The fields are calling: festival republic 2014
Running the rule over the who, what, why, how, when and where of the summer’s big gigs
First things first: does anyone bar Old Moore’s Almanac have a long-term weather forecast for the summer months? One thing is clear as you begin to look at what’s planned for the fields, parks and random outdoor spaces up and down the country for the summer: the weather gods will have a big bearing on the health of 2014′s festival republic. Last summer’s blasts of sunshine made many outdoor shows shine – though Oxegen would beg to differ – a fact worth remembering when you look at what the weather has thrown at us so far this year.
Then again, you can’t really predict what the day will bring this far out so promoters have to do their bookings and cross their fingers. Punters buy tickets later and later these days – unless it’s Garth Brooks or One Direction, acts who are already home and hosed as far as their summer gigs are concerned – so an outdoor show has the forecasts of the Jean Byrnes of this world to throw into the mix alongside all the other possibles and probables.
You could always just stick up a tent a la Cork’s Live at the Marquee and not worry unduly about that sort of thing. In Derry at the weekend for Other Voices, there were some interesting rumours circulating amongst those who know about this kind of thing about the whereabouts of the venue formerly known as The Venue, the temporary structure located in Ebrington Square for the duration of the City of Culture shenanigans. Some claimed that it will re-appear somewhere down south, so we’ll wait to see how that plays out.
Another telling pop-up was the ad which kept appearing on the RTE Player when I was in Derry and that was the one listing Damon Albarn, Robyn with Royksopp, Booker T Jones, Tame Impala, Two Door Cinema Club and others for Longitude. Turned out that it was not an ad for Longitude but Latitude, the Marlay Park festival’s sister across the water from which it borrows a name and design but not, so far, a line-up.
That list of acts throws the weakness of the early Longitude line-up into sharp relief. Perhaps those acts are to come, but the early announcements from Longitude have been surprisingly weak, given the huge success of last year’s event. One hopes that they’re not expecting a sell-out based simply on last year’s fond memories.
Marlay Park, though, will be hugely busy this summer with Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, Kings Of Leon, Macklemore and Ellie Goulding at play. All are massive acts, each capable of pulling thousands of fans to the heart of SoCoDu.
What’s interesting is that at least one of those acts – Kings Of Leon – was initially mooted to be playing on the other side of town in the Phoenix Park. Given promoters MCD’s experience with one of the largest urban parks in Europe in recent years – from the Swedish House Mafia in 2012 to last summer’s slow-selling Killers and Justin Timberlake shows – they seem to have made the decision to stay south of the river and deal with Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council rather than the Office of Public Works this year. What this means for the Phoenix Park as a gig venue remains to be seen – perhaps another promoter will make a call on it?
Another field which will be busy this summer is the one with a bit of a hill in it next to the Irish Museum of Modern Art on the Royal Hospital site in Kilmainham. Previously a POD-only venue, MCD have now got dates in the diary for Elbow, The Coronas and Biffy Clyro. POD, meanwhile, are booking away for Forbidden Fruit, which will also feature various nighttime events in the city-centre over the June bank holiday weekend.
Of course, IMMA is not the only Venn diagram between MCD and POD. There’s the fact that the former have booked Ennio Morricone, an act the latter promoted last summer at IMMA, for O2 shows in December (so much for the promoter-of-record thing). And, of course, there’s the fact that the principals will be locking horns over the Electric Picnic. There’s now a date (May 13), a venue (the Commercial Court) and a referee (Mr. Justice Peter Kelly) for said locking of horns. While there’s always a chance that it will all be resolved before the judge sits down, the bitterness of this dispute seems destined to produce a few days in court and some spectacular statements from the witness box. One to pack the sandwiches and a flask of tea for.
While the tussle over management of the festival rumbles on and makes another small fortune for the rock’n'roll legal eagles, the offers to play Stradbally at the end of the summer are out there. Many of the acts touted for the event are definitely playing outdoor shows in Ireland in 2014 – it’s just that they’re not playing the Picnic.
It will be hugely interesting to see what happens here post-court date and who will end up on the bill, given that most of the big names on the circuit already have Irish dates in their schedule for the summer. Last year’s Picnic was a big success, though that was down to a low ticket price as much as anything else. Will we see a similar loss-leader move in 2014 with increased capacity to make the sums work? After all, 2013′s Picnic showed that there is a new audience there for the event – the post-Oxegen revellers to quote the newsdesks – and they’ll be happy to head back to Stradbally.
We’ve already mentioned the festival that still bills itself as “Europe’s Greatest Music Festival” a few times, but there’s absolutely no indication from its website or anywhere else if it’s returning in ’14. Oxegen really does seem played out, which is a sign that nothing lasts forever. The fact that they ended up with less than 50 per cent of the audience they were expecting in 2013 – a startling 75 per cent down on the audience Oxegen attracted in its pomp – points to a dearth of interest and a need for a rebrand. The demand for the acts is certainly there – Calvin Harris (who played Oxegen 2013) and Tiesto pulled twice as many punters as turned up at Oxegen when they played the O2 and Odyssey in December – but the demand for those acts playing Punchestown is most definitely not.
Of course, it remains to be seen what the demand will be like for multi-act, multi-stage festivals in 2014 and if this is also subject to the swings and roundabouts of customer behaviour. Most of the events mentioned above are ones which have a big name at the top of the bill to pull in the audience. 400,000 people are going to see Garth Brooks, not a festival bill with Brooks as the headliner. Oxegen’s slump may be counteracted by the Electric Picnic’s 2013 renaissance, but will this summer see smaller events continue to pull in the numbers? An event like Life, for example, has a superb bill and is perfectly pitched for a certain audience. Likewise, that familar roll-call of smaller festivals like Sea Sessions, Indiependence, Castlepalooza, Body & Soul, Westport and Groove will all be back touting for business in 2014 and they know what their audiences want.
The question, though, is if the very healthy state of affairs for live music in the outdoors will continue and for how long. For well over a decade, Irish audiences have shown a huge appetite for these big and small summer gigs. Sure, the blockbuster acts like Brooks this summer or Bruce Springsteen last year have skewered the numbers a bit, but the underlying trend has always been on a upwards trajectory, even during the early years of the economic bust.
How long this continues to be the case probably depends on who’s touring and available to come here to play. For instance, U2 will surely play shows here this year or next and add to the bottom line, there are probably acts and announcements stacking up for venues like the Aviva for 2014 too, there hasn’t been a peep from Slane to date and the Limerick City of Culture lads have surely something up their sleeves with their millions of taxpayer euros. All in all, it looks like another bumper summer