The idea of spending the summer solstice weekend without a festival seemed like an uninviting prospect, and with a line up filled with some of the best Irish musicians combined with some big names from the UK and the States, Westport was clearly the place to be. With a somewhat drizzly start, it almost became ‘Wetport’ but clearly the Isle of Wight had long since stolen that title. Nevertheless this didn’t seem to deter the youngsters from a trip on the pedalo swans or the adults embracing the festival spirits (or beer in many cases). Though in it’s infancy (2012 being the first ever Westport) the usual teething problems were no where to be seen, and as our new found friends across the water would say, ‘we had a bloody good craic’.
Celebrating 50 years, on the main stage The Dubliners got things moving on Saturday, with the traditional The Rare Old Mountain Dew and the infamous Dirty Old Town both making their way into the set. Their combination of instrumental reels and sing-a-long classics such as The Wild Rover and Molly Malone reconfirmed why after all this time, they’re still able to draw in the crowds. Nevertheless it’s Whiskey In The Jar which was the undeniable highlight of their set, leaving my vocal chords somewhat worse for wear by the end of the number.
Elsewhere, Wallis Bird’s solo slot on the acoustic stage reconfirmed why she’s possibly one of the most underrated singer-songwriters of the day. With a power to cease the rain for her set, she stomped her way through new songs and old, strumming her guitar against mic stands and amps. As she works her guitar into a frenzy in opener Take Me Home she’s able to recreate a sound that would ordinarily require a full band, and this, coupled with an inventive bit of loop pedal action in Heartbeating City sees the courtyard full to brimming for her set. With less of a focus on the new album, old favourites such as To My Bones and The Circle also make an appearance to the crowd’s delight.
As she sings out ‘We’re kissing the lips of strangers / We’re hugging whoever next we meet / Oh life I love you to my bones’ it seems to sum up the day one, and as I share a glass of wine with a new found friend to my left, realisation sinks in that Westport is special because it’s about more than the music, with a strong emphasis on bonds between strangers. No where is this more apparent than in Beth Orton’s set, and as she fails to keep the rain away, the dwindling number of hardy fans bunch up under shared umbrellas determined not to let the rain ruin the night.
Despite the weather, Beth is in good spirits, laughing and joking her way through her set and as she sheepishly smiles as she forgets the line ‘some may sing the wrong words to the wrong melody’ in Stolen Car it seems like something of an ironic moment. Though she gets through several songs before the heavens open, Someone’s Daughter and She’s Cries Your Name both every bit as beautiful as the recorded version, it’s not long before the skies break. At this point the crowd begins to vanish until there are just a handful of people singing along to the rather fitting I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine. It becomes an intimate moment for ardent fans and despite the rain falling all over the stage, Beth closes day one with a sublime set that leaves Sunday’s artists with a lot to live up to.
Photos © Jo Cox and must not be reproduced without prior consent