The 20 Irish festivals that are outstanding in their own fields

It’s the summer and the time is right for raving, gigging and having the crack in fields, parks and the open air. Here are the 20 music festivals and events you have to see this summer

Fri, May 17, 2013, 10:22

Here we go – again. The fields and parks are calling, the PA hire companies are loading their wares onto trucks and promoters are crossing their fingers, buying radio ads and dusting off their Child of Prague statues. If it’s the summer, that means dozens and dozens of music festivals and live shows – all organised and staged with one eye on the fabled Irish weather.

Between now and the end of September, outdoor festivals and shows will happen every single weekend somewhere on the island. The event organisers who are risking their shirts this season are fervently hoping that you will buy tickets for their events. While you probaby want to get as many of these shows as possible, chances are you’re going with your social network and the wisdom of the crowd will dictate who goes where.

We’ve become accustomed to seeing packed summer schedules but this year takes it to new extremes. With the exception of metal fans, who are always marginalised, every taste and genre is more than adequately catered for.

You want big superstar acts (or Bon Jovi) playing to thousands of fans in the pouring rain? You got ’em! You want a boutique festival full of hip, new bands that make you feel like a Pitchfork writer? We have it! You want the old familiar reliables such as Oxegen or the Electric Picnic? Step this way!

But while there is something for (almost) everyone in the audience, the question is whether there’s an audience for everything on offer and live music industry observers will be keenly watching for signs of a soft market.

We’ve seen various festivals in the past succumb to the curse of “unforeseen circumstances” and not every event scheduled for the coming months is going to be a winner. After all, the break-even point for all events is quite high because of the costs involved, and the competition for sales is fierce. To quote a recently departed football manager, it’s squeaky bum time for festival bookers and music promoters.

Punters, though, will have no such concerns. They will just want to rock up to a field, hear some fantastic acts and have the crack. Here, then, are the 20 events we’re recommending for the next few months.

Belvedere House, Co Westmeath, May 24th-26th.

Life turns eight with the most impressive dance bill of the summer. The big names are Groove Armada, Laurent Garnier, Modeselektor, Kerri Chandler, Seth Troxler, Amon Tobin and Booka Shade, but that’s just for a start – all trance, techno, house, electro, drum’n’bass and dubstep bases are covered.

Royal Hospital, Dublin, June 1st-2nd.

There’s no doubt that Forbidden Fruit has been overshadowed by the arrival of Longitude on the scene, while some of the acts on the bill (hello Kasabian!) do not chime very well with the festival’s perceived target audience. Still, any festival with James Blake, Four Tet, Crystal Castles, Neon Neon, Girls Names and tons more is worth a punt. Maybe the promoters should start a rumour that Nile Rodgers will be bringing Daft Punk along.

Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath, June 21st-23rd.
The festival with the best word-of-mouth reputation, Body & Soul comes with many attractions. There are some star names on the bill (Solange, Public Image Ltd, Charles Bradley, Nick Cave etc), the setting is bucolic and there’s a wealth of things to do apart from staring at bands, singers and DJ dudes hunched over their laptops.

Bundoran, Co Doegal, June 21st-23rd.
Surf’s up. While a few other events have tried to elbow in on this patch, Sea Sessions remains the land’s pre-eminent music-and-surf bash. There’s also beach football, tag rugby, beach volleyball and stunt biking but the big draw is acts such as Bastille, Xavier Rudd, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Mr Scruff, The Strypes, Gilles Peterson, The Original Rudeboys and Soak.

Westport House, Co Mayo, June 29th-30th.
Second time around, the Westport organisers have secured another rake of acts, including Elvis Costello, Imelda May, LAPD, ABC, Christy Moore, The Stunning and dozens more. The other attraction is a bunch of chefs: Dylan McGrath, Derry Clarke, Richard Corrigan, Ross Lewis and friends will be whipping up batter burgers and curry chips (or something like that).

Live at the Marquee, Cork, June 28th.

The National are the band who took five albums to become an overnight success. The Cinicinnati natives’ latest album, Trouble Will Find Me , features further beautifully downcast songs, many of which will no doubt be on show at this, the first of three Irish gigs by the band in 2013. It’s a long way from playing to a handful of people in the Triskel back in 2002 .

Kilruddery, Co Wicklow, July 6th-7th.

One of this year’s most promising new entrants, Groove Festival sets up shop within a stone’s throw – or DART ride – of the city with a couple of stages and the usual festival sideshows. Acts getting their groove on include Imelda May, Soul II Soul, Jack L, Damien Dempsey, James Morrison, UB40 and many more.

Phoenix Park, Dublin, July 10th.

He’s come a long way from the Mickey Mouse Club . New album The 20/20 Experience sees Justin Timberlake continue his impressive smart-pop trajectory. Of course, it’s another bona-fide Timbaland re-up, but only Timberlake can brazenly carry off those songs and that style. Let’s hope he plays an afterhours club show in the city this time too, like he did in Vicar Street in 2003.

