Lounge on the Farm is a curious mix of things; its farm location outside Canterbury and proposition as a family friendly festival stands in stark contrast to the sizeable portion of its rave-loving attendees dressed in vests and tribal tattoos, who's mission statement for the weekend seems to be to spend three solid days strung out on as many Class A drugs as they can get their hands (and mouths and noses) on.
Maybe I've been spoilt by festivals in the past, but it is this lack of clear identity and direction where Lounge on the Farm falls down. As a small(ish), regional festival it doesn't have the true depth of national and international acts to which other festivals boast (with a particularly local line-up this year). Other smaller festivals (Larmer Tree, Wilderness or In the Woods) make up for this with beautiful aesthetics and a site packed full of interesting quirks and curiosities, Lounge attempts a little of both, but fails to excel at either. What it does do in earnest (and with great success) is to showcase the impressive local music scene which is currently budding in Kent - supplementing it with a selection of delicious food carts and a small spattering of big-name acts.
The first of such local talents is Lucy Kitt, who's blend of traditional English folk, with the cross-Atlantic tones of Americana, makes for compelling listening on the Farm Folk Stage. On set highlight 'Laurel Canyon' there are hints of Blue-era Joni Mitchell, with lush vocals and detailed, sliding acoustic guitar. Beans on Toast is next on Main Stage and his hyper-honest, down-to-earth songwriting makes this one of my most anticipated sets of the weekend. It's strange seeing a songwriter of this ilk - normally found performing in small venues and pubs - playing such a large stage, and the huge chasm which stands between the main stage and the front of its crowd does little to make him feel at home (this distance was a recurring theme which was commented on by many main stage acts over the weekend). However, as his set draws to a close he's done his job well, singing about everything from misconceptions of people from Essex, festivals on MDMA, and not being invited to play Glastonbury (he ultimately was), with a warm demeanour and lyrics which are both are intelligent and tongue-in-cheek.
With the evening drawing on, Lucy Rose puts in one of the performances of the weekend. Her album Like I Used To was released last Autumn and it sounds like she's been busy since, with lots of new material being rolled out across her set - one of which is the particularly strong 'All I've Got is You'. However, it's the familiar tracks which really get the crowd going, and the off-kilter rhythms of 'Night Bus' and closer 'Bikes' have the atmosphere built up for the night's headliner. Seasick Steve owes a lot to the UK, a fact which he tells the crowd as he settles into an armchair in the centre of the stage. Having spent the majority of the past 50 years busking and doing casual work in the US it was the UK music scene which gave him his big break (an appearance on Jools Holland in 2006), and it remains his significant market for sales. Tonight he's keen to repay the favour.
Over the course of his hour and twenty minute set, he shows his DIY-ethos and affable nature to the biggest crowd of the weekend. It's a minimalist set-up, with Steve nestled comfortably into the chair, armed with a myriad of homemade guitars formed of everything from driftwood to hubcaps, as well as a library of road-torn stories detailing his life to date with humour and honesty. His constant, good-natured interaction with the crowd adds an extra level to the set. On blues number 'Walking Man' he asks a girl to join him on stage, serenading her with this romantic ballad, and with 'It's a Long Long Way' the favour is reciprocated with crowd were belting the chorus back at him at the top of their lungs. As the final notes of (relevantly titled) 'Down on the Farm' faded upon the main stage, It feels like we'd been treated to something truly special, from an artist who's not-of-this-time.
There's little music of note on Saturday morning so I make my way to one of the smaller tents for an enjoyable morning of comedy from, amongst others, Richard Herring and Stephen K. Amos. As the afternoon draws in on Merton Farm, the site is starting to fill up - this is a pleasant surprise as the clear lack of crowds on the Friday did take something of the atmosphere away. A fantastic set from Essex five-piece Eliza and the Bear gets the day of music started in style; their upbeat indie-pop is the perfect cure for the hangovers and lethargy which riddle crowds early in the day, and shows hints of a bright future ahead for the band. Next Willy Moon struts and croons his way through a triumphant Main Stage set, before a polar-opposite performance of subdued, Beach House-esque, lo-fi from Pale Seas on the Farm Folk Stage.
As the darkness rolls in, unfortunately so does the weather, and the glorious sunshine of the day is interrupted by a torrential storm. Camden's indie-rock poster boys Tribes persevere admirably - however, their set falls flat on a somewhat dispersed and deflated crowd. With anticipation for the night's headliner growing, the weather gods are kind to the inhabitants of Merton Farm, and the dark clouds begin to part.
Having had an incredible twelve months (which included a Mercury nomination and universal acclaim for her debut album 'Devotion'), Jessie Ware, ticks off another first tonight: headlining a festival. Showing why she's thoroughly overdue of this honour she soars her way through opener 'Devotion', with help from an incredibly tight backing band. As previously mentioned, the festival's demographics are awkwardly split between the contrasting house and dub music of the Hoe Down stage, and the indie-folk of the Farm Folk and Farmhouse stages. However, with Jessie Ware, they found their common ground. The young talent is on exceptional form with her soulful voice complimenting the synth driven R&B beats of 'Night Light' and 'Swan Song' perfectly. As she closes her out the set with timeless pop hit, 'Wildest Moment', the unified crowd are euphoric; singing, dancing and jumping to the rolling beats.
With the Sunday offering a distinct lack of big name acts, it was two local bands who really caught my attention. The first was courtesy of four young boys from Dover, collectively going by the name of Gentlemen of Few. Their bluegrass-tinged Americana is full of youthful vigour and lush harmonies, and for the first time on the weekend the relatively small Farm Folk stage was at capacity. Despite showing huge promise on the few original tracks performed, the majority of their set was padded out with covers (admittedly well chosen and delivered tracks from The Avett Brothers et al), so they're one to keep an eye on for the future, but perhaps a little under-developed right now. The other act which hugely impressed was Canterbury's own, Coco and the Butterfields, who brought their self-proclaimed FIP FOK (a fusion of Folk, Hip-Hop and Pop) to the hay-bale-littered Farmhouse stage. With a sound which is somewhere between King Charles and Scroobius Pip, they are very much the homegrown heroes of the festival; playing to a crowd strong in numbers and in spirit. Each member of the seven-strong outfit is hugely accomplished instrumentally, and the addition of a beatboxer (nicknamed 'Euphex') moved them above the mundane 'folk fusion' band tag and into a genre-spanning talent. With the songwriting ability displayed on 'Warriors', and their live energy and charisma they are truly formidable act.
As the curtain falls on the final night of Lounge on the Farm, overall it's been an enjoyable weekend of good music. However, in an market which looks to have hit capacity (over 6% of the near 1,000 music festivals were cancelled in 2012), and with the endless selection of huge festivals with marquee names and boutique festivals catering to all manner of niches, are words like 'enjoyable' and 'good' enough? Time will tell. But if Lounge on the Farm wants to take the step up to something more than that, then it'll have to work out exactly what it wants to be.