KENDAL Calling may be four miles from Penrith, around five from Shap and 20-odd miles from its birthplace, but rare is the festivalgoer who gets hung up on geography when there’s dancing to be done and great music to be had.
After a soft launch on Thursday, the eight-year-old festival cranked up into a different gear last night (Friday) as thousands of revellers of every age set their Sat Nav for CA10 2HN - Lowther Deer Park - where De La Soul and Suede were headlining the cavernous main stage in a storybook woodland setting.
By 3.30pm yesterday in steady drizzle under white-grey clouds it could have been the first of October rather than August 1.
Incessant afternoon rain yesterday (Friday) had reduced visibility on the M6 down to about 50 yards while strong gusts inflated the northbound windsock at the exit from Tebay Services to a near permanent 45-degree angle.
The weather and influx of new arrivals conspired to turn the network of pathways around the site into a squelchy quagmire of muddy ‘emulsion’.
A security guard on just one of the many entrance checkpoints had clicked through no less than 7,000 partygoers - many in wellies, ponchos, straw hats and bright waterproofs - pushing loaded wheelbarrows of tents, tables, sleeping bags...and of course, beer.
On the camping chairs, rumours circulated of an 18,000-attendance this year. If accurate, it would represent a 5,000 jump on last year and a huge leap from the 900-or-so who attended the first ever Kendal Calling back in 2006.
But there has been no formal confirmation of numbers so far.
The huge fields surrounding the historic venue were bumper-to-bumper with cars, 4x4s, jeeps and VWs and barely a blade of glass wasn’t snugly-occupied as the vast main camping area took on the appearance of a temporary ‘refugee camp’ - the whole site surrounded by a ring of 13 miles of fencing.
But the worst of the 'yellow warning' weatherfront had gone over by mid-to-late afternoon and by the time De La Soul took to the stage last night, (50 minutes later than scheduled after heavy traffic and Ella Eyre pulled out with laryngitis) even the sun was threatening to join them.
The New York hip hop trio - perhaps unfairly remembered for soft, playful commercial tracks like Three Is The Magic Number, and Me, Myself and I, delivered a much tougher, grittier set of their less-well known material, which got the vast crowd jumping with 'gangster fingers'.
“Kendal, De La Soul are in your area!” they boomed at 8.20pm - jolting the tightly-packed crowd alive with raw noisy hip-hop - as teenage flowergirls were hoisted onto the shoulders of boyfriends for a better view.
“Put your cameras down and git ya hands in the air!” De La Soul appealed to the crowd several times as a sea of iPhones and mobile phones sprouted up from the audience and began a battery of flashes: “...We don’t want you missing this!”
And they were right. Arguably, the band sounds more relevant now than they did 20 years ago, which is a sure sign they were far ahead of their times.
Following on, Suede lead singer Brett Anderson may be pushing 50 but he shows no sign of it - at least not from a distance. He still has, as far as I could see, the same art student fringe, the same androgynous physique, and his voice has lost none of its cutting social commentary.
Even two decades on, it is difficult to place where Suede stand in the great roll-call of Britpop. In footballing terms they are something of an ‘Arsenal’. Capable and well-respected by many, but not always guaranteed a place in the top four.
Only Suede aficionados can identify tracks outside the obvious breakthrough chart hits of Trash, Animal Nitrate and last night's closing number, Beautiful Ones etc.
Never as progressive as Blur and not as commercially successful as Oasis, Suede occupy a middle ground of their own and probably prefer it that way. Twenty years may have passed since they were Radio 1 regulars, but they have managed to retain the same raw guitar energy that powered them through the early-to-mid Nineties.
The years have been kind to Brett and the band. But it was a professional, dutiful performance with little banter with the audience in a set which closed with a simple and quite humble: "Thank you Kendal."
De La Soul stole the show for me, although I woke up on this soggy Saturday morning with a sore head and 'Animal Nitrate' still going round in a loop.
It will be top of my list to download from iTunes as soon as I get back home.
Tonight on the main stage it's the turn of Frank Turner, the Happy Mondays, Razorlight and Athlete.