Day one goes with a bang

Fri, Sep 2, 2011, 01:00

All human life is here in abundance. You’re likely to bump into the strangest of folks when you wander around these 600 acres in the middle of Stradbally as the Electric Picnic takes up its annual three-day residency in the Co Laois town.

It’s the best music festival in the country so there’s no surprise that rock stars and would-be rock stars are out in force preening, pouting and occasionally performing. You’d expect that. In fact, you¹d be worried if you didn’t see them here at work and play.

But at this music festival, it’s another cast of characters entirely who are the exotic ones. We don’t mean the hundreds of families and kids bouncing around the fields, a rare sight at most Irish music festivals of this scale, but one welcomed with open arms by the organisers here.

No, these characters populate the Mindfield area, which houses the festival’s spread of debates, lectures, workshops and talks. This evening, you’d have come across politicians, economists, scientists, poets, historians and writers here. You’d usually only come across such a mass gathering of rabble-rousers, mischief-makers and spoofers at a summer school or TV3’s green room before the Vincent Browne show.

In Stradbally, though, David McWilliams and Luke “Ming” Flanagan are star attractions and part of the reason why people have paid good money to be here for the weekend.

Of course, Picnic-goers are unlikely to have paid €240 just to hear McWilliams moderate a debate about economic violence and civil unrest featuring the Roscommon TD Flanagan, blogger Guido Fawkes and activists Eamonn McCann, Kate Tempest and Dylan Haskins.

But such a gathering is now as firmly part of the Picnic mix as a bunch of trance DJs spinning tunes in the forest at 4am. You come for the music headliners and you get food for thought about why London urchins rob wide-screen TVs and branded sportswear to boot.

Expect much more Mindfield banter and headlines over the weekend with topics to come including a discussion on the IRA and the Nazis, Miriam O’Callaghan chatting to John Banville and Bob Geldof discussing the past, present and future of the music business.

Speaking of music, there has already been plenty to keep the thousands who arrived early at the Picnic in good form.

Sinead O’Connor was in strident, confident, powerful voice on the main stage with a fine, tight rocking band in tow. A superb reading of I Lie Stretched On Your Grave, dedicated to the late Amy Winehouse, was probably the highlight of her set.

But it was that voice, something which has never lost its lustre over the years, which reminded you of all that’s still great about O’Connor. Maybe all of us should leave the tabloid ridicule to one side for now and concentrate on that instead.

An artist like Jimmy Cliff was always going to be a winner in these fields, the old reggae veteran letting the bass and those beautifully weather-beaten classics put everyone on the good foot. Further proof that reggae will always be a winner at an Irish music festival, regardless of the weather.

This evening was also an opportunity for many revellers to get to see the new school of Irish acts. It’s to the Electric Picnic¹s credit that its puts so many homegrown bands in the frame on every stage.

Bands who impressed in the early stages of the festival included the excellent Funeral Suits, Little Green Cars and The Lost Brothers, with many more to come in the next few days and nights.

But today is also about settling in for the weekend and pitching tents. The rainclouds gathering overhead and dodgy weather forecast may be doing their best to put a dampener on proceedings, but there¹s few here who will let that interfere with their plans. The Picnic has begun. There will be no budging anyone here till Sunday night at the earliest.