EARTH GARDEN 2015: SO MANY ACTS, SO LITTLE TIME
With a line-up boasting more than 50 acts spread all over three main areas (four if one counts the Greek Theatre), it's no secret that the Earth Garden Festival has grown in leaps and bounds since its first edition was staged almost a decade ago. The upside of this is a wider spectrum of artists on offer with a broader appeal that has certainly been essential in boosting bigger attendances. The downside of course is that, there being simultaneous schedules, one can never actually get to attend all of the performances. Naturally, this means that this review will not cover the entire festival, but it does at least give a rough idea of my personal Earth Garden experience this year.
I rushed off to Ta' Qali on Friday following my radio show, meaning I got there halfway into the New Victorians' Greek Theatre concert. Given they're relatively new to the scene, the attendance was impressive, as was their performance. With full band in tow, the songs I'd heard on debut album Seeker Seeker were effectively projected in this expanded live setting, and the siblings seemed very comfortable onstage too, which overall made this a success all round, one that would have probably been as big a triumph even without the cover cameos by Gianluca and Ira Losco. Having missed pretty much all of the bands on the Roots Stage on this first night, I went for a walkabout, passing by the Enchanted Forest where the Electro Swing session was banging and on to the Electronic Sphere before heading home.
On Saturday I managed to get to Ta' Qali in time for Iranian percussionist Mohammad Reza Mortazavi's set. He literally mesmerized the audience with his nimble finger action in a way that has to be seen to be truly appreciated. His face may have been devoid of expression (bar a couple of near-smiles), but the rhythms he was creating were pure magic, at times even emulating a scintillating techno groove that would have certainly won over the crowd kicking up dust at the Electronic Sphere. Tribali were playing at the Greek Theatre, which meant I had to miss a few more acts on the other stages and, as it turned out, much of Tribali's concert to as around half an hour into their performance, I wanted to see Stalko over at the Roots Stage. Their set marred only by some spillage from the Enchanted Forest, it was great to see the band back on stage, better still as they treated us to old favourites, some new music and a cover too, which of course they reconstructed in their own style.
After taking in some dub courtesy of Bass Culture in the Enchanted Forest, it was back to the Roots Stage (my favourite area at Earth Garden, by the way), for French Ethio-jazz outfit Akale' Wube'. Back in Malta after their first visit a couple of years back, they played a splendid groove-fuelled set which however, and through no fault of theirs, I felt the audience took way too long to warm to. Saturday's closing act was The Rifffs, who delivered another splendid set and would have raised the roof had there been one.
Sunday was another late starter for me, but it did turn out to be the best night of the three, thanks to magnificent performances from Brodu (unique, engaging, funny and sublime all at once); Mana Tapu (as entertaining as ever, and sweeping the whole crowd off its feet despite playing a set of almost all-new material, which says a lot) and Claire Tonna. The charismatic singer-songwriter, back from a tasking tour in Spain, was accompanied by a band, delivering a powerful set that not only highlighted the pure allure of her own songs but also featured her striking renditions of Nina Simone's Sinnerman and Patti Smith's Because the night. The sleek grooves that Across Borders offered later created a magnificent ambiance bringing the festival to a close.
Looking back I can honestly say that Earth Garden 2015 was truly a positive and pleasant experience for me, from both a musical and social aspect too, as I came into contact with many people I don't get to see enough of. My only upsets were the various unavoidable commitments (work, mostly) that prevented me from catching all the acoustic, electric and electronic acts that I know I would have loved to be there for but, as they say, you can't always have the cake and eat it in life...well, not unless one takes the weekend off and sets up camp there. Personally, I'm already looking forward to next year, which by the way will be a special 10th anniversary edition, and I've been told big plans are in the pipeline!
An edited version of this article was first published in The Sunday Times of Malta (21June 2015)