Our Steelhouse Festival adventure started with a full day of traveling. Chris and I drove two hours to Indianapolis, flew to Atlanta, where we met his best friend, Shane (from Tampa) then flew overnight to Heathrow, London England, and then, at Heathrow, we rented a car, and drove for 5 hours (it should’ve been 2 1/2, but the Friday afternoon holiday traffic was crazy), to high up on a mountaintop, in Ebbw Vale, Wales.
Once we arrived at the top of the mountain, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Me, particularly, after being the crazy fool who volunteered to drive. It was way harder than I had anticipated, driving on the opposite side of the road. On the opposite side of the car. On a major thoroughfare (the M4). Through multiple roundabouts, and ultra skinny roadways. And finally up a dirt road, thousands of feet up a mountain.
But here we were, on a mountain in Ebbw Vale (pronounced Ebby Vail), for the next three nights (July 27, 28, 29, 2018). About to camp out on an actual working farm; Hafod-y-Dafal Farm, for the Welsh International Classic Rock Festival; Steelhouse.
This is the eighth year for Steelhouse, but the first year that we have attended. Highlights for us at this festival, were Myles Kennedy, Phil Campbell (Motörhead) and the Bastard Sons, Black Star Riders, The Dead Daisies, The Quireboys, and a band who rarely play in the US, The Wildhearts! The lineup was stellar, and also included a large number of really fantastic support acts.
The event was incredibly well run. Steelhouse has an army of volunteers (yes, unpaid volunteers), without whom, the event would not be possible. We arrived, directed immediately to parking, and then to check in, where we got our wristbands and were then to our camping area. Since we are coming from the US, and couldn’t bring a lot of equipment, we opted for “glamping”, which gave us a more heavy duty tent, mattresses placed on top of pallets, and bedding. Not super fancy, but definitely better than a sleeping bag on the ground.
We settled into our tents and unpacked a little. The weather was overcast, but no rain yet, so we didn’t waste any time and walked over to the festival site. Lining the field were food vendors, unlike anything we see at a festival in the United States. The food was amazing! Among the vendors, was an Indian food truck, Thai food, fish and chips, curry, and amazing breakfast truck, where we ate the most delicious bacon and egg rolls every morning, and a specialty coffee truck. We could not ask for more (even Chris was happy with the food…bacon rolls and hot dogs did him for the whole weekend). Also, there were plenty of vendors selling various rocker goods, and a well stocked and operated merch tent, along with a signing tent beside it.
STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL – Day #1
The music had already started as we headed towards the stage. We had arrived in plenty of time to see the first band on our list; Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons, and they were fabulous. They were excellent, high energy, and I hadn’t known beforehand, but all of the members of the band, but one, are his actual sons. (Making their name so much more relevant and cool!)
Stone Broken were also very good, and I would definitely see them again if I had the opportunity.
Another highlight of Friday night was meeting “Welsh Rich“. We met him in the VIP tent, and immediately on seeing him, Chris and I both said “hey, he looks like Rich “The Meister” Dillon–Decibel Geek website editor/staff writer!” So we went up, introduced ourselves and guess what…his name is Rich. Hence “Welsh Rich“.
He was a really good dude, and we saw him a lot over the weekend. He was always fun, and a good laugh, much like “Canadian Rich“.
The rain held off until after the bands had finished playing, but then it came down. Never mind the weather though, after the bands finished every night, they had a DJ (Rob Toogood and Duffy, from Fuel Rock Club) in a really large tent, playing all the 80’s hair metal classics, and it was a most incredible experience! To see that many people, all singing in unison to all of our favorite hits from the 80s, was quite incredible! The rain poured down and about 12:30 or 1:00, the DJ finished and we went back to our tents, to endure the monsoon rains and winds that had set upon us on this Welsh mountaintop.
It was a rough night. After 60 straight days with no rain, some very heavy winds and rains hammered Wales. And it was harsh!! It was a long walk to the bathroom, so pretty much once you went out during the night, you were awake for the night. By the time you’re bundled up with your boots and your coat and your rain poncho and your umbrella, there is no going back to bed. Compared to some, our tent stayed fairly dry. About 2/3 of the floor was wet, but with the torrential rains, it was to be expected. Some people were moved because they literally had inches of water in their tents. Even for Wales, I think this was a very unusual amount of rain.
Our neighbors across the way came well prepared. They had brought with them all sorts of cooking equipment, along with oysters, lobster, bacon and eggs, and Chef Luke! Most impressive…and tasty! Something that made this festival very special, was the people. Every single person that we met was friendly and nice and welcoming and generally just super cool! We met people from all over the place, and aside from a couple of guys from Australia, we were definitely from the farthest away, which wasn’t lost on everybody that we met. Everybody was very impressed that we traveled so far for this festival. At one point we even got interviewed by Steelhouse!
STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL – Day #2
Day Two started off in a very cool way. The campsite was adjacent to the festival grounds, so we woke up to Glenn Hughes doing sound check (and he sounded flawless). There was rain. There was more rain, and there was even more rain. But what are you going to do? The weather is the weather and it is what it is. So at that point we just all decided that we were going to get wet. So Mudfest began.
