Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

A new name on the Electric Picnic hamper

Seeing as last week’s news about Festival Republic taking a slice of the Electric Picnic was released late on the eve of a bank holiday (and a sunny bank holiday at that), it may be an idea to revisit the …

Wed, Mar 25, 2009, 04:02


Seeing as last week’s news about Festival Republic taking a slice of the Electric Picnic was released late on the eve of a bank holiday (and a sunny bank holiday at that), it may be an idea to revisit the story this week. After all, it has kicked off a lot of chat and blather as those who buy tickets for fun and sell tickets for a living analyse the move.

Much of the discussion centres around Denis Desmond’s role in the transaction. The MCD boss is the co-owner of Festival Republic (along with Live Nation) via his Gaiety Investments vehicle. Festival Republic’s move to Stradbally, where they take over from Aiken Promotions as POD Concerts’ partners in the event, means Desmond now has an interest in the Electric Picnic of just under 25 per cent. This calculation is based on Desmond’s 49.9 per cent share of Festival Republic entitling him to a similar share of the Picnic spoils.

Obviously, there has been a lot of speculation about Festival Republic’s motives, but it may simply be a piece of good business at a time when such a thing is in short supply. Like all festivals, the Electric Picnic took time to find its feet and especially the financial bottom line. However, sources indicate that 2006′s fest broke even and that 2007 and 2008 were profitable outings. What Festival Republic are getting, then, is a share of a popular, cash-making enterprise – remember that all the advance early bird tickets for the Picnic sold out ages ago, long before a line-up was announced, so the festival has considerable audience appeal. No-one beyond the interested parties knows how much Festival Republic have paid to get in this game, but we can assume that it wasn’t peanuts.

Because of this, it is safe to assume that the Electric Picnic is not suddenly going to morph overnight into something else entirely. Look at it logically. Why would Denis Desmond, Melvin Benn and Live Nation kill a golden goose by turning a festival which has become hugely popular and profitable by being the anti-Oxegen into a carbon copy of its nemesis?

The Electric Picnic has its followers – and, yes, detractors – and it’s in the interest of Festival Republic’s investment that these fans continue to come to Co Laois every year. The Picnic is a brand with a defined, dedicated following in Ireland and any plans Festival Republic might harbour for a full takeover down the road require this value and unique selling point to be fostered and protected. Buying into the Picnic at this juncture means they don’t have to invest a lot of time and money into importing the Latitude festival, for example, and developing it as a competitor.

We can therefore expect Picnic 2009 to be steady as she goes and to continue along the music-and-arts trajectory of last year. Chances are, as always, that while there won’t be a single name on the bill capable of drawing 30,000 people to Thomas Cosby’s gaff on their own, it’s a different matter when you have the combined weight of solid audience-pulling names and other attractions. Of course, now that MCD are involved even below-the-line, it will probably rain all weekend, but you can’t have everything. The last line is a joke, right?

And, to the most important question of all, just who might these Picnic acts be? Based on things falling off trucks, educated guesswork, good cop/bad cop conversations and getting handed a sheaf of print-outs at my Austin hotel which were destined for a UK booking agent, don’t be surprised if Fleet Foxes, Department of Eagles, Micachu & The Shapes, Orbital, Bon Iver, Okkervil River and The Prodigy end up on the bill.

By the way, I mentioned Green Day to Picnic booker Declan Forde and he guffawed loudly with laughter for several minutes. I think we can take that as a definite “no”