1 Small is the new big
Big musical gatherings have their charm, but the magic is in the minutiae. Other Voices is a festival version of The Borrowers. Everything is small: the venues, the pubs, the church. But the heart is enormous. The crowd is still tiny relative to most festivals, but it was noticeably larger this year, with the Music Trail gigs busy for much of the weekend. The traditional after-hours mingling of artists with punters was stymied a little by a slight separation between band after-parties next door to HQ (Benners Hotel), although most of the artists were still pottering around the hotel over the weekend. This year was my ninth trip to the event, and the intimacy has naturally depleted over the years, but Dingle, its residents, and the Other Voices crew and artists still figuratively – and literally – hug you like no other gathering.
2 The Music Trail is a massive draw
How do you develop a festival where the main event is in a tiny church? It’s a hard task, considering the golden tickets into St James’s are so hard to come by. The live streaming of the gigs in the church to the pubs around the town is the closest most will get to the action.
The Music Trail, with a few dozen bands spread out across town, is paying dividends for Other Voices. The festival works with its constraints. The idea of expanding a festival is relatively simple for the likes of Electric Picnic or Longitude: put more tickets on sale and shove the perimeter fences out a bit. But St James’ s Church is never going to get bigger. So what do you do? Expand outside of what already exists.
3 Non-commercial events will always please fans
Other Voices is free. It is authentic. There are no branded bars, no backdrops with sponsors’ logos splashed across them, no bouncers, no security pulling at your wristband (there are no wristbands). There are no rip-off pint prices or extortionate accommodation costs.
Music is the first priority at Other Voices, but the sense of camaraderie and collective experience works because that’s what it’s about. There is no pretence at this festival.
4 Less press doesn’t mean less impact
One thing that was noticeable was a decrease in press attending the event. Other Voices used to be seen almost as a Christmas party of sorts for various music press and labels, but journalists were thin on the ground this year. But that didn’t have any negative impact on the enjoyment of the event, which was arguably one of the best yet.
Other Voices is something of an international secret that travels by word of mouth. I lost count of the number of first-timers I chatted to, all of whom were all caught up in the magic.
5 The joy of pilgrimage
The most unique music festivals in the world have a sense of pilgrimage about them, whether it's Glastonbury on Worthy Farm, Airwaves in Reykjavik, Lake of Stars in Malawi, or Other Voices in Dingle. Part of the fun is the journey. The wild Atlantic coast in winter is magical for locals and visitors alike. And there's no sense of invasion either, just one of people coming together.
6 Honesty is the best Banter policy
The real gem at Banter over the weekend was Nóirín Hegarty’s fantastic interview, conducted by Jim Carroll. Banter is reaching its 100th event, and while the guests and panels are consistently entertaining and informative, Carroll’s brilliantly blunt interviewing style is what makes the talking shop tick.
With Hegarty, Carroll was in his element, as the former Sunday Tribune editor and now managing destination editor of Lonely Planet spoke of the lack of diversity in the Irish media and the anarchy needed in newspapers.
The quote of the weekend also came from this session, with Hegarty referring to Joseph Campbell’s realisation that the definition of a midlife crisis was getting to the top of the ladder only to realise it’s leaning against the wrong wall.
7 Setting is as important as ‘content’
It would be remiss not to mention the place. Dingle is a beautiful town, with some of the best pubs in the world. The Christmas lights strung from street to street, the beautiful beaches, the creaking doors of snugs, the gorgeous seafood and the friendliness of its residents aren’t just a bonus: they make up a large part of the reason why Other Voices soars.
8 Newbies rule
Dingle in December is also about discovering new acts. And boy, did they own it this year. All We Are played one of the most astonishing shows of the weekend, and one of the best gigs I’ve seen this year. For their first television appearance, they owned the church, with astounding percussion, brilliantly fluid bass-playing, stunning and unusual guitar sounds and killer harmonies. Their album is out early in the new year on Domino. Watch them blow up.
Twin sisters Ibeyi, signed to XL Recordings, arrived on stage aged 19, and left it aged 20. An awful lot of people said it was the gig of the weekend.
Also a welcome addition was Huw Stephens, who commandeered presenting duties with enthusiasm, grace and a down-to-earth friendliness that is largely absent from Aidan Gillen's nervous style. Another great newbie was Kennedy's pub, which has been shut for the best part of two decades yet reopened this year as it was left. In a town where pubs know what they're doing, Kennedy's held its own, and then some.
9 It really is all about voices
Jessie Ware’s stripped-down performance was beautiful. John Cummins’s spoken word was enlightening. Damien Rice’s scorched singing was excellent. Ibeyi brought an incredibl
e vocal beauty to Other Voices. Everywhere harmonies rang out. The vocal performance of the weekend? Jessie Ware singing Pieces from her second album Tough Love was amazing, but for pure heart, you'd have to award Delorentos drummer Ross McCormick's rendition of Valley Where the Rivers Run from their latest record, Night Becomes Light.
10 Everyone is a VIP
Before Other Voices took flight to London and Derry, there was an (incorrect) perception of elitism, as if there was an invisible velvet rope outside the church and the town, and that you had to be in the know to get the nod.
That invisible barrier television shows tend to create is gone. With considerably increased crowds this year, more and more people are learning that this isn’t about a select club, it’s about an open and friendly event that anyone and everyone can be involved in.
If going north of the Border and across the Irish Sea was Other Voices 2.0, then 2014 created Other Voices 3.0, a festive destination for music fans who are overly familiar with the cookie-cutter, music-in-a-field adventures summer festivals offer. Passion emanates from every pore of the Other Voices crew, and it’s contagious. That passion is there for a reason. This gathering deserves all the superlatives it’s used to.