“Stone free do what I please
Stone free to ride the breeze
Stone free, baby I can’t stay
I got to got to got to get away”
“Stone Free”, written by Jimi Hendrix and released as the B-side of “Hey Joe” on December 16, 1966, has often been described as a song reflecting the rock n roll lifestyle – so it was a fitting name for the latest music festival to be added to the UK scene. But did it live up to Jimi’s vision?
The inaugural Stone Free Festival took place on Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th June 2016 under the dome and spread out throughout the vast O2, London. It had a line-up of acts which many more established events would welcome, including the legendary Alice Cooper, The Darkness and grandmaster of prog rock Rick Wakeman.
There was a definite divide between the two days’ line-up and kicking things off on Saturday in the Indigo was the American Hard Rocking Jared James Nichols, the soulful blues of Jackaman and the raw rock of The Virginmarys.
We were then transported back to the old school days on the Sunset Strip courtesy of Michael Monroe, whose energetic stage antics, engaging vocals and audience interaction makes him a perfect ambassador for classic American Hair Metal.
Ending the day were the brilliant Northern Irish alternative rock band Therapy? who again demonstrated why they remain current in the business after 20 years.
During this the Fireball Stage, set up at the entrance and open to the non-ticket holders allowed the newer bands to turn up their amps and sing to anyone who came through the door. Acts included Jack Francis, The RPMs, Vodun, Dorje and The Lounge Kittens, who didn’t shy away from signing their cover of Steel Panthers’ ‘Gloryhole’ to an audience of young and old, much respect ladies.
Then onto the Main Arena, opening its doors at 17:30, it almost seemed impossible to try fill such a huge space but thankfully this was opened up for standing room. The first to the stage (15 minutes late due to our friends of the UK Border Force) were Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke followed by the Finnish cello metal band Apocalyptica, but the night belonged to two bands.
Firstly The Darkness who unfortunately had to cut their slot short due to previous over runs blasted onto the stage with their opener ‘Barbarian’ and thereafter classics from their album Permission to Land and Last of Our Kind.
Then finally, as advertised by the majority of t-shirts bouncing about the O2, the godfather of shock rock Alice Cooper took to the stage in a shower of fireworks and as you’d expect from the start gave it his all. What followed was a two hour masterclass in rock entertainment complete with Frankensteins monster and the infamous guillotine. Towards the end of the show Alice paid tribute to absent friends Keith Moon, David Bowie, Lemmy and appropriately Jimi Hendrix unfurling tombstone banners during covers of Pinball Wizard, Suffragette City, Ace of Spades and Fire respectively. Then in true Alice style he finished the show in a blaze of Red, White and Blue with his track ‘Elected’, complete with a Trump and Clinton on stage punch up.
On paper Sunday appeared to be leaning towards more progressive style of rock any any thinking that it would have been a more low key affair that was soon dissproved with Sundays’ opening band Cats in Space.
First on the bill at the Indigo the six man strong classic rock lineup played with mature confidence and a sense of real enjoyment. Switching from the country influenced ‘Only in Vegas’ to the space rock grandiose of ‘Mr Heartache’. The next 3 bands on the the Indigo bill were the British-based psychedelic rock bands Knifeworld, Teeth of The Sea and the less psychedelic but equally progressive Haken. To round of the day at the Indigo and one of the most popular acts of the day was the former Dr Feelgood guitarist, ( Yes he was also in Game of Thrones) Wilko Johnson.
Over at the Freebird Stage the vibe was less psychedelic and more rock featuring the likes of Broken Witts Rebels, Bad Touch, Vambo, Colour of Noise and Xander and The Peace Pirates. Having this stage open to the passing public gave these bands an opportunity to reach new ears and they certainly took advantage.
As the weekend drew to a close the powerhouses of prog began flexing their fingers and keyboards. The audience moved into the main arena, which was now totally seated and an evening of capes and Camelot commenced. During the course of the evening the expectant audience were treated to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here Symphonic Live, the ever popular Steve Hackett, who was rewarded for his efforts with a standing ovation, an excellently on form Marillion. Then as the crowd started to whip themselves into a Mists of Avalon frenzy the godfather Rick Wakeman appeared on stage with a full orchester. From high up on stage behind his castle of keyboards he delighted with a much anticipated live performance of The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knight of the Round Table.
This was unlike any festival I have been to before and despite some failings, band timings and missed sound checks, there was a lot to enjoy. Hopefully next year it will be bigger and better