Rain is Oxegen's warm-up act again but can't dampen spirits


THE SIGHT of burnt grass and clouds of dust thrown up by service vehicles greeted the first arrivals at Oxegen yesterday.

Punchestown Racecourse in Co Kildare showed every sign of the dry summer we have had, but Oxegen being Oxegen the rain began to fall in the afternoon, albeit as a drizzle – hardly enough to dampen the spirits of those making their annual pilgrimage for the biggest music festival of the year. “It’s not pouring down, so we’ll be fine,” said Hayley Magill (17) from Belfast.

The festival’s reputation goes before it. “It wouldn’t be Oxegen without rain,” said Cork music fan Brian Conroy (20) who came home from Prague, where he now lives, to go to the festival.

“It’s my first time in Oxegen, it’s going to be mental stuff. I saved up desperately with every brown coin I found in my room. A bit of that and a bit of help from my parents as a birthday present.”

By lunchtime 17,000 fans were already on site, and last night that number had grown to 35,000. A tannoy message advised them to look out for each other, especially when inebriated, to rehydrate and to eat well, “not just Skittles”.

Trolleys to carry luggage and beer cans were a new addition this year, while the decanting tent for those swapping glass for plastic bottles was also busy.

Among the earliest arrivals were Irish rugby internationals Jamie Heaslip and Cian Healy who were part of a group of about two dozen volunteers who cycled the 30km from Terenure College to Punchestown. They were raising money for the Christina Noble Foundation.

“We passed through Kildare, which is my town. It was a little like opening the Red Sea as we passed by,” said Heaslip, who is a friend of one of the organisers.

“It is the most training I have done all holidays. It offsets the damage I’m going to do to myself at Oxegen this weekend.”

Healy, who moonlights as a DJ in his spare time when he is not holding up the scrum for Ireland, will open the dance tent this afternoon as DJ Church.

The music begins at 2pm with emerging English singer Eliza Doolittle opening the festival on the main stage. Arcade Fire will headline on the main stage, while Fatboy Slim will be the closing act on the Vodafone Stage tonight.

Rap superstar Jay-Z, who is famed for his extravagance and his extended entourage, sent two security men to check out the venue yesterday in advance of his appearance tonight.

“You hear all these stories about the demands of artists, but he is not like that at all,” said event organiser John Probyn. “All they want to do is see the stage, the barrier, the security arrangements. Artists these days are well aware of their responsibility as far as crowd safety is concerned.”

Mr Probyn warned that the weather forecast on Saturday had taken a turn for the worse, and fans were likely to be “dumped on” with heavy rain forecast. “Every year people turn up without checking the weather conditions. You have people in shorts and T-shirts who don’t pay attention to the weather forecast.”

Fans have been forewarned.