Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

That summer feeling…

The summer music festvals have made their pitch to Irish music fans so who’s going to top the poll?

A different kind of summer feeling

Thu, Mar 3, 2016, 09:51


We now know the lie of the Irish summer festival land. Yesterday’s Electric Picnic announcement, with LCD Soundsystem at the top of the bill as the big attraction, means that all the major festivals have made their pitch. Unless Oxegen decides to return, the players have put down their markers.

There will be more additions to the bills already announced – there’s a lot of acts on the European touring circuit this summer like PJ Harvey and Radiohead who you’d be surprised not to see in the coming months in Ireland – and there will be news to come from festivals like Beatyard and the like, but you can start planning the summer now. Think of it as the general election for music fans: who are you going to vote for?

Thousands have already put their money down for the Electric Picnic and thousands more will do so in the coming weeks. It’s the biggest date on the summer festival calendar and, with the absence of anything with the same pulling power since the demise of Oxegen, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

Though there were some online grumbles yesterday about the lack of more alternative or edgy acts on the bill, the Picnic has become a festival which pulls over 50,000 people to Co Laois on All Ireland hurling final weekend by knowing what its ever changing audience wants. It’s a successful, money-making brand which mixes a lot of proven knowns with some likely unknowns and they’re unlikely to change course at this stage.

Like the general election, those not served by the mainstream have plenty of choice in the “others” camp. Those who think the Picnic has lost its way some time ago will head again to Body & Soul. Those who hanker for the good old days of Oxegen will be looking at Indiependence’s bill of fare. Those with a sense of adventure who want a good time will lock in on Castlepalooza. Those who want a dance festival with all the trimmings will be setting the controls for Life. Those who want a Picnic but who want to sleep in their own beds at night will go to Longitude or Forbidden Fruit.

There are plenty of others too – you’ve also Sea Sessions, Belsonic, Groove and Knockanstockan to name a few, not forgetting the music offerings from the various summer arts festivals up and down the country (there probably won’t be a Killarney Festival this year) – so there’s a lot of choice out there if the mainstream festival offering doesn’t suit you. There’s even something for the metal fans in the audience for once, with Slayer and Anthrax in a tent in Cork.

One interesting obsveration when you look at this list of events has to do with scale. All of those festivals in the last two paragraphs will cater for audiences up to about 10,000 people maximum. With the exception of Vital in Belfast which has yet to announce its 2016 plans and leaving aside the various one-off artist shows like Beyonce and Bruce Springsteen, the Picnic is the only festival in the country which goes for the big numbers. Remember that up to a few short years ago, the Irish summer was capable of hosting two blockbuster festivals, a rake of smaller fests and all those standalone artist shows too.

Does this indicate spare capacity and a gap in the market? Or is it the case that the clock has turned and those who are going to festivals in 2016 are more interested in smaller, more niche events which appeal to their particular social networks? Such rigid demarcation means there’s probably very little crossover in audience between, say, Life and Indiependence, though you could imagine a crossover between the audience at those two events and the Picnic. It’s become a very clearcut macro or micro decision.

The question which is usually posed around this time about if we have too many festivals has sort of become superfluous. All of those festivals listed above have been mostly going for years and the promoters wouldn’t be coming back for more just for the good of their health or to get out of the house for a few hours.

The other topical question, the one about if there’s room for another festival of some sort, will only be answered if someone steps up with an idea, like those behind the festivals listed above did in the first place. We may grump and give out about festivals and live shows and ticket prices, but remember that someone had the guts to set up the event in the first place. As in politics, it’s easier to criticise those who stand for election or crow over those who didn’t get hoisted on shoulders at the end of the count than go out and do what they’ve done. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you’re entitled to an automatic pass just because you start a festival and make a bags of it, but it’s worth remembering that it takes a special brand of crazy to do it in the first place. Vote early, vote often.