The view from Body & Soul
Some notes on a day out at Ballinlough Castle with the Body & Soul faithful
Body & Soul presses all the new-school Irish festival buttons. You have bands and DJs, some names which the mainstream recognise. You have non-music happenings to the left and the right. You have the food stalls which are not burger vans and greasy chips. You have smartly presented stages and stuff seemingly going on in every nook and cranny onsite.
You put all of the above and 8,500 punters (another bump in capacity this year as Body & Soul continues to steadily grow its appeal) in a beautiful location in the heart of the Irish countryside on one of those weekends when the sun does what it’s supposed to do and you’ve got a template for a sustainable, fascinating event which may well be the most profitable per head festival of the Irish summer.
Because, on the face of it, Body & Soul have not done what dogs many festivals of a similar ilk and spent a fortune on any of those components which usually throw the bottom line into red ink. There’s no massive act on the bill demanding mad cash money to perform in a field in Co Westmeath (the talent bill would be fairly modest, all in all), yet there are a couple of brands on-site who’ve probably paid handsomely to pimp their wares to the Body & Soul demographic. In common with many Irish festivals this weather, there’s also a huge amount of unpaid labour in the form of volunteers and interns. No doubt the Festival Republic lad skulking around the site on Saturday evening was taking notes.
Body & Soul is proof positive of the importance of social networks to a festival’s success factor. Over the last few years, the midsummer weekender which grew out of the Electric Picnic’s alternative zone has enjoyed tremendous word of mouth appeal. Once your pals have decided that this is the festival for them, you’re in because, as the old ad goes, you want to be where the gang goes.
Add in the fact that Body & Soul’s hippie-dippie credentials square with what a certain class of gig-goers want from festivals – there were new world records set on Saturday at 9pm for both the most Indian head-dresses in one place outside an Indian reservation and cranky kids who wanted to be at home and not in a field carted around by parents trying to be hip – and you’ve all the makings of a success story. You don’t need a big act when all of that are chiming in your favour.
I was only at Ballinlough Castle for a few hours on Saturday – you’ll find Laurence Mackin and Peter Crawley’s reveiews from the weekend here (includes gratuitous use of “revellers”) – but even that was enough to find a few highlights. Jape’s new songs, for instance, have plenty of zip and panache, demonstrating that Richie Egan’s songwriting nous has increased a few notches in recent times. That said, “Floating” was the cherry on top, a song still capable of moving a crowd.
Stevie Grainger’s Deep South Sound System turned up three gems in the shape of Laura O’Callaghan, Christiana Underwood and Senita, three singers with sassy soul appeal and mighty pipes. Siobhan Kane’s interview with John Grant on the Wonderlust stage dived into the latter’s record collection and heard some interesting reflections on Kate Bush and industrial music. Grant’s set, meanwhile, was a meaty encapsulation of his musical strengths, a selection with plenty of muscle and moxie (and a local star turn in the shape of Conor O’Brien guesting on “Glacier”).
But the more you talk to people, the more you realise that this festival’s trademark vibes were to be found off the main drag because that’s the big draw. It’s hanging out at the Mother or Arbutus Yarns’ stages deep in the forest or finding some other happening in the shade which seems chilled and easygoing.
People are prepared to pay good money for that kind of experience and are not too hung up on ticking off must-see acts on a list (the masses didn’t seem to notice or care unduly about the last-minute absence of Nick Waterhouse or James Holden from the bill, for instance). The acts on the bill do matter but, in the context of what Body & Soul is offering, they’re not the only or most important filling in the burrito. Interesting lessons to be learned for anyone looking at the ebb and flow of the Irish festival sector.