Has Hop Farm now found a niche with its mix of ageing idols and young pretenders or is it too eclectic for its own good?
By daniel.lomas on 04 March 2011
It would be fair to be dubious about the 'hippie' credentials of Hop Farm Festival. After all, though
their expensive flash website may proudly declare that the festival bares “no sponsorship, no branding”,
the event was conceived by multi-millionaire 'King of Gigs' Vince Power. Though the atmosphere is doubtlessly
nicer than most for its anti-corporate angle, there is a reason it can afford to be and a reason it can afford its mega star
line-ups: So who are we to grumble, right?
With this guise of an independent folk festival, Hop Farm seems to have found its step in booking a legendary star of the 60s or 70s to headline with contemporary acts influenced by the music of those eras. Last year Bob Dylan headlined with young folksters Johnny Flynn and Mumford & Sons below him. In 2008. it's inaugural year, Neil Young topped the bill with rootsy acts My Morning Jacket and Laura Marling in support.
In 2009 however, organisers slipped up as the bill turned almost entirely modern indie-pop with bands like The Pigeon Detectives, Mystery Jets and The Editors taking over. Tickets failed to shift and were eventually off-loaded in a bizarre deal where they were free with the purchase of a £9.99 rain mac.
This year sees Hop Farm continue on the right path after a hugely successful 2010. The top of the bill boasts some of the most influential names in modern music. Californian legends, Eagles headline the Friday (1 July), with 80s Roxy Music icon Bryan Ferry appearing before them and The Human League headlining The Big Tent.
The Saturday (2 July) sees a host of legends from three influential decades of music. Morrissey headlines, a performer who rarely disappoints, drawing from his twenty year solo career as well as his work in the 80's with The Smiths.
Lou Reed plays under Morrissey but fans may be well advised not to get their hopes up. The Velvet Underground man is notorious for depriving crowds of his hits, opting instead to stage his experimental noise rock. Fans will hope the sunset festival atmosphere will bring out Lou's nostalgic side.
Iggy & The Stooges and Patti Smith remain excellent live performers with plenty of classic songs between them and they complete a prestigious four-some that will surely sway day ticket sales firmly to one side. Patti Smith often performs a cover of Lou Reed's Perfect Day, which could provide us with a rare collaboration or just an awkward moment if Patti doesn't check the line up out first and Lou is left shaking his fist side-stage.
Some may complain that there is an imbalance of quality artists between the days. This appeared the case in 2010 when nearly all of the better known contemporary acts were performing on the same day as the weekend's biggest name, Bob Dylan. Hop Farm bosses might call it saving the best 'til last, but fans of Eagles would probably be more pleased if their performance coincided with Lou Reed rather than Death Cab For Cutie.
For these minor complaints, 2011 is Hop Farm's most impressive and exciting line-up yet; if not its most consistent. There are links to be found between some of the artists playing but for a festival that seems in its principals to want to attract a certain type of festival goer, this year hosts a real mish-mash of artists, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Newcomers Brother take the main stage in their début festival season while their brit-pop forefathers, The Bluetones and Ocean Colour Scene, perform in The Big Tent, all of whom are no doubt inspired by headliner, Morrissey. Bryan Ferry's influence on Brandon Flowers' music is clear to see and fans of either two would likely appreciate The Human League. And performing on Friday (1 July) are City & Colour and Death Cab For Cutie who are both established names in the US indie scene.
Hop Farm Festival's tradition of hosting legends on the same stage as their successors continues, though this time its a lot less obvious than previous years which had a clear folk theme running through them. That theme seemed to suit the festival and its supposed DIY ethics, but the festival continues to book all sorts of acts and perhaps remains a little unsure in defining itself.
For some, that may be what makes Hop Farm an interesting proposition, that attendees are going to know half the acts and not the other because of the gulf in age and style. It could be seen as festival for different generations to appreciate each other's artists. For others there may not be enough on offer to tempt them down to Tonbridge.
Whatever the intentions of Vince Power and his team, they may have lost their older fans with 2009s indie-pop line-up but they'll have won them back with this years veteran bill. But while Hop Farm is consistently getting its headliners spot on, it's struggling to share the spoils across all three stages and both of the days. It is also swaying between target audiences, which is where it could be improved to find a balance if it is to ensure its longevity as a valued date in the festival calendar.