It was 25 years ago last week that Scotland got its first modern music festival with the inaugural T in the Park at Strathclyde Country Park.
A quarter of a century later, ten miles along the road, a new family-friendly electronic dance and hip-hop heavy weekender debuted at Rouken Glen Park, and subsequently served a cautionary example as to the challenges of launching an outdoor music event in what has become a crowded and uncertain field.
Green spaces around central Scotland are littered with memories of festivals which are no more – T in the Park included, following its demise at Strathallan Castle in 2016.
Eye-grabbing bookings, slick organisation and a large slice of luck are all required if a promoter is to successfully get in on the game. Playground – put together by the same people behind last summer’s discontinued Fiesta x FOLD event in Kelvingrove Park – didn’t have an abundance of any of these things going for it. Much as the event’s successes in attracting some standout names ought not be overlooked – a Sunday bill including Hot Chip, Django Django and Little Dragon in particular – nor should organisers be blamed for certain factors beyond their control.
Friday audiences basked in hazy warm sunshine enjoying a bill that included Cuban Brothers, Friendly Fires and Groove Armada.
But long queues at the bars – always a head-scratching shortcoming at any Scottish music event, where thirsty audiences can hardly come as a surprise – soured the mood for many, with some fans complaining of having to wait well over an hour to be served.
Saturday seemed similarly blessed by the heavens, until a short but intense downpour late in the afternoon sent revellers scrambling for shelter beneath the trees – at least the bar queues were shorter for a while. The rumble of thunder seemed somehow apt to the opening strains of Anna Calvi’s epic first song Human. The recent Mercury Prize nominee chased the rain away with a stormy set of sensuous alt-rock and clanging guitar heroics.
Incongruously the Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show followed – the Liverpudlian radio broadcaster and actor delivering a DJ set of wedding disco standards which, however crowd-pleasing, felt like a sub-par pick for a primetime slot. Old-school hip-hoppers De La Soul spread positive vibes and smiles, shouting out everyone from the young kids in the audience to the security guards. Yet their chat-heavy stop-start performance never really got going, even with classics like Me Myself and I in the mix.
Saturday’s finale was to be tedious and toe-curling in equal measure. Twenty-million-selling New Jersey neo-soul singer and rapper Lauryn Hill is one of the most peerless artists of her era – yet she’s also notorious for being late to her shows. Playground isn’t the only festival to have taken a punt on her this summer, but for a fledgling event it seemed a wild risk to take, and it didn’t pay off.
A warm-up DJ having been left to fill more than an hour of her allotted staged time, it was 10.38pm before Hill finally emerged to boos, proffering hollow apologies for her “tardiness” and a flimsy excuse about it being her son’s birthday. There was time for just six songs before the sound was cut at 11.15pm, much of the crowd having by then already melted away into the night.