I’m cruising through the beautiful Black Mountains, a valley away from Sugarloaf Mountain, putting in the last psychological preparations for Green Man 2014. When I ready myself in the week preceding Green Man festival, my approach is unlike any other festival; I needn’t detox and hydrate myself to the hilt, and neither do I need to Spotify every Jack and Jill who is playing over the weekend. There’s one reason for that: trust. From the locally sourced food companies to the Little White Lies cinema tent, Green Man is a festival bereft of cynicism. Their response to modern eclecticism is one of honesty, allowing them to carve out a real niche in a market that has long forgotten the alternative music fan. This festival is a pilgrimage for me and, as I’ve grown older, the mysticism and romance burnishes ever brighter. It’s the crash of Jabberwocky that compounds my emotions this time, though: let its loss be a testament to how incredible it is that a festival with such crude counterculture values is managing to sell-out yearly and survive. As the roads twist and my stomach turns, I see that ever-familiar image of the Glanusk Estate perched on the horizon: welcome to Green Man.
The acts are primarily split between a Main Stage that sits of the bottom of a mountain, the ‘shit me am I tripping’ Far Out Stage, and the iconic stone fixtures of the Walled Garden. I’m arriving for my first offering of the weekend as the hands creep past five o’clock.
And a miasma of pot smoke expels from the covers of the Chai Wallahs stage. Hid behind it are the eclectic reggae-meets-latin arrangements of the South Western troupe. Black music, flirted with by a group of twenty-something Caucasians; this may be the whitest band I’ve ever watched. I know this is barely a criticism but it’s so difficult to escape context in the world of the arts, and I can’t help but be fascinated by shameless lyrical content: the moans of the white and privileged sound wonderful when spoken in the energetic tongue of a culture that they couldn’t possibly relate to.
Sun Kil Moon
The compere tries his best to poison the mood shortly before the set but from the moment Mark Kozelek begins, it’s abundantly intense. Standing atop of the vocal monitor on the front of the stage, Kozelek stands with his eyes tightly clasped, caressing personal narratives in his idiosyncratic, rhythmical vocal style. “So Jabberwocky is cancelled” we hear in a rare break of character “I’m glad so I get a day off, I’m tired.” The set is drawing predominantly from Sun Kil Moon’s 2014 record ‘Benji’. ‘I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love’ soon begins, and the bold, gut-wrenching strength of the song swallows us; can we take any more? Well, we have no choice. Speaking about the intimacies of his sister’s divorce and for longing for a relationship with her two children, we are arrested by the hopeless beauty of ‘Ceiling Gazing’. It’s hard to pinpoint the source of why this show is so wonderful and provoking, but the most succinct explanation would be describing the absolute emptiness I felt toward everybody and everything as the lost chord stroke. You have to see Sun Kil Moon.
With its unprecedented successes and acknowledgements, 2014 has to be seen as DeMarco’s ‘coming of age’ year – which is funny – as after sound checking in front of the audience jovial DeMarco giggles and wishes everybody a good night. His emergence later with a flurry of new-wave influenced, hip twisting tunes inspires apoplexy in the crowd. “Hello Woodstock ’99!” he yells as part of an intermittent, ironic Gene Simmons-type crowd rapport. There’s enough sustenance in the ‘Salad Days’ dominant set to leave us feeling quenched but it’s his energetic presence that is the most transfixing aspect of the set. ‘Still Together’ sees the New York singer recruiting crowd members to join him on stage for a dance, before scaling 12 feet of scaffolding and plummeting himself backward into the stage.
There’s a fine line between ambling aimlessly and self-searching, especially when you do it in front of thousands of people. There is absolutely no reason for Beirut to be headlining Green Man this year: they’re not supporting a new album, not seeking big money from a bustling tour, and appear to be without an agenda. This fervour for intimacy and interaction has long been a theme throughout the brass outfit’s career and, when you consider their last album ‘The Rip Tide’ (2011) was their most complete effort to date, it’s hard to question their headspace. The set is predominantly comprised by material from the aforementioned effort, with the heart-warming air of ‘Santa Fe’ breathing life into the crisp air of the valley. The iconoclasting Zach Condan – with his face full of beard – explains the group’s special long-term relationship with the festival, before playing their solitary new song of the night. Built on an ominous vocal melody and bittersweet cyclical brass, it feels like the first steps out of the Wilderness for the group: it’s about time. An overwhelming version of ‘A Sunday Smile’ brings the evening to its climax.