“A rock festival in Troon? In November? In Troon?!” The words uttered by so many people around Glasgow in 2016 when Winter Storm announced just a few months beforehand that some of classic and modern rock’s best and brightest would be taking to Troon Concert Hall for a weekend. It seemed strange to organise a festival at that time of year when so many bands are touring the country already at that point, when people would be spending their hard-earned money on tickets for tours already announced.
Now, we’re three years down the line and the fourth iteration is looming large, only a couple of weeks away. I visited for the first (and only) time in 2017 and fell in love with it. For one simple reason: it’s the rock version of Bloodstock. Everything is within easy reach and nothing more than five minutes away, the bands are great, it’s an affordable ticket price and it’s reflected in the amenities (food, drink, merchandise, you name it). If you’re staying in a local hotel for the weekend, the package deals they’ve offered with tickets are great value for money, too. And being right on the coast, in November, you’ll be glad to hear it’s indoors. But more than that, as soon as you walk in, there’s an atmosphere that simply can’t be replicated and one which gets lost at the bigger festivals – as trite as it sounds, there’s a sense of community and belonging when you’re there. Everyone’s there for the same reason as you and you’ll often see bands milling around before or after their set, chatting, taking pictures with fans and enjoying the music themselves.
Then, there’s the line-up itself. Celebrating the best of both household names, the up-and-comers and everything in-between and more importantly, finding that balance. It’s a festival which very much reflects our own ethos so to see a festival like this happen so close to our home base is great. Looking at the poster, for the fourth year in a row, they’ve snagged some great names, some making their first appearance, some returning. Winter Storm has quickly become a firm fixture on the calendar and I’d imagine bands are tripping over themselves to have the chance to play – or if they’ve already played, desperate to be booked again. And it’s reflected in the fans who regularly attend every year, in faith that they know it will be a great weekend once more. Thankfully, the times between both the main stage and the South Beach Sessions stage is fairly balances so if you’re intent on seeing every band (like I am) – you may not see every song, but you’ll be able to see a good chunk. If it’s like 2017, it’ll be a safe assumption that there won’t be a bad band amongst them, just a handful that aren’t to your specific taste. However, if I had a clone, I’d happily bring him along, plant him at one stage and myself at the other.
With in-house favourites like H.E.A.T, FM, Uli Jon Roth and Those Damn Crows taking to the main stage, I’m also keen to see The Amorettes in their new incarnation alongside Myke Gray ft Kim Jennett, having seen Gray at Steelhouse last year and being a fan of Jennett for some time but only seeing her in her previous band. And before each and every band graces the stage, they’ll be introduced by the man, the myth, the legend, the Godfather of Rock himself, Tom Russell. Meanwhile, upstairs, I’ll hopefully finally see Hollowstar after missing them so many times, catching up with Darkness Divine to get a metal fix (and the last time I saw them was supporting Anchor Lane roughly 18 months ago). And of course, old favourites, The Toi and a band we’ve backed since day one – Tomorrow is Lost.
But what has set Winter Storm aside from the rest of the pack is their constant striving to do things a little bit differently. Whilst some band always has to close the evening, there’s never been “headliners” in the traditional sense and those who could fill some sizeable rooms do appear further up the bill. However, in 2017, once The Quireboys had plied their wares for a headline-length set, a band called Glen White McManus took to the stage to give the weekend its send-off. Comprised of Chris Glen, Doogie White and Paul McManus, they left a lasting impression on the festival and everyone who was there remembers their haunting rendition of “Temple of the King”. They’re back for their third year to end the main event once more and I’m sure it’ll be every bit as special.
However, Winter Storm isn’t finished being different in just the music department – there’s the Saturday morning beach walk where everyone is invited to help rid the beach of rubbish and from what I’ve heard, helps blow away the cobwebs from the previous night. This year, there’s also the official unveiling of the Winter Storm memorial bench in front of Troon Concert Hall (pictures are available on social media but we’re not going to spoil the surprise here). Nowhere near lastly, nor least, is the festival’s constant striving for being environmentally conscious. Doing it for longer than the recent uptake of the bigger festivals, they encourage you to recycle, reduce your single use and one of the best ways is their commemorative Winter Storm cups. Whilst so many festivals have gotten in on the action in the last couple of years, to me, Winter Storm will always be the festival that got there first.
If this look at the festival has sold you, and you want to go, chances are you’re out of luck. It’s a festival in high demand, and frankly, rightly so. You may be lucky enough to nab some via re-sales but chances are, it’ll be tough competition to get them. But, in the blink of an eye, we’ll be at Winter Storm 2020, and if it’s like the last four years, it’ll be a blinder and being their fifth anniversary, I’m sure they’ll have a couple of tricks up their sleeves. But for now, we’ll count down the few remaining days to Winter Storm 2019, dreaming of those infamous pies, that infamously high drum riser and the knowledge that Scotland’s best rock festival is almost here.