Playground Festival 2021: The Report
We recap the sights and sounds of Playground Festival at Rouken Glen Park near Glasgow
From a festival-goer's perspective, Playground Festival looked set to be a positive occasion all round. However, as the likes of Optimo publicly disclosed a few days after their festival performance, that wasn’t the case. Festivals should bring music and people together. They should never feel like a “horrible, traumatic experience,” as described in Optimo’s statement following the festival, and the people who operate festivals should make sure those who actually make the festival happen – artists, techs, and front of house staff – are treated properly and paid appropriately.
The following review of this year’s Playground Festival is written from the first-hand perspective of one festival-goer, and is based on their experience on the third and final day of the festival. [The Skinny]
Upon arriving at Rouken Glen, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re about to head out for a Zen Sunday afternoon among the greenery. But around the corner from the plant haven of the garden centre lies an altogether different oasis teeming with live music stages, people, and sodden welly boots.
Unlike most major festivals, the 10,000-capacity Playground feels congestion free while queuing for entry. The sun’s shining, beers are flowing and there isn’t one three-day-hangover in site from the first flurry past the gates.
Wandering around, the forest stage offers one of the coolest spots on site. It feels similar to Dekmantel in Amsterdam’s leafy suburbs with its hanging trees and captivating music, provided by Glasgow’s WSHOM (We Should Hang Out More) by day and renowned NYC dance trio Body & Soul by night. The festival’s staff seem hospitable too; food vans, beer tents and even toilet queues are a breeze. Some of the security even get in on the act, embracing the spirit of the day by whipping out John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever moves.
The first acts on stage arrive around 2pm as DJs Andrew Divine and S/A/M warm up the turntables. However, upon my arrival an hour later, Glasgow jazz queen Rebecca Vasmant is at the helm of the playpark stage B2B with DJ Format. Vasmant’s selections of Coltrane-like records open proceedings with virtuosity, much to the delight of the crowd which gathers piece by piece. Bluesy guitar cuts later intertwine with Format’s penchant for hip-hop beats and the DJs’ pairing sets a solid precedent for the day’s remainder.
Equally jazzy are Tom McGuire and the Brassholes. The excellent hometown octet is coherent throughout, using the main stage crowd’s optimism and energy to lift their set even further. Stax-like vocal melodies combine with more modern, Mark Ronson-esque arrangements in the band’s instrumental breakdowns. Glasgow’s answer to Vulfpeck? They may just be.
Franc Moody is next up after a quick food and drink refuel. As daylight fades, Moody’s set synchronizes with the fast-approaching night. Energetic beginnings prick the ears of the crowd before Moody, with his distinct white hair, fires into the infectiously funky tracks Dopamine and Flesh & Blood. Our scattered phone notes simply read: “Franc Moody was s**t hot.”
Another local act, Horse Meat Disco, also shine. Their soul and disco spins are a big hit with the Glasgow crowd – even as the rain begins to make its presence felt – and they warm up the occasion for the legendary act that follows on stage afterwards: Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. As she sets foot on stage, tambourine in hand, the 80-year-old shows the younger acts how live performances should be done. She oozes with joy and surprising energy, shifting between Nowhere to Run, Jimmy Mack and a tremendous cover of Jackie Wilson’s (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher. Hopefully Martha is still around dancing in Glasgow’s streets as we speak.
The ponchos go on as the rain belts down, while Craig Charles invites the crowd forward and it’s just before 9pm when the first festival faceplant in the mud is witnessed. A Radio 6Music mainstay for his funk and soul knowledge, Charles brings the party with Northern Soul classics and rarities that impress all ages and alleviate the effects of the downpour.
A quick glance to the right and it’s possible to pick up Razorlight’s set blowing in the wind. Somewhere Else rings out across Rouken Glen; America and Golden Touch are also back catalogue favourites that stand the test of time. Although they’re the misfit lineup selection of the day, their indie sensibilities still gel with the jazz and funk acts surrounding them.
But bringing the ultimate in funk are the night's final act. The non-stop tour de groove of Nile Rodgers & Chic take to the main stage in front of a soaked yet jubilant crowd. The set is as you’d expect – sheer class and danceability from beginning to end – but it’s the sudden realisation of witnessing live music in the flesh again that hits hardest. Seas of smiles ripple throughout the crowd, raised hands and muddy feet move with the beat, thousands of voices chant in unison... to experience the feeling of great live music again is so uplifting. Voices echo into the night as the crowd make their way home. Hands are held and spirits are high – this funky Sunday had that jovial festival feeling.