Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

The summer of the small festival

Why small events will trump big ones on this summer’s festival circuit

Mon, May 12, 2014, 09:37


So, have you decided yet? The main focus on the streets at the moment may be the vast, colourful and often deluded cast of characters vying to turn their place on the nation’s poles into a good showing at the polls, but there are other decisions to be made in the coming weeks too, espeically for music fans. The summer festival season has already begun – as always, Vantastival sounded the bell for the start – and promoters and bookers who don’t deal in the stetson business are looking at thousands of tickets to flog. The ad campaigns, the promotional efforts and the novenas are in full swing.

Of course, it won’t be a post like this or any other words of wisdom from those on this side of the fence which will have you making up your mind about where you’ll go in 2014. It’s a combination of the acts, price and your social network which will decide where your festival euros will be spent this summer.

The acts matter – why else would promoters be spending so much wedge on them? – and price has a huge effect, but the decisions made by your immediate social network have probably a bigger say. We’re a social class so we tend to make our going out decisions based on what our mates are doing. It’s why there’s so much immigration going on. There was an interesting election report on Morning Ireland last week where a few respondants, who actually are in full employment here, talked about going elsewhere because that’s where their mates are at present.

Reputation? It plays a part though probably not as much as we think. After all, if a festival has been going for several years, the novelty factor is long gone and we know what to expect. Lots of people who were at the Electric Picnic last summer, for instance, expressed boredom that the site was largely the same as it had been for years and that they could find their way around blindfold.

Likewise, despite the fact that it had the best festival line-up in 2013, the meh factor seems to be attached to this year’s Longitude (no-one is relying on the long-range weather forecast here). And Forbidden Fruit just doesn’t seem to be featuring on anyone’s radar at the moment – the national fondness for The Flaming Lips and Wayne Coyne in a bubble seems to be on the wane.

The festivals which do appear to be having traction are the smaller ones. On travels around the country in the last few weeks, I’ve heard people enthusing about Body & Soul, Life and Drop Everything as well as upcoming shows by The National, Arctic Monkeys and Pixies. Leaving aside the standalone megastar gigs, it’s significant that it’s smaller festivals which are exciting people. It’s also not as if the disappearance of, say, Oxegen (still “Europe’s Greatest Music Festival” per the website) from the calendar has given them a bump – to be honest, Oxegen’s canning doesn’t appear to be mourned in any quarter – but rather that these events are the ones which have done their homework, know their audience and have lined everything up just right.

As has become the norm over the last few years, this will be the summer of the smaller event for many. With the exception of the Electric Picnic – which will be adding more acts to the line-up tomorrow – the big, catch-all festivals which used to be the norm when people thought about festivals are no longer a thing. Sure, you have arts festivals nationwide (all gearing up to sell tickets to locals and tourists and anyone who’ll buy them) and you have those festivals like Westport or Groove, but all are relatively downsized compared to the scale which used to be the case.

It will also be a summer when bespoke, smaller, city-based festivals like Down With Jazz and Make A Move in Dublin and Limerick respectively will have a moment. Add in a run of monthly summer festivals in the capital and you can see a trend developing. There will always be a significant audience who want to go buckwild with Buckfast in a big muddy field in the middle of nowhere – and there are festivals for them – but there’s a growing, maturing audience who want something else. The smart operators who can spot that market in the gap are the ones who’ll have a decent summer.