We all grabbed some breakfast rolls from the food truck, and some instant coffee (which is the norm, it seems, in the U.K.), and went down to the stage to see what was going on. King King were playing and they sounded great. Chris commented how much they sounded like Thunder (one of his first favorites). At least the singer sounded very much like Danny Bowes.
The Dan Reed Network were a definite highlight. And my favorite act on the entire bill was also that night, Myles Kennedy. The rain was pouring when Myles played, but of course, that didn’t stop me. I stood in the rain, with my new friend Emma, and we watched the entire set. He was awesome!
Co-headlining with Myles, Glenn Hughes closed the show that night and sounded amazing. But having stood out in the rain for Myles, I opted to listen to Glenn from the VIP tent (jamming “Highway Star”, with Myles was the BEST!), and enjoy some drinks and some more fish and chips, and attempt to dry off a little bit.
We met up with a fabulous couple from Wales who are huge Killer Dwarf fans (they saw them open up for Iron Maiden in the 80s, and loved them ever since then). Knowing the guys as well as we do, it was pretty amazing to be able to call them, and have both Darrell and Russ DWaRf FaceTime with them both. They were absolutely over the moon! It was honestly something that they will never forget and they were so appreciative. That’s just the kind of guys that the Killer Dwarfs are. We gave them our DWaRf shirts to mark the event.
We made a bunch of great friends that night, and we all went over to the DJ tent after Glenn Hughes had finished, and karaoked our heads off until they pulled the plug at the end of the night.
STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL – Day #3
We woke up on day three. It hasn’t stopped raining for 18 hours. And there is no electricity. It was a little concerning, because with no electricity, of course, that means no music. We waited and waited for an announcement, and they kept us posted as best they could. They did manage to get some electricity back on by about 12:30 when they started sound check.
Sunday was a day riddled with problems for the promoters of the show. First of all, The Quireboys had played the day before in Germany. And due to weather conditions and flight problems, had found themselves, much to their dismay, stuck in Germany. They tried so hard to make it to Wales, but just kept getting rerouted through eastern Europe until they finally had to succumb to the reality that they weren’t going to make it. Definitely, a disappointment, because we were really looking forward to seeing them. But they did their best. (Paul Guerin even made the effort to come and meet the three of us for a drink in London, the following week!)
The same can’t be said for The Dead Daisies. And word got around quickly that although they were only a couple of hours drive away, certain members of the band had insisted on being helicoptered into the festival grounds. Since the weather didn’t allow for that, they just canceled at the last minute. To add insult to injury, one of the bands who opened for them the night before had managed to make it there just fine and played that afternoon.
We heard through the grapevine, that even the crew had managed to make it. That will not be forgotten soon. And for the next week, every time we saw a helicopter we said: “Hey…it’s the Daisies“. Seriously though, it made people really angry, to see such diva behavior. At that point, everybody had been toughing it out in the wind, in the rain for three days. Including all the bands, and they’re just going to not show up because they can’t get a helicopter to fly them?? Ach-y-fi!!! (that’s a little Welsh that we learned from our Dwarf fan friends Dai and Sara. I’m not 100% sure but I think it’s relevant in this situation)
So on Sunday, The Daisies didn’t play, The Quireboys didn’t play. But we had a wonderful surprise when the promoter’s sister came into the VIP tent to find us. She said that she was taking us backstage to meet The Wildhearts. (Only one of my husband’s favorite bands ever in the world!) They were so nice! It was a huge deal to go back and talk to them, Ginger wasn’t there, but we had a great time chatting with the rest of the guys. And we did get to see Ginger for a quick second when he came in at the very end.
They put on an unbelievable show, and I would say it was my favorite show of the entire weekend! The rain even stopped, and the sun came out partway through The Wildhearts‘ set.
The headliner that night was Black Star Riders. It was raining again by this point, but that didn’t stop anyone. They were awesome, and they certainly didn’t let the rain stop them putting on an incredible show.
After the live music was over, we had one more night of classic 80s heavy metal sing-along. Then there was a huge party for all of the volunteers in the VIP tent that went on all night long. Did I mention the entire show was put on by volunteers? They were absolutely incredible! Everybody was so nice, and I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever been to a festival that was run better than this one!
STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL – Final Thoughts
Another detail I forgot to mention, was that this is a very family-friendly event. There were so many kids here, and they were absolutely loving it! Steelhouse offers kids under 14 entry for free and so many people take advantage of it. These kids were absolutely loving every minute of it. If you enjoy a good festival, you may want to add Steelhouse to your list. So maybe it’s not the easiest location to get to, but once you get there it’s certainly worth it! You may never see anything as beautiful as the mist rising up through the mountains first thing in the morning and even though the weather could’ve been drier, the location was still absolutely stunning!
Three fantastic days in Ebbw Vale. I think it’s safe to say that we will definitely be back, and we look forward to seeing all the wonderful friends that we met at this fantastic festival.
Congratulations to the promoters, organizers, and volunteers. This festival was fantastic, and you should all be very proud of yourselves. Thank you for giving us a great weekend.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The dates are already decided and the event page created for 2019….Canadian Rich wants to meet Welsh Rich! Damn you, Kate and Chris, as if I don’t travel to enough worldwide festivals, your story here has me on board for 2019! – Rich “The Meister” Dillon