Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

What went wrong at the Samhain festival?

The negative feedback from last weekend’s Samhain festival in Co Meath is all about bars, buses, queues and sound systems

The addition of one more bus was not obviously not enough for Samhain 2014

Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 09:40


One of the regularly recurring memes of the summer festival season just gone by was when things went wrong. Deliquent promoters, extreme weather conditions, acts getting paid in Nando’s vouchers, acts not getting paid at all, events collapsing with huge debts, the local council expressing concerns over licences: a large run of festivals found out that it was not all happy campers and big bags of money when you put on an event hoping to attract thousands of people.

But it’s not just summer festivals or even poor selling events which face problems. Last weekend’s Samhain festival at Loughcrew Gardens in Co Meath, which featured such acts as Jon Hopkins, John Talabot, Maya Jane Coles, Booka Shade and Jimmy Edgar, was completely sold out. The event was promoted by long-standing Life festival promoters Archetype, while the three stages were hosted by Bodytonic, Hidden Agenda and Bedlam. The one day fancy dress festival promised “three stages”, “theatrical nooks and crannies”, “a cosmic selection of craft beer” and “a feast of gourmet food” in a setting “shadowed by Sliabh na Caillíghe, bordered by 300 year old yew trees grown to ward off evil spirits”.

However, the setting and those yew trees didn’t prevent what sounds like a very messy situation occuring on the site during the event. A look at the event’s Facebook page shows that social media may be a great, useful and cost-efficient way to promote and market an event, but it provides a very useful channel for people to highlight problems which occur and to spread the word far and wide.

The comments on this occasion report lengthy queues for the one bar on site (it’s hard to believe that anyone thought one bar would suffice for 5000 people at any event like this), beer and water running out at an early stage (11pm according to some accounts), long queues of up to three hours for the buses back to Dublin afterwards and atrocious sound systems.

It’s quite a litany of complaints, all the more galling because, as many Samhain attendees have noted, all of the above were within the control of the promoters. You make sure you have more than one bar on site, you make sure that bar is over-stocked, you make sure there are enough buses waiting at the end of the night to get people who’ve paid a large chunk of money to you home and you make sure you get the sound right. Your responsibilities as a promoter do not begin and end with booking the acts, selling the tickets and counting the profits.

The promoters’ response is best described as mealy-mouthed. After patting themselves on the back by citing the “huge amount of effort and planning” that went into the event (clearly not, judging by the complaints) and saying they are “a team of people who are passionate about throwing parties”, they then blame “a number of different issues, some of which were out of our control”.

As outlined above, the issues which went wrong and which caused the fans who’d shelled out for the event to be angry about how they were treated – the bars, the queues and the buses – were completely within their control. You open more bars, you stock more drink, you hire more people to drive the buses and sort out the queues and you make sure the sound for each of the stages is A1. All of this costs money but when you have 5,000 people paying up to €65 a ticket, you have the money to do so.

This was the second year that the Samhain festival operated. Last year’s event took place in Glendalough House in Co Wicklow and was also a success on paper, though there were also complaints in the aftermath about the bsues (there were no bar complaints as it was a BYOB job). It was clearly obvious then that transport was something which needed to be sorted out, but the promoters did not get it right for the second year in a row. Many of those who have commented on social media about Samhain 2014 have mentioned what happened last year and they have no intention of going along to a Samhain 2015 if it takes place.

However, given that the event was sold out and that there was a real clamour for tickets in the run-up to the event, the promoters know there is a market for the festival and may well persist with an event next year. It remains to be seen if they’ll actually do anything about the problems which marred the event for many this year (their inability to prevent a repeat of the bus problems does not bode well) or if we’ll again be looking at a Facebook feed full of ire and fuming in 12 months’ time. Let’s hope this is not the case and that the health and safety issues are properly addressed before anyone pays their money and steps onto the site.