Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

The pointyheaded post about this year’s festivals before the season begins

It starts next weekend. Once we reach the first weekend in May, it’s fair game for promoters and festival organisers to issue genial come-all-yes and invite the plain gig-loving people of Ireland to join them in fields, parks, sports stadiums …

Mon, Apr 30, 2012, 08:55


It starts next weekend. Once we reach the first weekend in May, it’s fair game for promoters and festival organisers to issue genial come-all-yes and invite the plain gig-loving people of Ireland to join them in fields, parks, sports stadiums (interestingly, fans of The Saturdays will be frequenting a greyhound stadium) and other outdoor spots for a festival or big gig. You will find my rundown on what’s ahead over the next couple of months, from Vantastival and Kilkenny Roots to the Spirit of Folk at the end of September, from last Friday’s Ticket here. Even that list, as comprehensive as it is, is missing a few: I only found out about Live on Spike, for instance, after the piece appeared. Those involved in any other music-orientated festivals and events which have been overlooked can use the comments below to make amends (and perhaps send me press releases and info in advance in future).

That was the list and here’s the analysis. In recent years, we’ve seen the amount of music festivals which occur in Ireland over the alleged summer months grow and grow. It’s a phenomenon which we’ve tracked on OTR with our annual headcount of the events which actually happen in the open air or in temporary structures every year. This growth spurt is something which mirrors what has happened across the Irish Sea and, to an extent, what is also happening in Europe. In the United States, they’re having their latest summer of love, which dovetails with events like David Guetta at Marlay Park or Swedish House Mafia at the Phoenix Park (or Planetlove, though there are no details about its 2012 plans yet).

However, as the recent Summer Sessions fandango showed, it’s not all love and ticket sales on the festival front and we can sadly expect some of this year’s crop to come a cropper due to a poor uptake by the general public. While there is the welcome news that many festivals are returning year in and year out and can thus be safely regarded as established, this doesn’t mean that they’re going to get the same attendance figures as previous years. Audiences are remarkably fickle and loyalties change, depending on fads and line-ups.

And if the festiuvals you think are established can’t get a free pass from the fans, where does this leave the naive but well-intentioned newbies? Just because everyone thinks it’s easy to run a festival doesn’t mean that everyone should do it. Have a look at this 15 step guide to putting on a local festival, for example, and work out if you have what it takes to deal with acts, agents, peeved locals, unruly punters and all the rest of it. Yet despite all the warnings, all the previous events which have been scuppered by lack of planning or foresight or “unforeseen circumstances”, we’ll always get newcomers having a go.

It’s instructive to look at how the big players are approaching the season. MCD and Aiken Promotions are taking few chances this summer. MCD might have three shows in the Phoenix Park but that’s less than half the number they were looking at when they sought planning permission last year. Aikens may have Bruce Springsteen in the RDS, the usual run of Live at the Marquee shows in Cork and are back in the Iveagh Gardens after taking a break last year, but there’s nothing in Limerick’s Thomond Park or no other big superstars in the open air. POD have Body & Soul, Forbidden Fruit (more names for the bill to be announced early this week), Lenny Cohen and their stake in the Electric Picnic so that’s as you were for the last few years.

While we’re firm believers in the concept of disruption and new ideas, you have to wonder about the rush to do festivals by newcomers at a time when the big players in the business are becoming increasingly risk-adverse. Do the new promoters know something that the old-school ones don’t? Yes, there is a question of economies of scale – the big lads won’t make enough from a sub-5,000 capacity festival to justify a punt, while the new promoters can galvanize goodwill and volunteers to take up the slack – but even that doesn’t add up. We know that the established promoters are under constant pressure from agents to book acts and it takes a lot to say no to them, especially if the agents also represent arena-fillers who will be touring later in the year. Yet, as OTR readers will know only too well, there’s still a number of acts who won’t be coming here this year because the promoters aren’t prepared to take the chance on them.

The absence of “Europe’s greatest music festival” from this year’s schedule? There’s talk of a huge increase in Irish sales for Benicassim, for instance, but there’s little evidence of a mass movement of Oxegen fans to another Irish festival because there’s nothing else on during that post-exams period to pique their interest (unless they’re all going with their parents to see Springsteen). With no-one else or nothing else stepping into the breach, there’s definite demand for the return of an Oxegen-like event in 2013, though with certain new criteria (new name and branding for sure, but also a realisation that there’s no real continued demand for a 80,000 capacity festival along previous lines. If there was, surely there would be one on the schedule for this summer?

Add in the distractions on people’s attention spans and wallets provided by a busy sporting summer (Euro 2012, the Olympics and the GAA championships) and European away-days like Primavera and Sonar and you’ve an interesting summer in store in those fields. Let’s see how it all plays out in the next couple of months.