It was a mix of old and new as the inaugural Stone Free Festival got under way at the O2 in London this weekend. From the cutting edge of The Virginmarys to a masterclass in theatre from Alice Cooper and the splendid majesty of Rick Wakeman performing complete with orchestra and choir, it was a festival unlike any other.
Featuring rock, jazz, funk, soul and reggae, an orchestra, a narrator and a choir - in Wakeman's show stopping set piece alone - Stone Free Festival offered something for everyone. Taking place between 18th and 19th June, the two day happening saw the the likes of indie metallers Therapy? share an unlikely bill with progressive luminaries Steve Hackett and Marillion, in one of the most varied and unusual festival line ups of the year.
Kicking off on Saturday, organisers put every effort into their 'taking over the O2' boast, with acts appearing on the landmark's venue's myriad stages throughout the day. As well as music on the satellite stages in the foyer and indigo2, there were also interviews in other parts of the arena with the likes of Yes cover illustrator Roger Dean, as well as a comedy stage. Punters spoiled for choice for attractions could also browse for merchandise, visit the stalls, or pick up that rare LP at the festival's Classic Rock Vinyl Fair.
In the main arena, it was the hilarious antics from The Darkness' Justin Hawkins and shock rock spectacle of Alice Cooper that most had come to see, with the former act proving that though they may lack the theatrics, they still possess the showmanship of the later. Cooper's hits heavy set meanwhile, also saw the star paying tribute to his "dead, drunk friends", with a four song closing run through covers of tracks by The Who, David Bowie, Motörhead and Jimi Hendrix.
Day two marked a change of guard, as progressive rock took over the main arena, with Steve Hackett's gloriously harmonious musicianship going down a treat with the appreciative audience. Marillion's truncated set meanwhile - shortened due to the complexities of readying the stage for Wakeman's climactic set piece - saw the band focus heavily on two of their best loved albums; 'Misplaced Childhood' and 'Marbles'. Running through three tracks form each, it was the former's 'Heart Of Lothian' and the latter's 'Neverland' that proved the set highlights.
Bringing the curtain down on Stone Free, performing his grandiose 'The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table' concept for only the third time ever, Rick Wakeman captivated from the off. Donning a green cape, and taking centre stage, the former Yes man was flanked by band, a full orchestra, and a choir, faithfully reproducing the piece in epic style. More akin to a night at the opera than a live gig, the seated audience were treated to a spectacle with the focus on musicianship and drama. Receiving a standing ovation, Wakeman's set was a fitting closure to what had been a fantastic weekend.
A major new festival for the U.K., Stone Free brings a wealth of artists and events together indoors under one roof. Taking place at the world’s number one music and entertainment venue, Stone Free utilises the full array of facilities giving rock fans the perfect chance to immerse themselves in the music they love in the very best environment.
Look out for eonmusic's interiews with Steve Hackett, Therapy? and Marillion from Stone Free coming soon.