I was 18 when I went to my first music festival, the tickets to the short-lived Oxygen sessions a gift to mark my ascension to adulthood. As a festival virgin, however, I was totally overwhelmed by the chaos and the queues. It was enough to send me back to my bedroom for the next decade, where I could control the volume of my sound-system myself and dance freely without being injured.
Eventually I moved my speakers to the living room, and later, when I became a parent, would plug in a disco ball to the ceiling light, put the couch cushions on the floor and set up a mini-mosh pit for my kids to enjoy.
I was absolutely aghast, then, to discover that while we were hopping around in the comfort of our own house, my peers were decamping to real music festivals with kids in tow.
“What about the dirt, the drunks, their poor little ears?” I asked them.
“What about us?” they countered. “Aren’t parents still entitled to be cool?”
Apparently in the decade I had spent recovering from my first encounter with festival culture, the music industry had moved on to become accessible and inclusive to rock and pop lovers of all ages.
Indeed, all the boutique festivals established in the early 2000s had accessibility at their heart, offering the youngest punters everything from face painting and bouncy castles to activity zones as distraction, while still maintaining a cutting edge lineup. There were baby changing rooms, headphones for small ears, fast-track queues and family campsites with curfews.
In fact, summer offered an entire calendar of child-friendly concert and camping experience to choose from: Electric Picnic in Stradbally, Body and Soul in Westmeath, Beatyard in Dún Laoghaire, Groove at Killruddery House in Bray. Not only was I missing out as an adult, I was depriving my kids of their first experiences of the joy of live rock and pop music.
Richard Seabrooke has festival form. As a veteran producer he has orchestrated a diverse range of events from the creative design forum Offset to experiential entertainment at Longitude.
He particularly enjoyed the buzz and chaos of his work on music festivals, and would frequently go to events just for fun, bringing his own children, now age seven and nine, along for the day. These were all boutique festivals with a fairly civilised clientele that catered for hipster families, as well as a less compromised crowd.
However, Seabrooke began to wonder would there be room in the summer calendar for a festival that did more for families than merely accommodate their presence. It was with this in mind that he began devising plans for a music festival that placed families at the heart of every aspect, from programming to production.
“What would a festival built for families from the ground up look like?” he wondered. “Where there was a proper full programme of arts experiences for kids running alongside a live music for everyone. Instead of having a family area, the entire festival would be a family festival.”
This month he launched Kaleidoscope, a three-day extravaganza that does just that.
At the heart of Seabrooke’s vision is a belief that cultural experiences can fire the imagination of young children and open up possibilities for their future.
“The whole reason people bring their kids to music festivals is to spend time with them sharing something they enjoy. So it was important that our music programme wouldn’t compromise that for parents. But at the same time a lot of entertainment at these events is a token thing: something to keep them distracted. I wanted to put together a programme especially for them, where they could discover new things and experiences, where they might be encouraged to think about the world in a different way.”
He started to gather together some of the most creative people working in children's culture at the moment, including Cartoon Saloon, illustrators and children's writers Chris Judge and Chris Haughton, artist Holly Pereira, the Science Gallery and Explorium.
He was also keen to open up the programme to teenagers who are usually banned from music festivals and not entitled to participate on family tickets.
“Teenagers are part of a family too,” he says, “and bringing them to a music festival can be really inspirational. We want them to see that it’s possible to work in this industry and give them some practical tools to unlock possibilities in their lives.” There will be workshops on rock’n’roll photography, a live media room where they can review bands, a spoken-word stage and podcasting facilities.
Before he could begin thinking about the specifics of the programme, however, Seabrooke had to consider the venue. Although there would be camping available, he also thought it was important to cater for people who might consider it a bit ambitious for their family to head away for an entire weekend.
He quickly settled on Russborough House in Blessington, Co Wicklow, "whose values, history and heritage were really in harmony with what we wanted to do".
With its extensive parklands, it already catered to families, boasting a maze, secret island and the National Birds of Prey Centre. The fact that it was only 20km from Tallaght, meanwhile, would "allow [Dublin] families to come and go each day, which is a good way of letting families test it out, see if their kids are manageable, if they could last a weekend." Indeed, having experienced festivals as a parent the next thing Seabrooke considered was "the pacing".
“Kids like to get up early and to stay up late, which can make the festival day really long. So we were conscious that we could try and structure the day around the rhythm of a typical family day.”
The festival programme starts at 10am, and there will also be several chillout zones, including a family cinema. What will be most welcome for festival-goers, however, is the communal experience that Seabrooke hopes to foster. Families will be invited to start the day with breakfast together and to come together again in the early evening for a disco dinner. “It makes eating a social and collective experience,” says Seabrooke, and will surely help anyone trying to pull their kids away from an activity they are engrossed in a bit easier. Meanwhile, the stages will start shutting down at 10.30pm to facilitate bedtime; after midnight the whole site will be a quiet zone. After all, energy will need to be restored for the following day.
Kaleidoscope runs from June 28th-30th at Russborough House, Co Wicklow. kaleidoscopefestival.ie
Sarah Mulcahy is a festival veteran. As the parent of children from 7-19 years old, she has been going to music events with children for almost two decades. She advises finding out about family facilities in advance.
“Family queues are quite the norm now and help quicker access, and individual concerts sometimes even provide earplugs for young kids,” she says.
She suggests asking if there are any toilets just for kids. “There can be long queues, especially later in the day when lots of adults arrive after all those beers!”
She also suggests coming well prepared with food, and to remember to be flexible. “It can be really over-stimulating, so you need to be prepared to leave early; there is no point in ruining a great occasion by over-exhausting anyone.”
Angie Canavan has brought her daughters, aged nine and five, to dozens of festivals since they were born. She suggests arriving as early as you can.
“You can enjoy the site and arrive before the crowds,” she says, and you might also “get to see behind the scenes of the music industry; the sound checks, the stage setup.”
Her kids have even bumped into some of the acts in the public toilets before they started getting ready to go on stage: “they really loved the buzz of that.”
Canavan also says to keep in mind that “they may see some adult things”, in particular drunk people, so to be ready to have to explain that.”
Louise Gartland frequently brings her three young boys to festivals, though she has yet to stay overnight. In fact, "the ability to come in and out of the festival site" is an important factor for her family, as burnout can happen sooner than you expect.
She says smaller festivals are better for smaller kids as they are easier to navigate, and suggests bringing earphones and portable picnic chairs for the kids to sit on. The more comfortable your children are the longer you get to stay.
OTHER KID-FRIENDLY MUSIC FESTIVALS
Dún Laoghaire Harbour, August 3th-4th, €5 tickets. Kidsyard area, including family rave and arts workshops. Under-12s only.
Stradbally Hall, Co Laois. August 30st-September 1st. Family campsite. Baby-changing facilities. Kids area. Under-12s only.