Forever Young Festival
Palmerstown House Estate, Johnstown, Co Kildare.
July 5-7th 2019
No one quite knew what to expect from the inaugural year of this festival celebrating all things 80s. Billed as “the retro party of the summer”, what we did know in advance was that organiser, Dr Sharon Alston, had managed to entice a fantastic line-up of iconic performers to take to the stage. It just happened that the vast majority of them are also absolute LGBTQ icons! Also, this was a festival with a conscience, and the money raised is being donated to animal welfare charities.
That said, you would never have guessed at first glance that this was the inaugural year. The venue looked amazing. There were plenty of food stalls featuring good variety. Anything I had was above the standard you usually get at a festival, and the portions were pretty decent. Vegetarians were catered for, and all of them seemed amenable to working with people’s requirements, although I know some people had issues that they couldn’t find anything gluten-free.
Of course, this is an Irish festival though, so ‘what about the bars’ I hear you say! I’ve got to be honest, the queues were slow-moving, due to the fact that – in an eco-friendly move to reduce plastic – people paid a deposit on glasses, and so had to return them and pay first, before the drink was pulled. It is usual that they pull drinks in advance at these events, to keep the queues moving, and they could look at that for next year. But kudos for reducing the waste generated.
A big concert and festival bugbear is always bathrooms. In this case, at first it appeared that there were plenty, but again the queues did build up, and they probably could have done with more. On the plus side, they were completely diligent about replacing toilet roll, and checking they were acceptable.
The absolutely biggest bugbear everyone seemed to have with this festival was transport! If you were driving it was fine, but public transport options to Johnstown are abysmal at the best of times. There were pre-paid shuttle buses, but they quickly sold out, and you couldn’t buy a ticket for them on site.
Also they apparently left extremely late every evening. There were reports of people queuing over an hour to get a taxi, and in my case, I had to walk into Naas to get home both days. This really needs to be looked at, as it will put day visitors off.
The Emcee for the weekend was none other than Doctor from Doctor and the Medics. He was fantastic, enjoying a great rapport with the crowd, and honestly should have his own TV show. Everyone loved him. He really set a wonderful tone. Meanwhile, the revellers really got into the spirit of the occasion, and fancy-dress was definitely order of the day for this audience, and the whole place had people channelling 80s icons. There were a lot of Madonnas and Freddie Mercurys, some Mario Bros and even a Tom Selleck.
The audience were on the more mature side, and I have to say it is strange to be at a festival where people are more concerned about bringing in their camping seats rather than contraband beer! With so many people sitting around, this made for a very chilled vibe.
The layout of this estate was also perfect for something like this, as no matter where you were you got a great view of the stage. What was also noticeable was that people were strolling to the front for bands they like, without the pushing and shoving that normally accompanies this. Suffice to say this was a very civilised event.
Saturday was grey and overcast, but that didn’t put a dampener on things, and on the whole the drizzle held off. The Sunday was perfect festival weather – sunny skies and dry grounds. It was a gorgeous day to be outdoors for anything. But events like these are dependent on the acts. On both days the earlier bands and performers played longer sets, the performers in the middle of the day were backed by the house band, and only did 3-4 tracks each, and then the bigger headliners came out, and did sets between 40 minutes and an hour.
Each band obviously has earned their place in pop history or they wouldn’t be able to appear at festivals like this, but as is always the case, some were more deserving of their place on the bill than others. XSM (Ex-Simple Minds) and From The Jam are basically tribute bands, and although the crowd didn’t seem to mind and they both performed brilliant sets, I did feel they didn’t quite merit a place on the main stage.
Some bands had unfortunate placement on the bill. Heaven 17 in particular seemed ill-suited to their slot on Sunday, as their back-catalogue isn’t as strong as some of the other artists. Although Temptation got everyone going, they weren’t the strongest band.
Meanwhile Kim Wilde, who was on at around 4.30pm on the Saturday, could easily have carried a slot further up the bill. She was absolutely brilliant, and the crowd really warmed to her. To quote a fellow reveller: “I remember her from the 80s but I don’t remember the songs being that good!”
Meanwhile, on the Saturday, Jimmy Somerville not only stole the show but the entire weekend. Everybody loved him. He was sassy and spontaneous, and his voice is still crystal clear. LGBTQ anthem Smalltown Boy sounded as wonderful as the day it was recorded. It was a truly astonishing performance, which even prompted Saturday headliners the Human League to say they were worried coming out after him. And rightly so. He was the absolute stand-out act of the festival. And while the Human League were great, I’ve seen them perform better. Personally I would have swapped them around on the bill.
Sunday’s headliner, LGBTQ icon, Holly Johnson, also gave an amazing performance, and oozed showmanship. However, I also would have moved Marc Almond further up the bill. He was extremely entertaining and really connected with the crowd. His voice is still astonishing, and his eclectic mix of hits, and the numerous genres he tackles, are perfect for a festival like this.
Other highlights included Midge Ure, who was fantastic and even paid tribute to Phil Lynott, with the Boys Are Back in Town. And Bonnie Tyler and T’Pau both had the crowd swaying their arms, and singing along to some of the most famous power-ballads ever produced.
For its inaugural year the organisers did a great job. If you didn’t know better, you would swear that this was an established festival. It had a lovely vibe, and on the whole they got things right. They really need to look at transport options, and also at ways to reduce the bar and toilet queues.
However, on the whole, this was a fabulous festival that already has people buzzing for next year. My only concern would be that it becomes a victim of its own success, and gets messy and sloppy like so many other festivals.