Festival fit


Three festivals every week for a year. MARK GRAHAMfinds it all under one roof

Why have a festival? It would be nice to think that the main motivation for most shindigs is a celebration of some sort; music, food, mountain walking, the art of stone skimming.

The ugly reality is that festivals are predominantly run to promote something, bring some business to an area, or just to make cash on tickets/hot dogs/glo-sticks. Festivals that are totally non-commercial are few and far between, and only a handful more strike an easy balance between the celebratory and the cash-drawer.

The trick seems to be successfully masking the mercenary MO by providing the punters with such a good time that they never take stock and question the raison d’etre. Pickpockets love fireworks

Last weekend wasn’t the first time I’d been to a festival that was programmed by a business, with most events scheduled to take place on one premises, a premises that just so happens to be in the beer- flogging trade.

Some serious smoke and mirrors would be required to disguise the fact that the Winter Music Festival in Ballincollig, Co Cork was a pretty successful vehicle for promoting the White Horse pub on the edge of town. There was a sean nós session in the hotel across the road, a day of workshops and concert in the local gaelscoil, but everything else happened under one roof.

I was a bit uncomfortable with this set-up – surely a festival needs to be a bit more selfless than this? When the trad session started up and I noticed that Sliabh Notes’ Matt Cranitch was one of the musicians installed in the corner, I began to warm to proceedings a bit more.

Half way into Gemma Hayes’s set and I didn’t really care if they were holding this festival in a doctor’s waiting room. The sound that herself and Anne Scott make together soothes and satiates the sceptical soul. Both are talented solo artists, but the partnership they’ve established over the past couple of years has matured and blended as smoothly as a 25-year-old Glenlivet.

The banter between the songs was pretty good too. Gemma told of being summoned for drinks with Louis Walsh. The Mayo munchkin informed her that he was interested in working with her, but she’d have to make a couple of small changes for it to work out, nothing drastic mind you.

First off, she’d have to stop writing songs. That clearly wasn’t working out at all, no need for it really. Secondly, she’d need to start dating a celebrity, gotta feed that tabloid churn. Gemma respectfully declined, although she did a pretty decent cover of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting. I hear Jedward are single.

Fionn Regan followed the ladies and he seemed somewhat out of sorts. The atmosphere felt strained, as if Fionn and the crowd didn’t know what to expect next from each other. I’ve heard him put in a better night’s work, but it was still top-shelf stuff from the buachaill from Bray.

Sow, Mare, Bitch, Vixen, hah indeed. Twenty quid for a double bill of high-quality music in a decent venue is fair enough really.

While rambling round on the festival trail, a small country pub just outside Ballincollig caught my eye. Straight in at No 8 in my top 10 Irish pubs of all time is the Inniscarra Bar. No TV, radio or muzak, but they do have good conversation, vintage Cork GAA pictures, a deck of cards on the mantelpiece over the turf fire, and a very friendly sheepdog called Sheeba.

This weekend it’ll be activity of a more wholesome nature when I tie up the boots and don the raingear for the Aherlow Walking Festival in Co Tipperary. Someone once told me that there is no such thing as bad weather, merely inappropriate clothing. That nugget is cold comfort whilst sitting atop a mountain hugging your flask for warmth as the rain dilutes your tea.

Safe travels, don’t die.


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