Not every music lover is automatically an outdoor festival goer. The idea of seeing different bands over a weekend might be appealing, but the prospect of torrential rain, mud, temperatures of 30 degrees, or sleeping in a tent can be enough to stop people from going to festivals.
But there’s an alternative. No need to pitch a tent. Or prepare for all types of weather. Just hop on the tube and head to The O2, where there’s no chance of the unpredictable English summer stopping the fun. Now in its third year and expanded to a two-day event, Stone Free Festival makes the most of the London venue for a jam-packed lineup of music.
The first day of the festival was a real feast for metal and hard-rock fans. With bands like Megadeth and Scorpions headlining O2 Arena, the venue became a home for all metal-related activities.
Aside from the O2 Arena, Stone Free Festival took over the more intimate Indigo, the Orange Amps Stage located near the entrance, and Speak Easy Lounge, home for acoustic acts, activists, and stand up comedians. Situated inside All Bar One, it was also a place to chill out, relax, and snuggle on a sofa under golden lights.
In addition to the live entertainment, a record and music memorabilia fair was held inside the main building on Saturday afternoon.
The Orange Amps Stage was built outside the main building and presented festival goers and passers-by with a selection of upcoming young bands rocking from the early afternoon. It was the first stage to start with the music and the only one with free entry. Featuring Nitroville, Killit, Anchor Lanne, Dirty Thrills, and Dax & Roxanne, the stage constantly pulled in a crowd. But it was Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics who took my breath away.
Headlining the smallest stage, the London-based five-piece rocked my socks off. With an energy rivaling Pearl Jam’s performances with an added hint of Arctic Monkeys melody lines, and the girl power of Shirley Manson, the band has found a recipe for success. There is no surprise the group performed at last year’s Download Festival. To be honest, I was surprised they were chosen to play the smallest stage at Stone Free Festival. In my opinion, they deserved a slot at Indigo, and in a no time could be headlining that stage.
Inside the main building, Indigo featured various acts from mid-afternoon. Triggerfinger and Stone Broken delivered strong sets and, as expected, filled the venue with raised arms and voices. But the night had only two kings: Soul Warrior and Orange Goblin.
The American alternative metal group Soul Warrior probably had their greatest commercial success in the early ’90s when Nirvana pushed the alternative sound to the masses. But the band have preserved and continued to deliver album after album to their sturdy fan base. Kory Clark’s dirty vocals combined with impressive guitar riffs and his charismatic stage personality won over the crowd as easily as in their heyday.
Headlining the Indigo stage, London-based Orange Goblin confirmed that they can live up to all the hype that surrounds them. Vocalist Ben Ward was hailed as the monster on the stage, “the Thunder”, “the Man”. Well, he lived up to his nicknames and after the Indigo show could add a few more to his collection.
The four-piece hard rock and metal band are very British in their look and influences. If anything, the presence of Lemmy is more than felt from the moment they hit the stage and unleashed their massive sound. Devil’s Whip, Saruman’s Wish, and Stand On Something were the highlights of the set with the audience going nuts watching Ben spit water on stage.
The Orange Goblin set could be only topped by the real rock legends: Scorpions. The German rock veterans brought their Crazy World Tour to London, kicking off with Going Out With A Bang. Singer Klaus Meine, rhythm/lead guitarist Rudolf Schenker, and guitarist Matthias Jabs dominated the whole stage and runway, swinging back and forth, encouraging singalongs and mastering the art of owning an arena. With over 110 million records sold worldwide, the band celebrated their music and fans in style by playing all-time favourites like Is Anybody There, Still Loving You, Winds Of Change, and Rock You Like A Hurricane. And once again Lemmy Kilmister was celebrated in the best possible way, with a stellar cover of Motorhead’s Overkill.
Sunday brought Father’s Day and a far more relaxed atmosphere at The O2. It was a wise choice to make this day a celebration of prog and blues. The small stages opened around midday and the festival site once again began to fill with music lovers of all ages, not just dads.
Godsticks, a five-piece progressive rock band from Cardiff opened the day at the Indigo stage. Hailed by Metal Hammer magazine as “one of the UK’s most idiosyncratic rock bands” they were one of the groups on my must-see list. I must admit I was slightly shocked seeing the venue fairly empty during their set. Energetic, with heavy guitar riffs and echoes of symphonic metal, Godsticks are a band I need to see at least one more time, on their own, preferably headlining their own gig.
Meanwhile, on the Orange Amps Stage, Fire Red Empress rocked hard on Sunday afternoon, bombarding the audience with music and emotions. The vocalist Jen Diehl threw herself into ecstatic dance on a stage that looked too small for her potential and the band’s performance. She screamed her soul out, repeatedly kicking the air and jumping up and down. Without a doubt, this was another band that could do with an upgrade to Indigo.
On the other end of the scale stood Ginger Wildheart on the Indigo stage. After the pure energy and wild force of Fire Red Empress, it was time for a much-needed acoustic set.
Wildheart, better known for his glam rock sets, decided to put on a show that could be broadcast on MTV’s Unplugged Sessions.
Still in Indigo, it was time for Tyketto, who are possibly still best known from their 1991 single Forever Young. Their set sounded as good and fresh as it would have in the ’90s. With breathtaking guitar riffs and, after all those years, crystal clear vocals, the band pulled off a show that changed the 2500-capacity room into a dancefloor.
Up next, ex-Poison, ex-Winery Dogs, ex-Mr. Big guitar god Richie Kotzen was one of the most awaited acts of the day. He delivered a series of classy licks from his own catalogue and probably the only reason his set wasn’t longer was the arrival of Anathema to open the main stage.
Anathema are another group that started in the ’90s and continue to perform. Evolving from a heavy metal sound to ambient prog landscapes, the current incarnation is more Tangerine Dream or early Pink Floyd than the gothic metal old fans might expect. Personally, I found it a somewhat calming experience, the kind of music that goes best with a cup of tea in your favourite armchair.
As the day goes by everyone awaited acts were finally taking the stage at O2 Arena. Roger Hodgson from Supertramp and YES featuring ARW.
The audience filled the O2 Arena with sounds of excitement and joy as Roger appeared on stage. Moody lights, plants, white piano and brought on stage band helped ex Supertramp to deliver a spectacular show. An hour set filled with fans favourites School, The Logical Song, Give A Little Bit, and as Roger said the song that seems to be popular around the world, but no one quite gets it like the British, Breakfast In America. It was almost a shame that there was another act coming up that night.
The Owner Of A Lonely Heart hitmakers, Yes featuring ARW, closed the Stone Free Festival as Sunday’s headliner. Celebrating their 50th anniversary, Anderson, Wakeman, and Rabin brought back the beloved ’80s version of Yes. With songs like Cinema, Hold On, And You And I, Rhythm Of Love, Heart Of The Sunrise, Owner Of A Lonely Heart, and the closing encore Roundabout this was one of the greatest nights in prog music history with a legendary band once again proving to the old school fans and new generations that music doesn’t have an expiry date.
Stone Free Festival, London O2 Arena, 16-17 June 2018
Words and photography by Edyta K