Best Festival 2013: A harvest of heavenly happenings

The fittest festival-goer of them all, Mark Graham, chooses his 10 best festivals of the year

Revellers at Electric Picnic 2013 in Stradbally, Co Laois. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / THE IRISH TIMES

Revellers at Electric Picnic 2013 in Stradbally, Co Laois. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / THE IRISH TIMES

Fri, Dec 6, 2013, 11:58

If you awoke Celine Dion violently in the middle of the night while wearing a balaclava, making threatening demands that she leave the country with you immediately, only bringing 10 of her 3,000 pairs of shoes, what would happen? Besides the fact that you would be redressing a karmic imbalance by torturing her slightly (that was the reason for the balaclava and threats), she’d go on about it more than her heart. Ask Vic Reeves to limit his collection to a single garden shed. Try to coax José Carreras to bring all his thimbles, bar five, to the carboot sale in Fethard. Tell Quentin Tarantino that of all his board games, he can only play either Ludo or Pictionary for the rest of eternity or force Big Tom to finally choose one of those feckin’ roads to Glenamaddy and stop banging on about the other three.

These difficult decisions pale into insignificance when compared to whittling down the bumper festival crop of 2013 to a scant Top 10. It’s with a tortured soul and a fear of attending again any festivals that aren’t included in this list that the festival section of The Ticket Readers Poll 2013 is presented . . .

Numero uno in last year’s sweepstake, it was as good, if not a little bit better, this time round. Friday night was a scaled back affair, but nobody who witnessed the tick-tock of Ben Klock noticed or grumbled; the Rave in the Woods was in overdrive. To those who stuck with her, Björk gave a performance that blew minds, retinas and ear-drums. Add in the usual selection of side-shows (outstanding contribution from the expanded Trailer Park) and it all points to EP finishing in the frame.

Having The Fleadh cross the border for the first time ever made this year’s hooley feel special, but it was the musicians, organisers, punters, volunteers and especially the residents of Derry who made it epic. The vibe on the streets of the city was a highlight of the festival year.

The crew in Mitchelstown, Co Cork took a long hard look at their festival last year, and hats off to them, they upped their game. The addition of the spacious and raucous Craft Beer barn worked a treat. Indiependence often feels like a fun night-club crowd transplanted into a field, and it works. Exhibit A: The disco dancing Garda.

Running parallel to Indiependence, the shindig in Tullamore, Co Offaly generates more of a festival-in-a- field feel; probably something to do with the dreadlock-and-dog coefficient. Wonderful setting and a hip crowd that, thankfully, still has a healthy proportion of lunatics stoking a steampowered session.

Nipping at the heels of Galway Arts Festival for years, I reckon they took a chunk out of the Galwegian ankle this year. The whole city was used as a space for the duration of the event and the buzz on the streets was palpable . Whisking Macnas into the mix didn’t do any harm.

Ireland’s self-proclaimed Farming Festival, this gig is awesome. It’s not just the 228,000 strong crowd who attend or the estimated €37 million spent on-site over three days; the atmosphere and experience is more enjoyable and less harried than plenty of much smaller festivals. It’s hard not to dig the National Ploughing Association’s do.

This crew are the beating heart of Electric Picnic and their uncommonly cool yearly get-together transcends the oft-times formulaic festival format that’s flung in many other fields. Nick Cave’s gig was a religious experience, featuring levitation, human sacrifice and the alignment of planets. Definitely in with a shout.

DURROW SCARECROW FESTIVAL It’s simple and effective. The townsfolk compete against each other (and a few brave blow-ins) to make the best scarecrow known to Durrowers. Cue much merriment and a week’s worth of clean, cheap, wholesome fun that always manages to make me merry on community spirit.

Heart and integrity can’t be faked, built or bought and in Longford they’ve got both on tap. This is a little festival that’s big on buzz. It’s a scientific fact, Helium is more uplifting than Oxegen.

Buzzing around so many festivals, I bump into many familiar faces attached to folk who work, volunteer, kick back and make noise at the myriad of festivals our little island offers. Many of them tell me that this is their favourite festival of all and I can’t argue with them.

At least I got to pick 10 – you have an even more difficult job of selecting your favourite. Now click through to the poll and cast your die.

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