Tucked away in the Black Isle Brewery, Jocktoberfest had been quietly building a reputation over the last few years as a hidden gem in the Highland festival season. It won't be so hidden any more, if the rapturous reception for this year's sold-out festival has anything to do with it.
Set against the rustic scenery of the brewery – a homely conclave of hay, barns and spit-roasted pig – this year's Jocktoberfest was a triumph of Highland hospitality. As done previously with Belladrum, what follows is a personal – and far from conclusive – list of highlights to give you a taster of what made the festival so excellent, along with some videos of live performances by the bands I've deigned worthy for you to enjoy.
While the big draw was the full day of festivities on the Saturday, the early-birds who made it for the Friday were in for a treat. Opening the festival, Lionel did not disappoint at all.
Playing as a three-piece, without the talents of Gogo McKerrow on keyboards and backing vocals, Lionel didn't let the man disadvantage affect what was a superlative festival opener. They seem to specialise in getting a crowd revved up for a weekend of musical debauchery, and it's a task they seem to revel in.
Just listening to their set was immense. In particular, “This Isn't” was a swaggering barn-stormer (literally – hay was being lobbed about the arena like snowballs), while Over And Over sounded utterly ferocious in this three-piece interpretation. If this is Lionel playing at a handicap, it's scary to think what the future holds for the four-piece when they're at full-strength again.
Did a ceilidh version of the Tetris music. 10/10.
Alright, let's be serious – you're a journalist, Kyle. Come on. If Lionel got the crowd pumped on Friday night, then Tweed took it past the point of no return. The three-piece ceilidh band were in storming form as the crowd were driven to frenzy by the fast and energetic traditional trio. Who'd have thought that Highlanders would love ceilidh music so much?
By this point, the crowd had had the chance to partake in several of the Black Isle Brewery's foaming ales, and Tweed were the perfect music for an inhibition-free audience, melding several genres together with the ceilidh tunes to provide a perfect platform for terrible dancing – largely from my rhythmless form.
Also, like I said. Tetris. In Ceilidh. Form. You would have to have a heart of stone not to love that.
If the Victorian Trout Conspiracy had a band C.V. - which, y'know, is totally a thing – it would have a PhD in “Partynomics” (well – that, and late 19th Century fish plans). This is probably due to their chosen genre of music, the beloved ska-punk that is the musical equivalent of pulling everybody's legs up on invisible string and forcing dance moves from their arthritic old bones.
Indeed, apart from having the greatest name of any band that has ever existed, VTC were perfect for the Saturday night slot, cajoling the deliriously bouncing crowd into ever-greater displays of pure skanking glory. With a showmanship and charisma that encouraged the crowd further, they were just a joy to behold.
All day. And all night.
The joy of the smaller festival is its feeling of cosiness and homeliness. There's a rare joy in just wandering, soaking in the atmosphere and the simple joie de vivre of a group of people who have come together to get drunk and dance to music – whether that music be ceilidh, rock, ska or (in one unusual case) brass oompah-oompah music.
Yet the feel of the festival was integral to what made it so special. What was truly wonderful was how relaxed the whole affair was. There was no rushing between stages, no angry hollering in the campsite – indeed, no negativity. It was a genial, relaxed and social affair where you could get into a conversation with just about anybody, while enjoying a fine ale and the meaty goodness of spit-roasted pig.
If the success of this year's festival is any inclination, I would be glued to the Jocktoberfest website, waiting for any news of next year's tickets – they'll be sold out before you know it.