BonnFest 2022 – Like Old Times

Friday to Sunday was a good time for the weather to stay dry in Bonn, and for the most part it did. It was BonnFest 2022 time, and a whole lot of people were on the streets to prove they missed relaxing to a break of good music, food, drink and shopping in a City Centre that has become all too gloomy in recent months.

For many of us older music fans in Bonn the short festival ‘Bonner Sommer’ was a high point for live music to look forward to. I remember particularly an afternoon/evening in 2008 in the company of two excellent local bands, Sunny Skies and Deserted. Whether it was noise complaints or lack of funds by a Council reeling from the World Trade Center Bonn credit fiasco I no longer remember. But I remember the concerts and the life they brought to Bonn City Centre and particularly the stage in front of Bonn Guildhall.

Astatine & Sobo – a new winning combination

The huge number of people in the City Centre streets this last weekend were proof (if it were ever needed) that there is still a huge percentage of the local population who do want to enjoy music and shopping. They do want to have some fast-food, chill out with a glass of wine and dance, or listen, but ultimately, they do want to celebrate life.

The reason for the busy streets and music was BonnFest, introduced by city-marketing bonn e.V. and supported by a cultural grant from the City of Bonn. This musical program was created in ‘curatorial collaboration’ so I am told (not sure what that means though!) with “der Musikstation” of Kleine Muck e.V.” What I do know for sure is that thanks to the extra support, amongst other things, more local artists could be engaged to perform, a lot of them very familiar to readers of this website as you will hear.

The short festival opened on Friday with the popular Karnevals band Klüngelköpp closing the evening at 9 pm. For some odd reason (fear of the famous Lärm motzkis’?) the final shows started progressively earlier each day until Sunday saw a final Ode an die Freude dance session at Marktplatz to bring the festival to a close at 6 pm – by which time many of the food and drink booths were already closed for the day. I guess we should be thinking with a glass half full mentality though even if the glasses were being collected so early.

Apologies for everyone performing on Friday as work commitments meant I only got out to see the music on Saturday and Sunday. A three songs-eye-view of the proceedings:

Karneval Kapers with Jedöns

As a warm-up to the coming days music local Karneval band Jedöns did their job on the big stage at Marktplatz, their good-time sound and smiling faces went down as well as the wine and food being consumed by ever-increasing visitor numbers as the afternoon progressed.

I wasn’t there for the wine or food though. Münsterplatz at 3 pm was where I wanted to be. Astatine and Sobo are two of my favourite local musicians but have never played together in this combination before although I remember Astatine joining Marion & Sobo’s band at Alter-Zoll not too long ago. It seems surprising that this was a first since both have a love of, and a gift, for bringing Gypsy Jazz to life. The ensuing hour of top-class music belied the fact that the band had only been through one rehearsal session beforehand. One gentleman was so overwhelmed by the music that he felt compelled to usher Astatine over to the stage front and handed her some money, which she ‘deposited’ delicately in her décolleté with a bemused smile. Fans of Gypsy Jazz of Django Rheinhardt, and even Fats Waller (”Honeysuckle Rose’) had a great time for sure. Thank you Astatine, Sobo, Moritz Götzen and Fredi Gebhardt!

Melchi and full band – Best yet from Bonn’s Cameroon Star

Following that wonderful set was another I was keenly looking forward to. Melchi Vepouyoum first appeared on my musical radar after an appearance at Folk Club Bonn in May 2017. Nobody knew the words to his songs from Cameroon, but it didn’t matter. He had charisma and rhythm in spades and was an instant success. In the following five years Melchi has gone on from being a popular street musician to concerts at the Harmonie and Alten Zoll. Often with different musical combinations but always presenting music that is, in Bonn for certain, his own. On this bright Saturday afternoon, just hearing his band warm-up was a huge pleasure and got a round of loud applause. The big audience at Münsterplatz was chomping at the bit to enjoy a mix of African rhythms and late Summer sunshine. A perfect combination at a perfect time. They were not disappointed. This was undoubtedly the best ‘Melchi’ incarnation I have witnessed to date, and we undoubtedly have in our midst a World talent. I can’t imagine that Melchi will be playing in Bonn’s streets for coins much longer, but if he does it will be because he loves the vibes and challenge of capturing an audience out shopping. Well done especially to Melchi’s guitarist (Lionel?) playing his first gig with the band.

