Another sell-out year, Stonedead 2023 followed on from 2022's event which saw thrilling sets from Michael Schenker, Those Damn Crowes and more. Featuring a nine-band bill, organisers pulled out all the stops to ensure that the event was one of the best yet.
Featuring a Celtic invasion, County Down's The Answer were joined by Irish-Anglo three-piece Therapy? and Black Star Riders, led by Belfast man Ricky Warwick, making Stonedead 2023 a showcase for some of the greatest rock artists ever to come out of Northern Ireland.
Kicking off at early doors, arrivers were treated to storming sets by NWOCR frontrunners Collateral, and South of Salem, who went down a storm, prompting the band to comment; "words cannot describe how unreal that was. Thank you all so, so much for rocking out with us. We will never forget it".
The amazing guitar histrionics of Deraps could be heard crisp and clear from afar, with main man Jacob Deraps proving more than worthy of guitar hero status. An absolutely on-point run through Van Halen's 'Hot For Teacher' meanwhile, featured some fierce air guitaring and air drumming from those in the crowd who were clearly loving every minute.
Wales' Florence Black got the capacity crowd moving with their contemporary melodic sound, while Scotland's new blues combo and festival favourites King King impressed with their mid-billing slot.
Mixing old favourites like 'Rise'-era classic 'Under the Sky' with newer material including the delta blues of 'Sundowners', the four-piece played a blinder, reminding everyone what they'd been missing during their thankfully brief hiatus.
Arguably the band of the festival however, Therapy? moved the Stondead faithful like no other band. With their "Irish riffing and shouting" consisting of a mix of material from recent album 'Hard Cold Fire' - their highest charting in twenty years - and hits from defining set 'Troublegum', their set was a short sharp shock-to-the-system.
With the likes of 'Pound land of Hope and Glory' getting the crowd moving, it was 1995 single 'Stories' that caused an eruption of energy like no other. Dedicating 'Die Laughing' to Sinead O'Connor and imploring the audience to "make some noise for mister Bernie Marsden", the joyous double tribute gave way to the closing one-two of 'Nowhere' and what else, but 'Screamager'.
A masterclass in musical mayhem and punk metal anthems, the band summing up the experience from their side, tweeting; "a huge thank you to the audience and everyone involved. We had an incredible day".
"Have you had the best weekend ever or what?", enquired front man Ricky Warwick, before joking; "Are you sick of all these Irish guys on stage?!" Affirming the new four-piece line-up from the off, the band proved they're still as vital as ever, with Warwick picking up much of the double-lead work.
Now without one of their key founding members, the front man none the less led the crowd in a chant of: "we love you Scott Gorham!" ahead of a rollicking run through Thin Lizzy's 'Jailbreak'.
Returning to the stage to join Black Star Riders, Andy Cairns lent guitar and vocals to a truly uproarious and celebratory 'Finest Hour'. Referencing what was arguably one of the finest moments of the festival, Warwick took to Facebook to declare "what a wild and wonderful festival Stonedead is. We had an absolute blast!! Fantastic to be joined by our old mate Andy Cairns of Therapy?"
With so much amazing music before them, headliners Blue Öyster Cult had their work cut out in closing out the night. In a U.K. festival exclusive, the American classic rock heroes' more measured set though proved what professionals they are, especially when sound issues delayed their performance.
Opening with heavy riffing masterwork 'Transmaniacon MC', the legends' set may have had less energy than what had come before them earlier in the day, but this was more than made up for in the inspired musicianship and mythical status of the genuine music icons on stage. This was none more apparent in the extended soloing during the dream state inducing 'Then Came the Last Days of May'.
Closing out with the trio of a monstrous 'Godzilla', the immortal '(Don't Fear) The Reaper', and 'Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll', the five-piece's set was a slow and steady climb to greatness.
Abundantly clear from the post-festival comments from attendees, organisers, and performers alike, Stonedead retains a special place in the hearts of all who experience it. A huge triumph, what started out as an idea from a handful of enthusiasts to recreate a one-dayer in the spirit of the original Monsters of Rock has blossomed to become one of rock's most loved small festivals.
With thanks to Adrian Hextall of MindHex Media for all photos.