To some they are all about the music, to others they are an escape into a world of fantasy. There are those festivals that crowd their stages with the biggest names, and there are festivals that try to give smaller groups a chance to grow, a stage to shine from. As you have probably noticed, last weekend we were at Castlefest, and personally I would say that Castlefest is all of the above! This festival, to many visitors, is unique in its way to create a whole new world, a place where all the things exist that we would like to see in every day life but somehow don’t seem to work in the “normal” world. Maybe that’s why 2015 saw the 11th edition of this happening, and in all those years the organization has shown that they keep finding new ways to grow, to evolve. This growth does however mean that one does not get to see everything at this festival, so in this report, as complete as I will try to make it, you can read about what I saw and experienced, which is not even 25% of the whole festival. 🙂
Starting on Thursday morning, with the pitching of the tent at the camp-grounds, the feeling of “home” took over everything else, and surrounded by friends, most of whom I hadn’t met yet, Castlefest 2015 took off! We were asked to help out with some of the audio workings of the Castlefest live-stream by our friends of Bastaard.net, so it was off to the backstage around lunchtime for us. I won’t bother you with too many details, but with plenty of time to spare, a whopping ten minutes before the broadcast was supposed to start, we fixed the last audio issues that come along with something as high tech and massive as this, and we went live! I can tell you that being a part of this Castlefest family, because that’s what it is, a family, is an amazing experience, and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it for the world! The shared feelings of joy and elation as the video and audio feed combined and were sent into cyberspace and the world was amazing, and it is very awesome to be able to send some of these Castlefest vibes out into the world. Small presentations, and some clips from last year, and then it was time for the first performance.
Scotch is a Dutch band from Dordrecht that describes its music as Party Folk, and party it is! A combination of many different styles up to and including ska, and some “other than standard” instruments on stage, combined with quite the stage presence, made for a very interesting show and a great way to start the festival.
Next up was a fire show by Solstix. Because of this show being presented in front of the stage rather than on the stage this gave a very intimate and closely connected feel. The audience was sitting right on top of the show!
After this show it was time for the headliner of the evening, a performance by Afro Celt Sound System. Because of, shall we say, reasons, we were not allowed to broadcast this show, and I wish I could tell the viewers back home that they didn’t miss much. But I’m afraid they did. The show was amazing, and one of the best words I can think of to describe it is empowering. The energy flowed, gushed, from the stage and into the audience and I don’t think many people would have minded this show to continue for even longer, even though they gave several encores and played for I believe almost 25 minutes past their time.
After the evening was concluded there was a party backstage, which I am not at liberty to discuss 😉
The second day started as a typical festival day. Way too early, because not enough sleep, but way too late, because I missed the first performances at the festival. Though, to be honest, I mainly missed those shows because I was at the 24 hour tent, the catering and party tent on the campsite, listening to another great performance by our friends of Pyrolysis together with Iris of Fiddle ‘n Drum on bodhran, who were booked to play several shows here this year. It’s really amazing to wake up with some nice coffee, some nice friends, in some nice early sunshine, with a nice acoustic folk performance! I wish life could be like this all the time. But I know, we all have jobs, and frankly, I don’t have enough room in my house to accommodate all the band-members of Pyrolysis all the time, so I’ll just have to enjoy it extra here.
Then on to the festival grounds with all its music and diversity in people. Again I was struck by the level of acceptance. This to me is the epitome of Castlefest. The most extravagant costumes combine with the most every day outfits. Fantasy meets steam-punk meets pagan meets fun costumes meets, well, you get the point! Heavily armed knights dance and drink with soldiers from the Umbrella Corporation and the best part is: nothing happens! No arguments, no fights. Friendship and love rule this festival and that is exactly what makes this event so addictive!
As for the performances, what can I say? From what I’ve seen Triskilian was deep and amazing, Cesair beautiful as ever, La Horde and The Dolmen turned the festival into massive parties, each in their own way, and Omnia was their magnificent self on stage. Their stage presence is hardly rivaled and their music is deep, spiritual and powerful as ever.
