Festival Fit: Feck art – let’s line-dance!

We didn’t find much high culture at Inniskeen Countryfest 2014 in Co Monaghan– but we did make new friends in low places


Towards the end of some performances, Tommy Tiernan takes on the role of a ringmaster, grinning maniacally as he conducts audiences in a singsong: “Oh, we’re going out the same way we came in/ Doesn’t matter who you know or where you’ve been/ Makes no difference who you are/ Skid Row Joe or superstar/ You’re going out the same way you came in.”

His main pleasure isn’t derived form the profundity or metaphysical insight offered by the lines, but more from leading a crowd in a chorus from Big Tom and The Mainliners’ piece de resistance, and from presenting the Co Monaghan cowboy’s hit in an eerie new half-light.

Tiernan isn’t the only one who’s cottoned on to Big Tom’s contribution to the canon of Irish culture. The Castleblaney crooner has just been awarded the freedom of his homeplace. In most cities this usually means the recipient is free to drive livestock through the town. In the case of Castleblaney, one would have to imagine that this is a practice already enjoyed by quite a few undecorated citizens. Blaney may need to find another beastly bonus for the big fella.

Adulation and “adult dancing” were the order of the day in the neighbouring parish of Inniskeen last weekend as Countryfest brought three of the biggest names in country ’n’ Irish music to a GAA pitch just outside the town. The squad of Nathan Carter, Mike Denver and Declan Nerney attracted more than 2,000 punters to Páirc Grattan, where crowds blissfully jived and jigged into the small hours of the morning. It’s easy to scoff at a genre of music that sees lads from Monaghan play-acting at being mavericks from Montana, but cowpokes from Crossmaglen and Virginians from Co Cavan flock in their droves to these gigs, making them the best-attended live shows by any Irish acts in venues throughout the country.

The feeding frenzy around Garth Brooks tickets highlighted the appetite for this type of music, but witnessing it first-hand made an impression. Music can sometimes be a badge worn to reflect things we want to highlight about ourselves. It can be a fashion accessory that displays our taste and ability to be on or ahead of trends. Music can also become a commodity that we collect, like stamps, with rare albums and occasional performances whipping choon-loving twitchers into a frenzy. I’ve been guilty of all of the above, but is that what music is for? Watching a whole community dancing and wholeheartedly enjoying themselves without regard for the cultural cachet of the music that moved them had a sense of freedom about it. An unselfconscious and unfettered abandon permeated the Co Monaghan night.

That sense of a community bonded by sound was evident again at Vantastival when The Barely Mob kicked into the chorus of their rebel-rousing track Everybody’s Music and, on cue, the entire crowd sprang to their feet and chanted, “This is for love.” Barrence Whitfield & The Savages captured that feeling of community at Kilkenny Roots Festival. Between soulful screams that punctuated the night like TJ Reid frees punctuate Kilkenny scorelines, Whitfield dedicated a song to Willie Meighan, one of the festival’s organisers and co-owner of Rollercoaster Records. Rollercoaster is a hub of activity at festival time and, as long as Meighan is behind the counter, every day is Record Store Day.

Having over-indulged at yet another trio of festivals, steeping myself in their intoxicating sense of temporary community, I awoke last bank holiday Monday in Wanderly Wagon, appropriately parked up at the side of Maudlin Street, Kilkenny. As I pondered the appropriateness of a tongue shave, a Declan Nerney lyric came back to haunt me, and I sang it out with feeling : “Oh, stop the world and let me off . . .”

Those country ’n’ Irish boys got mad philosophical skills, yo!

Safe travels, don’t die.


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