Iveagh Gardens, Dublin (July 18th), Big Top, Galway (19th).

When a band have enough fans to enable them to play big tents out west and the most beautiful open-air space in the capital, you can’t really call them a cult band anymore. Over the course of their Veckatimest and Shields albums, Grizzly Bear’s harmonic chamber-pop has entranced more and more people. Sometimes, it’s better to trade in elegant pop than in big, bombastic overkill.

Marlay Park, Dublin, July 19th-21th.

The indie rock line-up of the summer, featuring nearly every cool alternative act on the circuit . The acts worth braving the M50 for include Kraftwerk, Vampire Weekend, Villagers, Foals, and Japandroids. And dozens more. The promoters will be hoping the line-up alone will ensure strong sales, though we’re still waiting to find out what their “more than a music festival” tag will entail. Balloons? I bet it’s balloons.

Thomond Park, Limerick (Juy 16th), Páic Uí Chaoimh, Cork (18th), Kings Hall Arena, Belfast (20th), Nowlan Park, Kilkenny (27th-28th).

Obviously, 140,000 Irish music fans can’t be wrong. A lot of promoters will look enviously at Bruce Springsteen’s ability to sell out five big Irish shows in the blink of an eye. His appeal rests on the fact that he delivers the best rock’n’roll show in the business and they’re not making stars like him anymore.

Eagle’s Rock, Co Derry, July 19th-20th.

The fact that the “small but mighty” festival in the heart of Derry’s Sperrin Mountains continues to pull the crowds is a reason to be cheerful. They’ve another fine bill of fare for those who make it to Eagle’s Rock including And So I Watch You From Afar, The Answer, The Japanese Popstars, Little Bear, Rosie Carney and tons more. There’s also a comedy stage, samba band shenanigans and a tech tent programmed by Derry’s CultureTECH festival.

Blessington, Co Wicklow, July 26th-28th.

The festival boom of recent years has produced some cracking events and
Knockanstockan is one of those. Taking place in a gorgeous setting just a bus ride from the capital, it features about 150 Irish acts over the weekend as well as art installations and performances. Playing by the Lakes this year will be Tandem Felix, Liza Flume, Niwel Tsumbu, The Raglans, Hassle Merchants, Ross Breen and dozens more.

Royal Hospital, Dublin, July 27th-28th.

The man who launched a thousand spaghetti westerns makes his Dublin debut. As soundtrack maestros go, no-one compares to Morricone, a man who has put his stamp on everything from The Good The Bad & The Ugly to Cinema Paradiso . With the Roma Sinfonietta orchestra and a 100-strong choir.

Royal Hospital, Dublin, August 1st.

That this is the Britpop veterans’ only show in Ireland or the UK this year should ensure a sell-out in Dublin 8. While much of the attention in recent years has been on the band members’ other projects, from Gorillaz (Damon Albarn) to cheese (Alex James), Blur at their majestic best are always an enticing proposion. Support from Bat for Lashes and The Strypes.

Punchestown , Co Kildare, August 2nd-4th.

Retooled and recalibrated to appeal solely to pop and dance fans, Oxegen returns for action after a year out to gaze at its navel. It will be interesting to see if the capitulation to the David Guetta and Calvin Harris constituency will work out. Certainly, few could have predicted the virulent fuming from thousands of rock and indie fans on social media over the line-up. Still, they have 37.5 percent fewer tickets to sell than in 2011.

Charleville Castle, Tullamore, Co Offaly, August 2nd-4th.

One of the best small festivals in the land gets ready to rumble. Acts such as Le Galaxie, And So I Watch You From Afar, Fight Like Apes, Elaine Mai, Girls Names, Daithi, RSAG, Soak and many more will be entertaining an audience of sussed, smart and friendly party people.

Custom House Square, Belfast, August 16th-26th.

Belsonic has long been the smart choice for those looking for a cool city fest with a strong line-up. Highlights on this year’s bill include Basement Jaxx (16th), Suede (24th) and Steve Angello (25th).

Slane Castle, Co Meath, August 17th.

One of two shows at the Co Meath castle with the big hilly field this summer (no-one in their right mind would recommend the other act playing here unless there was an ad in it for them) sees Eminem finally hitting the venue he blanked in 2005. A consistent crowd-puller in Ireland, Em’s new album is due in July.

Stradbally, Co Laois. August 30th-Sep 1st.

Now that the palaver about the Picnic’s on/off status can be put to one side (though the dispute over the management of the event is still rumbling away in the High Court at the time of writing), it’s time to look at the line-up and get excited. Acts to savour: The Knife, Savages, Arctic Monkeys, My Bloody Valentine, Bjö rk, Franz Ferdinand, Wu Tang Clan and Merchandise.

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