I must admit that with this being my first real festival day, because Thursday was filled with work on the live stream, I met so many friends, old and new, all through the day that I did not get the chance to see as many shows as I would have liked, and not enough of the shows that I did see.
This was also the day that we ended our competition to win the new SeeD album, or the SeeDee as they call it, and I challenge you to organize a drawing, get a band, two radio people and a prize winner all together, and do that all within one and a half hour at a festival! 😉
The day ended with a performance of Euzen on the Forest stage (the main stage of Castlefest) that blew me away and must have sent vibes all over the city and farther. What a show it was!
Day three, Saturday, and traditionally the busiest day both in terms of visitors and catching as many shows as possible. Of course my day started with coffee and Pyrolysis again, my two comrades in the morning, but this day I was at the festival a lot earlier.
So after first starting with a bit of Irish/Scottish folk at the 24 hour tent, my wake up session was perfected by the great Danish sounds of Trolska Polska on the Forest stage. This group to me, together with Virelai, is the epitome of festival-feeling, and I play their music a lot when I need to fill up my “reserves” in times when there are not many large festivals to visit. Seeing and hearing them live on stage again, seeing them absolutely love music as they play it, I’m sure will help me in the coming winter whenever I need a little festival boost.
Then quickly on to the Village stage for the combined performance of LEAF and SeeD, with the latter also presenting their new album there. These two groups not only have in common that they are both Dutch, but they are both very spiritual and focused on getting as much spirituality and perfection into their music as possible. LEAF is in the process of recording and mixing their new album and we were treated to some new tracks, including a galdr called LYS which resonated into the deepest depths of my soul! I can’t wait for this new album to be released! But speaking of album releases, next up as mentioned before was a set by SeeD in which they not only presented their album but even played some songs that will be recorded on their next one! Now, an album presentation is often an somewhat emotional happening for a band, and you can usually hear this in their performance. But the amount of passion and love for their music and their ‘Portal to Elfland’ that SeeD put into this show here was astounding! Koen is a natural entertainer, joking and playing with the audience, and I really felt an amazing connection between the musicians and us, the people that were fortunate enough to be there at that time. After the show I didn’t want to stop applauding, and I wasn’t alone in that. The SeeDee’s sold like hot cakes, and rightly so! But I can’t dwell on one show too much, as there was an entire weekend of amazement!
After meeting up with more friends the next show I saw was La Horde on the Forest stage. During the weekend I’ve described them in a Facebook post as crazy-pirate-disco-punk-folk, and I stand by that. I would like to add, to be clear, that this means the absolute right kind of crazy! Watching them perform and do all sorts of crazy stuff on stage, you can’t not be entertained! A tennis match between Mathieu and Arno, “serious” music that moves into Daddy Cool, and to top it all off they cleaned out a local IKEA store and bought loads of pillows for a pillow-fight in the audience, which they started with a “wall of love” during the song ‘Ulfhednar’. As always a combination of pure fun and pure music!
After all this I took some time to get some rest together with some friends and then we got into position to fully experience the wickerman ritual. If you don’t know what that is, this is a ceremony based in ancient traditions. The Celts, among others, are reported to have performed this in the Iron Age. A figure, usually a man, was built from wicker and filled with offerings. After a ritual or ceremony it would then be set alight to send the offerings to their Gods. Castlefest always holds a ritual like that, and this year, with the theme being love, the wicker figure actually consisted of two figures, a man and a woman holding each other. Throughout the weekend people could bring offerings and place them inside the statue. These offerings could be anything. Some will bring traditional gifts for traditional Gods, others will bring a diary which they would like to burn in order to “close another year”. Reasons are always personal, as are the thoughts as to where these offerings are sent. But through the magic of Castlefest hundreds, maybe even thousands of people join in this ceremony and I can honestly say it is always one of the most powerful moments of the year for me. With the amazing sounds of the guiding music, written and composed by Fieke van den Hurk of Orchus Studio, and of Cesair, the procession and ritual have a certain powerful elegance and standing there you just feel connected to every other person witnessing the event. Many a tear will flow each year during this ceremony. Once the wicker was almost completely burned, Cesair, a band that I first encountered at Castlefest a few years ago, started their set and as usual it was amazing! This is a group of very talented people that have such a focus on quality that I personally find it hard to compare them to anyone else at the moment. Two years ago they had an orchestra and choir when they played on the Forest stage, this year they had flame-throwers, which made for a very impressive show!
