slow Club. These artists all seemed to have a sound that was intoxicated with its own simplicity and beauty that was able to excel on this small yet handsomely set up stage. Drowsy yet powerful performances that hit home to difficult emotions.
Having had these strong performances, the highly anticipated Snail Mail didn’t quite deliver the performance that might have been expected after the acclaim of her debut album. While her debut album ‘Lush’ depicts the raw and emotional battle of first love and the utterly soul-destroying effects of heartbreak, live, her young age perhaps became apparent and came across as more angsty than the more mature tone depicted on ‘Lush’. On stage, she seems that bit too insular and inward looking: she mumbles her way through songs, making individual words hard to pick out, her voice becoming lost within a sea of guitars. However, despite this, fan favourite ‘Pristine’ is delivered in a markedly sharper manner, and is met with a raucous response. These are clearly songs that have a strong emotional resonance with the crowd. As she sings ‘don’t you like me for me / is there any better feeling than coming clean’ into the dying light of the night, there is an emotional intensity that takes over in this final song.
But Green Man is far more than just its musical offerings. At the centre of the festival is a beautifully crafted giant Green Man sculpture, in which people can enter and hang up ‘wishes’. This made for a wholesome and unique – as well as sometimes utterly hilarious – past time, and there was certainly a touch of magic to the Green Man’s overhanging presence. Also in the festival’s grounds is an outdoor spa which begs the question – at what other festival can you literally bathe under the stars in a jacuzzi? Yet don’t let this fool you: every night the festival’s Chai Wallahs tent was open until 4am acting as an outdoor club providing a very current mix of jazz inspired electro hip hop infusion. For every part ‘relaxing’ Green Man is, it matches in its more stimulating offers.
The weekend finally came to a close, but not before War on Drug’s gave a sublimely magnificent set on Sunday evening. Whether you were absorbed by their supersonic performance or let their epic set submerse you as you looked on at the stars above, this wholesome and talent driven set gave a beautifully serene and powerful ending to a weekend that celebrated a kind of freedom you could only find lost in the fields of the Welsh countryside. The crowd came alive as ‘Red Eyes’ raced into the night taking everyone through a set which was all tender, bold and ecstatic.
But the weekend wasn’t quite over. As tradition goes, the Green Man was set alight following War on Drug’s closing set. As the clock struck midnight, the Green Man was set on fire, with fireworks exploding from its straw body. As everyone gathered round to watch this pagan-like ritual, this was a perfectly symbolic ending to a festival that so embodies a sense of community, a connection with nature and a celebration of the festival’s natural surroundings. A fitting blow out to a roaring success of a weekend.
Featured image: Far Out Magazine