I kind of have a love/hate relationship with ROTW. It’s a local festival, so I find it difficult not to go. It does a great job of including the community and the people of Hitch seem to love it.
The first few years I attended, the festival was free and based in the Hitchin town centre and had a lovely feeling. With local businesses and community getting involved. They were also constrained by the location. So had to put on more quieter folk music and the church ‘stage’ always featured interesting world, folk and classical-type music. When it moved to Hitchin Priory the focus shifted to music that was loud enough to be heard on big open air stages and in my opinion has become far less interesting musically.
On the surface, it should be a decent festival. There’s still a quieter ‘church’ stage. (with massive sound leak from the noisy main stage). There’s a ‘new music’ stage (BBC Introducing), a big main stage and a few other smaller stages. But it doesn’t work. One small stage, is a ‘mates stage’. The guy running it, puts his mates on each year and it’s lineup is a bit stale. The BBC Introducing stage seems to be 80% ’emo’ rock and despite having 100s of band in London to call upon, only seems to put bands from the ‘Three Counties’ radio catchment area. The main stage is mainstream with ‘festival world music’. You know the type, most of it sounds the same. Music styles that have been westernised by the inclusion of electric guitars and the band dress in ‘traditional dress’. It tends to be bouncy with shouting sections. It’s usually enjoyable, but it’s not something you’re going to listen to afterwards.
Cost wise, the ticket prices have jumped from £6 to £15 per day. As the early bird price of the Great Escape is only £45, you can see that at £15 per day, it’s no longer exceptional value. Last year, they also removed a stage. So there’s even less music than there used to be. Yes, it’s still ‘good value’ for a festival, but it’s not good value from a music perspective. With London on the door step. I can often see a whole day’s music for less than £15. (This weekend I saw 9 bands for £6 and my train ticket was £10). So for me, the draw to the festival isn’t as strong.
But what was the music like this year?
First up was Worry Dolls a band a friend had recommended. They sounded good and had some nice songs. But I’m not a fan of country music and they veered off into a fuller ‘Nashville’ sound far too often for my liking.
One thing they have got right, is that they have a ‘community’ stage for young local artists. Some of these were pretty decent. First person I caught on this stage was Charmaine Dawson who sounded nice.
Over on the ‘Arcade Electric’ stage, or the ‘mates stage’ as I call it, due to the regularity of bands getting a repeat booking, one of the said repeat bookings were playing. Maharaja Blues, mix sounds from India with American blues. It sounds okay. But this was the third time they played. If ROTW is a music festival, it should feature new music. If it’s a community festival, then it needs to drop the pretence and price.
Back to the little community stage and one of the first pleasant surprises of the day. A band called Adiescar were playing. The lead singer had a great voice. Her vocal style reminded me of the lead singer of Esben and the Witch. Unfortunately, the music wasn’t up to their standard. But her voice kept me interested. Unfortunately, I only managed to catch the last two songs.
Back to the ‘mates stage’ and a very young looking artist called Izzy Rowland. As you can see from the photo. She looks very young and appeared to only sing cover versions. But it’s all good experience.
Back on the main stage was another returning artist. Raghu Dixit played a few years ago. They have an ‘indian style’ fusion music. The lead singer is very engaging but the music wasn’t too strong.
On the Introducing stage were an interesting band called ‘Live//Learn’. They’ve got a very heavy electronica sound. At times it was layered so heavily that it was almost goth. But they put on a decent show. Not my type of music. But they kept me interested
An example of where the festival messes a up from a music perspective. Los Pacaminos are not a Mexican band, but 80s pop star, Paul Young’s country music band. Women of a certain age crowded the front of the stage. But the music wasn’t to my taste. It would have been much better inviting over a real country or Mexican band
Back on the introducing stage another loud rock band, Scar City. But the lead singer put in a great performance. Sadly the crowd were small. Maybe Hitchin’s youth is growing out of punk, emo, hardcore, PPP punk, skater rock music
There were some ‘world’ instruments. But not sure playing a ‘world’ instrument should classify the performer as a world music artist. But at least he was closer to the festivals core.
My surprise for the day was a Dutch(?) band called My Baby. After a slow start with several technical problems they finally got going and their rhythmic blues sound was fun to watch and listen to.
One new band (I think) on the mates stage was The Fierce and the Dead. The bits I heard were almost prog-rock. But the guys seemed pretty talented.
Closing the Introducing stage were an Elbiw like band, Amber Run. Sadly the crowd was still small and they missed the best band on this stage.
As you can probably guess. My love/hate relationship continued. The festival really needs to work out it’s identity. Is it Hitchin festival or a World music festival. If it’s the later, then it needs to start to improve its programming.