Summer Sundae will once again rise like a phoenix from the ashes of more budget controversies, to bring three days and five stages of music and comedy to the heart of Leicester. Questions over its future seem to dog the mid-August event of late, but year-on-year organisers still manage to pull rabbits in various shapes and sizes out of hats. For this eleventh edition of the event, they placed early money on artists including Warpaint, Graham Coxon, The Maccabees and The Antlers to give the bill interest without breaking its bank.
To this effect, its something of a small wonder that Summer Sundae gets regular criticism for its choice of artists. That view is put even further off kilter by the fact that the event has always been billed as a boutique family festival. And while this year cant boast Caribou or The Fall like previous years, it no doubt achieves exactly what the organisers of the former Festival Awards Best Small Festival winner wanted, throwing its nets wide with pop, folk, comedy, local bands and more niche indie and electronic artists.
Within the small confines of De Montfort Hall grounds and garden (plus a borrowed bit of the neighbouring park), it actually boasts quite an eclectic little setup. And its size means that even if there are uncomfortable clashes, theres usually a chance to catch a bonus half hour here and there that may have been unreachable at larger festivals.
Must-sees start at the events outset with 2:54 on the Last FM Rising Stage, which later hosts Japans Shonen Knife. A bit of nifty hot-footing between the indoor and main stages will shoehorn three artists meriting the effort. The Bees perform just days after the release of their first album in ten years, Every Steps A Yes, whilst diving indoors, worthy Mercury Music Prize-nominees King Creosote & John Hopkins mix of folk and atmospheric electronic are close to unmissable. Blur-come-solo artist Graham Coxon plays the sun-setter, midway through what has been his summer festival revival of sorts. A little later The Maccabees will make their first Summer Sundae appearance as the days well-deserved headliners, but there is also classic reggae undercover with Toots And The Maytals.
Saturdays headliner might be Newton Faulkner, preceded by sometime indie mainstays Reef and ’70s throwbacks, Showaddywaddy, but the main stage also plays host to rising Geordie folk star Beth Jeans Houghton and bhangra-rock fusionists Kissmet. Those with a penchant and curiosity for heartening male solo artists will make a beeline for Benjamin Francis Leftwich, who is followed by Jim Jones Revue and bill toppers I Am Kloot, with their gloriously crafted downtrodden serenades. Upbeat indie pop is served elsewhere with Little Comets and later, likeable hard workers Pete And The Pirates.
Those looking for a different angle on their festival experience might stray to the Musician Tent, which hosts more of the acoustic artists the weekend as to offer, juxtaposed with hay bales that pave the way for a rustic bivouac housing all things real and ale. Saturdays gem is likely to be Dizraeli & The Small Gods, who dare to mix guitar magic and viola with turntables to enchanting effect.
Example and then McFly will grab the festivals pop consortium by the scruff of the neck, topping Sundays bill. But there are more than a handful of appetite whetting acts elsewhere. The Drowned In Sound-curated Indoor Stage for the day will see The Antlers showcase their sensitively textured songs, having produced one of 2011s most beautiful albums, Burst Apart. The Young Knives make a mid-afternoon return on the main stage, hoping their best-known hit Weekends and Bleak Days (Hot Summer) doesnt jinx any of the sun-soaked lounging that Summer Sundaes Sunday crowds are so proficient in.
Meanwhile, decisions will need to be made between Dutch Uncles intelligent pop and Factory Floors industrial electronic beats. The Cuban Brothers main stage antics might cut those sets short for some, but shortly after, Warpaint perhaps one of the most anticipated performances of the weekend appear indoors, followed by Mercury Music Prize nominees Everything Everything. Alabama sisters The Pierces and Sunday Bests Kitty, Daisy & Lewis top the Musician bill, no doubt claiming a bigger crowd than its white canvas walls will contain.
For those looking for more excuses to avoid the main stages later acts, there are choices at every turn. Dry The River headline the Rising Stage, having pricked the ears with their self-released EP The Chambers & The Valves, while Blood Red Shoes are a surprising, if not unwelcome choice for indoors. And if none of those respective headliners are enough, regular Have I Got News For You panellist Jon Richardson graces the eFestivals Comedy Stage.
Whether all of this will make this years Summer Sundae a sellout is another matter, especially amidst mutterings that the great supernova of festivals that have saturated the market over the last decade will shortly collapse into a black hole. But it is in the intelligent, well-timed bookings that lie this events strengths. And its boutique mini-Glastonbury/Bestival vibe that springs kids areas, independent bars and food stalls, plus quirky corners where vintage stalls and hare-brained schemes shelter, that maintain its wide appeal and prevent it from becoming the scene of a post-exam binge.