This was my first time at Positive Vibration – Festival of Reggae, having wanted to go since it’s inception in 2016, but for one reason or another never made it.  I finally got tickets for last year’s festival and well, you know the rest!

It was certainly more than worth the wait – indeed it not only reminded me why I love festivals and live music so much, but also some insight into what makes a great festival.

I never really got into online gigs during lockdown, I rarely watch Jools, and gigs in a half-empty venue surrounded by people having a chat always have something missing, it’s fairly obvious when you think about it: No matter how good a band is, the live experience only really blows the mind when you’re in a room (or field) possibly surrounded by complete strangers, but with a feeling of unity because they are vibing off the music as much as you are.

In the age of social media which focuses and amplifies our differences, where political debate has lost all nuance and breaks down into “if you don’t agree with me you must be a bad person/stupid/both” leading to pointless circular arguments on a near daily basis with people you’ll probably never even meet, with nobody looking for common ground, it’s so refreshing, such a joy to be back in a room full of people dancing, waving their hands around and clearly having the time of their lives, united in our love of the music.  It’s infectious (hopefully not literally in these pandemic days!)

It’s like an epiphany – why do I enjoy Glastonbury so much even when the lineup is a bit rubbish?  Obviously it’s the people who go who are determined to enjoy themselves and excited at being at a big festival!

Why did I enjoy Threshold so much?  I mean the bands were good but most of them were local and could be seen at the likes of The Zanzibar regularly – again, people!  Being a small festival where everybody seemed to know everyone (to the point where I sometimes felt like I’d crashed a private party!) made it unmissable (and now sadly missed!)

Skating Polly was by far the best gig I’ve ever been to in my life, despite 3 decades of watching live music – so much so that I decided to get back involved in promoting (26th March, Jimmy’s Liverpool – do buy a ticket 😉 ) the band were great but I could never put my finger on what exactly made that night so special, now I realise, having 100 people in a 100 capacity room, some who’d seen the band several times, some like me who’d enjoyed their albums but never seen them, the excitement and joy in the room was electric, and of course with 10 years experience of recording and playing live, but doing it on their own terms, refusing to play by industry rules, it’s genuinely rare to find a band of their calibre playing in small venues.

The Positive Vibration audience were up there with the best!  Whilst I didn’t speak to many people other than those I already knew, it felt like being amongst friends.

I’m not a massive reggae fan, and my knowledge of the genre is very basic, but I do enjoy it, particularly when live – I used to love going to the Notting Hill Carnival or Brixton Market with all the sound systems booming for example.  It was an education listening to the medicine men DJs and shazamming what they were playing for some ideas of what to check out at home.

I get the impression that even hardcore reggae fans were impressed by the line-up, and for casual fans like me, there were bands such as Ruts-DC, Neville Staple – From The Specials and Asian Dub Foundation for a bit of variety.

I was planning on being sensible on Friday night, there are a shortage of taxis at the moment, so since I’ve seen Neville Staple before I thought I could catch a couple of songs, get some photos and head off to beat the crowds, no chance!  Once they started the atmosphere was pure adrenalin and I just couldn’t pull myself away until they left the stage.

Running on Friday evening and all day Saturday, across District, Camp & Furnace, Hangar 34 and the Gravel Pit in the Baltic Triangle, it provided an impressive line-up with a nice mix of bands, and importantly a great audience of chilled people who know how to enjoy themselves.

I didn’t see a set I didn’t enjoy, highlights for me were Dawn Penn and the Maticians (she was one of my highlights of Liverpool Music Week back in 2018 so no surprise there), The Twinkle Brothers, Ruts DC, Jaw Wobble and The Invaders of the Heart, Channel One, Kioko, Alieghcia Scott, Asian Dub Foundation, and of course Neville Staple plus the Medicine Men DJs.

It ticked all the boxes for me that I like to see in a festival – seeing a few bands I’d wanted to see, discovering some who are new to me, catching up with friends, chilled friendly atmosphere, and as I’ve mentioned, great audience.  I honestly couldn’t fault it.

Of course it wouldn’t be a festival without the occasional hiccup, and seemingly Hollie Cook had to cancel her set due to technical issues.

Luckily for me, though she was on my shortlist because I saw her a few years ago at Bearded Theory and really enjoyed her set, a friend had recommended The Twinkle Brothers to me, so I took a chance and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

It is of course a shame for anybody who particularly wanted to see her, hopefully it wasn’t too much of a sour note for them in an otherwise perfect couple of days.

It’s always a bad idea to buy festival tickets for one band as line-ups are always subject to change, and the beauty of festivals is being able to check out bands you might not see in the normal run of things – sometimes you go to another stage after a couple of songs, sometimes you discover a new favourite who you enjoy more than the band you went to see.

Great bands, fab chilled but enthusiastic audience, proper festival feel, and left me wishing it was on the Sunday too, and a bargain when you consider the quality of the line-up.

It certainly earned it’s place in my shortlist of favourite festivals, and as soon as tickets go on sale for next year, I’ll be straight in the queue!