Castlepalooza 2016: An Offaly big adventure

From day tickets to comedy tents and a DJ set from snooker legend Steve Davis, this year’s festival has great new stuff to go with big names such as Villagers, Jurassic 5 and Caribou


They say as change is as good as a rest – and after a decade in business, the winds of change are blowing through the grounds of Charleville Castle for this year’s Castlepalooza.

Anyone who’s glanced at the 2016 line-up may have noticed the programme is looking bigger, better and brighter than ever before.

That’s no coincidence, considering Aiken Promotions have come on board as a partner for the Tullamore festival’s 11th year in business. What started out in 2006 as a 30th birthday party for festival founder Cillian Stewart has developed into one of Ireland’s most loved music and arts events, and one with the most loyal following – of both musicians and punters – around.

The way Stewart tells it, it was simply time for a shake-up. “It’s a good move for the festival. It’s good for Aiken, because they get a festival that’s proven itself over the 10 years; and for me, it’s access to much bigger acts. They have the relationships, they have the contacts, and they’re very good at what they do. They’re the only promoter that I would have been interested in getting involved with – and together, we’re going to try and grow it slowly over the coming years.”

“We went down and looked at the site, and it’s a really lovely site with a beautiful old castle,” adds Leagues O’Toole from Aiken Promotions. “We liked the work that Cillian had done and it just fitted the bill for us. It was a small boutique festival that just worked.”

Together, both teams have come up with the tastiest Castlepalooza line-up in its history, where acts such as Jurassic 5, Field Music, Cat Power and Caribou will rub shoulders with Sunday-night headliner Villagers, Cian Nugent, Lisa O’Neill and more.

“We put together a line-up that’s a lot more international than it’s ever been, but we also wanted to retain the Irish element – we’ve over 30 Irish acts announced already, with more to come,” says O’Toole.

“The Colm Mac Con Iomaires and the Cian Nugents and Somervilles are just as important to us. We wanted to have one Irish headliner because we felt that was really important.”There’s also a name on the line-up that many will be familiar with – although perhaps not in a musical sense. Recently retired snooker player Steve Davis will be on the bill with a unique “pool table set”.

“We knew he was a music nerd and he had a big interest in prog and electronic and ambient music,” says O’Toole.

Trick shots “He’s a massive Caribou fan, which was one of the reasons he wanted to come, and he also liked the idea of the location, the castle and its history. He actually suggested that we get a pool table to put in front of the stage when he DJs, so while the other chap who DJs with him, Kavus [Torabi], is on, Steve can come down and actually take on punters in games of pool and do trick shots and stuff like that. He suggested that himself, which was the kind of contribution that you want from an artist.”

One of the biggest changes to this year’s event is on the calendar; for the first time, Castlepalooza has been uprooted from its August Bank Holiday weekend slot and will now take place earlier in the summer, from July 1st - 3rd. This was mainly down to logistics, Stewart explains. “It’s easier to get bigger names because we’re closer to the middle of the main festival season – whereas before, we were kind of at the end of it,” he says. “We’re continuing on that weekend from now on, because it’ll give us more time to get the bigger acts. “Also, the Ploughing Championship is also in Tullamore this year [in mid-September] – so it gives us space in-between the two events.”

Layout changes

The layout of the festival site will be changing, too – partly to make room for the addition of the new Comedy Tent and also to make the whole site more user-friendly in general. “It was time to make a few shuffles on-site,” nods Stewart. “It’s going to be easier for the punter, and also to make it more attractive to people who might not have been before. We’ve added a comedy stage, which is gonna be around the back of the castle. “We are moving the camping site outside of the main castle grounds, which means there are three stages around the back: the Vodafone stage, the dance stage and the comedy. “It also means that we can sell day tickets, which we haven’t done before, because we can close it off at night-time. We’ve moved the car park, because again, it’s closer. We’re just trying to make it easier for people.”

This year, the inside of the 17th-century castle will be used to stage gigs for the first time – something that O’Toole is particularly excited about. “There’s an old ballroom that we’re going to use to programme some of the quieter music, so that the people who attend the festival – unlike other festivals that are built around estates or stately homes that are just sitting there in the distance as part of the view – will now be able to interact with the castle, enter the castle, walk around and have a look at it,” he enthuses. “That’s a big factor, for me – that you can actually go in and touch it and be in it, soak up the atmosphere.” The capacity will increase, says Stewart, but only marginally. Both he and O’Toole are adamant that Castlepalooza’s longstanding attendees will not be irked by the changes and that the unique, intimate vibe will not be disrupted in any way. “We’re going to keep the vibe that we’ve always had, and the reason we can do that is because of the acts, but it’s also the people that go. They’re going to embrace the change, I think,” says Stewart. “It’s still myself that’s running the show with Aiken. The plan is to do another really good job this year, and basically showcase Charleville Castle as probably one of the best festival sites in the country.” - Castlepalooza takes place in  Charleville Castle, Tullamore, on the weekend of July 1st-3rd 2016.