Kaleidoscope 2019: Was Ireland's first festival aimed at families any good?

Billed as a family-first festival, Kaleidoscope bears the hallmarks of the typical weekender, with a few notable differences

Elena Puyo and her daughter Sofia (2) at Kaleidoscope Festival in Russborough House.  Photograph: Fran Veale

Elena Puyo and her daughter Sofia (2) at Kaleidoscope Festival in Russborough House. Photograph: Fran Veale

 

Question: what does a music festival look like when you take away the sartorial showboating, the slabs of warm lager, and the campsite busker murdering ‘Wonderwall’ at 4am?

Surprisingly pleasant, is the answer.

Kaleidoscope at Russborough House in Co Wicklow is a festival alright, but not as many of us know it. The campsite is a serene and clean wonder, for a start. Billed as a camping festival for families, the event’s singular vibe is the lucky beneficiary of many variables. Inaugural festivals often have a relaxed atmosphere and impressive attention to detail, and Kaleidoscope appears to be free from organisational growing pains.

Sarah Barry (17), Chantelle Quigley (16) and Shauna O’Neill (14) enjoying Sean and Conor Price’s performance at Kaleidoscope Festival in Russborough House. Photograph: Fran Veale
Sarah Barry (17), Chantelle Quigley (16) and Shauna O’Neill (14) enjoying Sean and Conor Price’s performance at Kaleidoscope Festival in Russborough House. Photograph: Fran Veale
Charlotte Buckley and Laura Kirwin show off their junk couture at Kaleidoscope Festival in Russborough House. Photograph: Fran Veale
Charlotte Buckley and Laura Kirwin show off their junk couture at Kaleidoscope Festival in Russborough House. Photograph: Fran Veale

The family-heavy crowd is enthusiastic without bearing the usual hectic, New Year’s Eve energy of other festivals.

With so many things to see and do – really, this is kiddie sensory overload, in the best way possible – there’s no room for boredom or tantrums. And despite there being events and distractions every which way, there’s no madding crowd to get away from.

Things can be as quiet or as buzzy as you like at Kaleidoscope. Laoise, Ruth-Ann and Kila are bringing decent crowds to the Main Stage, yet they face stiff competition.

At the Junior and Teen Wonderlands, there’s nature drawing, creative writing workshops for teens, storytelling, climate change talks, SNA-supported play (we arrive too late for family meditation and the baby rave, more’s the pity). At the Podcast tent, this newspaper hosts its own well-received event: Joke Telling and Kids Asking Other Kids Important Questions.

The beauty of Kaleidoscope’s inclusiveness is that you don’t need a crowd

Elsewhere, kids can enjoy adventure sports, hot tubs, food demos and comedy. To say there’s something for kids of every stripe is a cliché, yet completists might have a hard time fitting everything in.

Normally, I’d file bringing young children to a festival under “would you be well?” I’d dreaded bringing my own four-month-old along (even when we go to the local park, we prepare as though we’re moving to Honduras) but at Kaleidoscope, it’s next to impossible not to relax. I thought I was heroic getting to the car park in one piece until the woman in the car next to me unloaded four boys and a three-week-old baby.

Another family are trying their hand at camping, despite living mere minutes down the road. “Sure if things go wrong, we can always leave,” surmises dad-of-three Paul. “But I doubt it will.”

Toni O’Rourke and her lurcher Phoebe at Kaleidoscope Festival in Russborough House. Photograph: Fran Veale
Toni O’Rourke and her lurcher Phoebe at Kaleidoscope Festival in Russborough House. Photograph: Fran Veale
Lee Deegan and Paul Clarke from Ballymun at Kaleidoscope Festival, in Wicklow. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Lee Deegan and Paul Clarke from Ballymun at Kaleidoscope Festival, in Wicklow. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Hazzle-free admission

After a hassle-free admission – the site is blessedly compact – the very first amenity visible at the Russborough House weekender is the Baba Care zone. The tent is complete with sterilisers, fridges, bottle warmers, changing stations, sofas and beanbags. Lost Vagueness it ain’t. “Why should your life stop just because you have kids?” posits one woman, serenely nursing her six-month-old. “What are we supposed to do, just stay at home?”

The beauty of Kaleidoscope’s inclusiveness is that you don’t need a crowd. Striking up conversations with revellers young and old comes naturally. “It’s easy to chat to other people who have babies,” notes Alice, mum to a 12-week-old. “They’re like dogs; a great conversation starter.”

Kaleidoscope’s bars are a queue-free zone; an unexpected boon for Davey, who has tagged along with his friends and their young children. “They’ll be heading home soon, but I’ll probably stick around for Le Galaxie,” he notes.

Come 8pm, small tempers are beginning to fray, starting a trickle of young families away from the main area. We’re certainly past our bedtime too, yet our trip home counts as the most stress-free festival exodus ever.

If this is what childhood looks like now, consider me a touch envious. Far from hot tubs, seaweed baths and baby raves most of us were reared, yet enjoying it vicariously does come in a close second. Will next year’s event be just as magical, sun-dappled and smooth? Here’s hoping.

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