Underneath The Stars Festival 2023 – Review

Underneath The Stars Festival 2023 – Review (3)

By Charlotte Oliver, August 2023

After the most wonderful time at Underneath the Stars last year (unanimously voted our family’s Best Weekend of 2022), it made sense for me to seize the opportunity to return in order to check whether we just hit a very lucky year, or whether this festival really is the best thing since sliced bread, lovingly curated and carefully thought-out to make it a wonderful haven away from the daily grind. And so it was with great anticipation that we found ourselves once again arriving at the site in lush South Yorkshire countryside near Barnsley, hoping for another magical weekend of music and joy.

An early bird pass granted us a Thursday evening arrival ahead of the crowds (there are a limited number of these available each year) and meant that we had a wide choice of where to pitch our tent as well as some time to get ourselves into the swing of things ready for the festival’s start on Friday. As such we were up and raring to go the following day after a great sleep, an extremely invigorating shower and a slap-up breakfast butty, courtesy of the Silkstone Scouts’ excellent catering tent.

The action at UTS happens in a large field with two marquees: the larger Planets Stage (which is seated) and the Little Lights Stage which instead has standing (or dancing) space. Live music alternates between the two tents, so as one band finishes, the next starts and the audience go between the two or simply sit on the grass nearby and enjoy the music spilling out in turn. Each of the three days has ten or eleven bands programmed as well as a carefully chosen selection of workshops and street theatre-style performances, so there is always plenty to see and do for all age groups.

Friday was filled with many highlights, from the Leeds Conservatoire students who kicked the festival off with their very accomplished performances, to headliners The Lottery Winners who brought the day to a euphoric close with their energetic and tuneful indie pop. Standout moments for me were Lady Maisery’s starkly beautiful cover of Björk’s ‘Hyperballad’, which they performed simply with their beautiful voices and body percussion. Then there was the electrifying band called Honeyfeet whose sound is a genre-defying alchemic mix of folk and blues, led by the captivating BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year Ríoghnach Connolly. I will certainly be seeking them out in future. Special mention must also go to Scouting for Girls who managed to get the entirety of the seated Planets Stage to their feet, singing and dancing. The atmosphere was completely joyous and a memory I will savour for a long time. A big bowl of tempura-battered vegetables with dhal from The Fritter Shack were the perfect round-off to the day.

Underneath The Stars Festival 2023 – Review (2)

Honeyfeet were a highlight of Day 1


On Saturday, the Great British weather decided firmly against entering into the festival spirit, but a bit (or rather a lot) of mud was not going to stop this merry bunch of stargazers from having the perfect weekend, so business continued as usual starting with The Deep Blue, a wonderful four-part band who immersed us in their world of lush harmonies, perfect phrasing and gorgeous songs.

Alligator Gumbo provided another stand-out performance of the day and are definitely a band to catch if you possibly can. They are a group of very accomplished musicians performing classic swing and jazz hits (think ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ and ‘Iko Iko’) with a joyful New Orleans sound. Their energy lit up the Little Lights Stage, cut through the downpours and (along with a pint of Broadoak’s sensational Pear and Chilli Cider) put me in exactly the right mood for my first workshop of the weekend: clog dancing! Fifi and Fi led us, an enthusiastic bunch of beginners with more than 50% left feet between us, through the basics of the traditional folk art of ‘clogging’ and it was so much fun that I think I might take it up.

Then it was back over to the Planets Stage to listen to Newton Faulkner, an exceptional guitarist who held the huge audience rapt with his own compositions as well as a gorgeous cover of Massive Attack’s stunning, ‘Teardrop’.

The Shires proved a popular choice for the festival crowd and full respect to The Deep Blue who stepped in to perform a second set of the day after another band pulled out due to illness – how lucky we were to get a chance to see them again! A very groovy set by the gypsy, ska, funk, dubstep, flamenco, house, electro, pop, reggae, and soul-influenced Molotov Jukebox was followed by a barn-stormer of an end to Saturday by Scottish band Skerryvore.

Underneath The Stars Festival 2023 – Review (4)


Sunday dawned more brightly and with it came another eclectic and thrilling goody bag of top-class music from all around the world. I particularly enjoyed French group Super Panela’s mixture of influences which allowed them to start their set in a dark and mysterious place and ended with a salsa party.

Festival favourites, The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican pretty much stole the show for me on Sunday, with their parodies of popular songs, their humour and (what really came across this year) their excellent musicianship. How much I loved seeing a certain generation of men proudly walking around the festival wearing knitted tank tops à la Scott, Bjorn and Alan! I found it hard to believe that they could improve on last year’s performance, but they did. The memory of Scott’s crowd-surfing will keep me warm (and laughing) through the cold winter months.

A hearty vegan burrito bowl and another pear and chilli cider refuelled me for a solo jazz dance workshop. This was run by the lovely Robert and Tina from Swing Dance Leeds and again was a popular choice. Their impressive teaching ability led the whole class to performing a routine to each other after less than an hour and we all left feeling very pleased with ourselves.

The Magic Numbers were as fantastic as ever with the warmth of their audience interaction matched by the brilliance of their music. In the words of their lovely lead singer Romeo, ‘We are over the moon to be playing at Underneath the Stars!’

Underneath The Stars Festival 2023 – Review kate rusby

Kate Rusby closed the festival
image: Morten Fog


Closing the festival this year was the star, the Nightingale of Barnsley, the sublime Kate Rusby. Her talent for making every person in the audience feel as though her songs are a gift just for them is as remarkable as her voice.

For those reading this but also fearing the worst, I have to say that the well-known horrors of festival toilets are, unbelievably, absent from Underneath the Stars. How this is achieved I will never know as I was far too busy to observe whether there was a band of cleaners working flat out, but I suspect it also has a lot to do with the type of people who attend the festival; they are a considerate and friendly crowd. In fact, the atmosphere pervading the whole event is one of kindness, which can be seen in its excellent sustainability credentials, not-for-profit status and huge number of volunteers who are always on hand to help out.

And so, after my extensive and most enjoyable research, I can confirm that it isn’t luck that makes Underneath the Stars the best thing since sliced bread. It is love.


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