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The festival on a hill drawing rock fans to the Valleys from across the world

30 Jul 2023 4 minute read
Steelhouse 2018 (Credit: Steelhouse Festival)

David Owens

For a rock festival that pulls in fans from as far afield as the US, Japan and Israel, Steelhouse is still something of a hidden secret in Wales.

Officially the UK’s highest festival, this gathering of classic rock fans has been staged on a hilltop working farm overlooking the former steel town of Ebbw Vale since 2011.

For three days every year it witnesses an influx of classic and contemporary rock fans from across the country and abroad.

This year it will see headline performances from , but despite gaining an international reputation, Steelhouse has largely remained under the radar in its Welsh heartland.

Co-organiser Mikey Evans, a local from Ebbw Vale, believes this is changing as the festival’s glowing reputation grows. Over the years the festival has seen a roll call of classic rock acts headlining the festival – from Thin Lizzy and Thunder to Saxon and Europe.

“Rock fans from far and wide love the fact we’re on a mountain on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, it’s a spectacular location for some spectacular music, but surprisingly over the past years the take-up from local crowds from the Valleys has been lower than rest of the UK, despite the strong rock traditions in the area,” he says. “With the line-ups we’ve had, legendary bands, world exclusive sets, and UK classic rock bands we’re starting to see a larger proportion of Welsh rock fans come and enjoy the weekend.”

Mikey, who had been managing entertainment for Virgin Atlantic and Qatar Airways amongst others, helped set up Steelhouse with old school friend Max Rhead, also originally from the area and who had a background in events management.

They have seen it grow organically from a monthly club night at Ebbw Vale Rugby Club to its permanent home of Hafod-Y-Dafal Farm, where the cows watch on half a mile away.

Max cites Steelhouse’s classic rock USP and support network as the reason why it has maintained its popularity.

“With the invaluable support from an army of passionate people, who provide their time for free and give the festival it’s grassroots feel, we’ve been able to create something quite special in the classic rock arena, a truly unique festival that gets a great reaction across the world,” he says.

“Both myself and Mike had been to rock festivals all round Europe. We wondered why there shouldn’t be something like it in our own backyard. To be honest if we knew the obstacles in our way before we started on this journey, we probably wouldn’t have done it. It’s been hard work and we couldn’t have done it without the help of ‘The Steelhouse Family’ – our amazing volunteer workforce.

“As well as a festival, we’ve built a community who come together for a common purpose. Seeing what we’ve achieved together makes it all worthwhile. It’s a great story.”

The bill this year features headliners Kris Barras Band, Airborne and Black Stone Cherry.

“We know where we are in the world.” says Mikey. “Value for money is a real driver for us. We’re intent on providing a proper, full scale rock experience that’s affordable for all the family to attend. Concerts are expensive, that’s why we let all children accompanied by a ticket buying adult into the arena for free.

“We’ve also expanded our kids’ activities – they can scale the climbing wall and bounce on the castle, dad can enjoy the bands and mum can sharpen her aim at our axe throwing concession!”

Over the years Steelhouse has boasted memorable performances from the likes of Saxon, The Darkness, Skindred, Glenn Hughes, Feeder and Europe, with a Twisted Sister fan even jetting in from Australia to see front man Dee Snider headline in 2015.

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