Is it Robbie? or is it Armin? – Sir Williams

Well, that was the music I had wanted to hear for the day. I couldn’t resist a short walk back to Marktplatz though to spend some time in the company of Sir Williams. Well, how could you not be curious to catch a Robbie Williams cover band just a few weeks after most of Bonn had heard the real thing from the University grounds? Armin Joisten actually manages to walk the line between ‘being’ Robbie and still being himself surprisingly well. The compositions are spot on from a band obviously well played-in with each other. ‘Let me entertain you’ kicked off both the real and the coverband shows, and both did exactly that in their very different scales.

Sunday was another day to look at where bands and musicians from Bonn Folk Club were heading musically. First though I was determined to catch Christian Meringolo. His is a name that many readers here will be very familiar with and have maybe wondered why I never reviewed his shows before. The answer is that circumstance always seems to have got in the way. This time around though I was there on the dot of start time – 4 pm. Christian though was still waiting for a giant green dragon with a large contingent of smiling children in tow to leave the area front of stage. Very wise – do not allow yourself to be upstaged by children or dragons should be a motto for performers everywhere.

Christian Meringolo eases back for a solo

So it’s around a half hour later than planned before Christian steps onstage. He has a huge smile and confidence to match. Luckily he also has the talent to prove his smile and confidence are well-founded. His enthusiasm is infectious and soon carries well beyond the small group of fans who grabbed places as the cuddly dragon and entourage left. Within a very short time the audience had quadrupled – many of them, as he pointed out, Italian. It wasn’t long before three glasses and a bottle of were brought to the stage front. Yep, Italian through and through! Suffice to say, I am now also a fan, and will try extra hard to make it next time Christian Meringolo is in town.

As with Saturday, there were two acts I have seen often at Bonn Folk Club to enjoy, so back to Münsterplatz it was to see…

Rabbits on Trees add a touch of Punk Folk to the afternoon

Lukas Mattke has also made an appearance or two at Dotty’s. I didn’t then, nor do I now, understand why his band name is Rabbits on Trees. Ours is not to reason why, ours is to listen to his own brand of what Lukas calls Bedroom Punk. Put into today’s trio setting his sound reminds me very much of Folk Punk and most particularly Frank Turner (of whom Lukas does indeed turn out to be a huge fan). As with Melchi, there is a quantum leap in the music presented today compared to the pared-down sound at Dotty’s in 2019. There is still something of a shyness in the presentation holding the trio back a little, but maybe a sunny Sunday afternoon isn’t the ideal place to present a punk-folk sound. As a big fan of Frank Turner myself though I am hoping Rabbits on Trees will be more than just a curious name on the local circuit before long.

Wandering Souls – two voices as one, two guitars, and a bit of feedback

And to finish off the live music in Münsterplatz, Wandering Souls. No apologies for featuring Gerrit and Lorena once again on this site – they really do seem to be playing local gigs a lot these days and picking up musical experience along the way that will I’m sure make them even better than the super vocal duo they already are. Undaunted by the endless small children hanging onto the stage safety barricade before them, or the faulty connection inside Lorena’s guitar, the two delivered a smooth set featuring as always beautiful harmonies from their own self-compositions. ‘Chasing Cars’ was also a highlight. The Snow Patrol classic seemed almost written for them. A shame that the moderator stepped onstage before the duo was able to take a well-deserved bow and applause from the audience.

Well done City of Bonn then for an enjoyable three days that put life back in Bonn’s heartland. More of the same next year please, and for longer if possible!

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