After this I was quite overwhelmed, and I decided to retreat towards the 24 hour tent on the camp-grounds, where the silent disco, which is actually not very silent if everyone wearing headphones sings and stomps along to the music, the outdoor jam-sessions, the hamburgers, mead and beer, and especially the amazing people, combine to create that very special Castlefest Camping Feel. If you’ve never been in the 24 hour tent I highly recommend that you buy the Castlefanatic ticket next year and join in on the 24 hour fun that starts as early as Thursday morning and can continue until Monday morning, if you wish. I personally do try to get a good four hours of sleep a night, but that’s everyone’s personal choice.
Sunday, the last day. And you can feel that realization reverberate through all of the Castlefanatics. One more day to live the life we want to live, one more day of maximum enjoyment!
Once again I found myself late on the festival grounds and the first performance I (half) caught was Theodor Bastard on the forest stage, while I was having some lunch with friends. World music from Russia, it had some very intriguing depths to it. I would really like to see some more concerts of that group.
Then it was off to the Village stage where Cesair was playing and our lovely merch-babe was, ehm, merching. 🙂 Sitting in the shade together with friends, backs to a fence, drinking a cold beer and enjoying the wonderful sounds of one of my favourite bands… life could have been a lot worse.
And then right after the show we saw Fieke being rushed out of the backstage, through the normally closed off path, by a Vana volunteer. As it turned out she was on her way to surprise the people with a guest performance at the Omnia show on the Forest stage. As always, this scene is one big happy family, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Since we didn’t have the means to fly to the other stage that quick we decided to stay around the Village stage for the next show, which was Shireen. This is a band that has a sound that is hard to describe, hard to place it in a specific category. So I won’t. I’ll just call it Shireen. Like several other bands at Castlefest you can hear that they focus on quality. The music flows together, and the depth and layers of the songs will let you dream away while wide awake and that makes it perfect for a Castlefest afternoon!
The last performance of the day, and therefore of the festival, was a stomping, heart pounding power-play by Prima Nocta. I first saw them at the Castlefest Winter Edition and I knew then and there that they would be amazing on the Forest stage! The power that they convey from the stage to the audience is amazing and it definitely picked up all of these tired festival goers and gave them a last massive burst of energy!
After this the stages were cleared, the instruments packed, the tech gear broken down and Castlefest 2015 was almost over. I say almost, because different people have different traditions, and there are always some after-parties. The 24 hour tent is one place where Castlefanatics could go to keep the party going a little while longer, but since most people had already left the camp-grounds, leaving only the hardcore campers 😉 you also see groups forming all over the camp-site with people wanting to hold on to that feeling of togetherness, sharing that last bottle of mead, that last beer, that last song, but certainly lots of laughter.
As I come to an end of this report I have to add some things. This report was obviously written from my point of view, and as stated I wasn’t everywhere all the time unfortunately. This means that there are more performance I have not written about then there are those that I did write about. On one hand this is a sad thing, because I would have loved to have given you a full description of the entire festival, but on the other hand it does leave something for you all to dream about without knowing. If you want to know more, then come to Castlefest next year and find out for yourself! 🙂
There is one more thing that I need to mention here. Castlefest originally started out as a market with music, and even though I’ve mainly written about the music here, the market is still a very important part of the festival! You can get anything here, from beads and laces to entire costumes. Drink special ciders, extraordinary meads or maybe a nice fruit smoothie, and don’t even get me started on the food! A friend that came along this year works professionally with food and he was amazed by the quality of just about everything you can get here. I do believe he tried his best to taste everything, I still have to ask him if he succeeded in that mission.
All in all Castlefest has been the highlight of my year for several years now, and I’m certain it will continue to fulfil that role for many years to come. I would invite you all to come see for yourself. There’s just one warning. Over the past years I’ve seen that Castlefest very easily breeds Castlefanatics. This festival is as addicting as they come! Be warned! 🙂