Wednesday 13 November 2019

'Clean' raving – can you really be mindful at a music festival?

Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Fancy a yoga class before catching Primal Scream on the main stage at Groove? Or weaving a basket from scratch before debating abortion at Mindfield and heading down to the Trailer Park stage at Electric Picnic?

The Baby Boomers and Generations Xers of Ireland. whose idea of a music festival was formed by Feile and Slane, are undoubtedly muttering about ‘notions’ and the legacy of the Celtic Tiger.

‘Twas far from wheatgrass shots and wellness we were reared.  Back in our day music festivals were synonymous with all-day boozing and losing the run of ourselves in the corner of a wild and muddy field.  Sustenance came from chipper vans and things resembling toilets were few and far between.

In recent years music festivals have been expanding beyond music to offer something more whether it’s hand crafts or debate a la Mind Field at Electric Picnic.  It’s not just about drinking cans in your wellies while swaying tipsily to a band you’ve never heard of, or even one you love, anymore.

While ‘wellness’ festivals solely dedicated to the health and fitness cause, like Wellfest [in Dublin in May], have popped up across the country, the movement has now also infiltrated the Irish musical festival.

This year Groove Festival, at Kilruddery House in Bray on August 19 and 20, is launching Thrive, a “new health, fitness and wellness precinct” offering festival goers the “chance to rejuvenate and reenergise the mind, body and soul” through a program of 35 or so movement classes, wellness workshops and inspirational talks.

The two-day Groove Festival is now in its 6th year
The two-day Groove Festival is now in its 6th year

According to Laura Arnold, Marketing Manager for Groove, Thrive is a response to changing trends in festivals across the US and Europe including Wanderlust in California and Balance in the UK.

“It’s not just about drinking cans in a field wearing wellies anymore,” she says.  “Going to a festival is an investment in time, in your pocket, and people want to enjoy a full experience from the moment they buy their ticket right through to the experience at the festival.”

“They might be going for the music, but they want good food, they want it to be really accessible to get to the car parks, toilets, they want top quality.  Festivals that do it well are setting themselves apart, delivering more than that one dimensional festival experience.”

Wellness is the logical next step. 

“There is a huge interest among people in general in wellness,” adds Arnold.  “People are constantly looking at ways to improve themselves.”

However, is a music festival somewhere where people want to take a yoga class?

A crowd gathers after 'Morning Gloryville' rave at Innocent Unplugged Festival
A crowd gathers after 'Morning Gloryville' rave at Innocent Unplugged Festival

“We’ll let you know in a few weeks!” laughs Laura, who admits it has been a tough sell in some quarters.

“From a communication point of view it has been a challenge, to get across that message,” she says.  “Even down to what do you wear to the festival if you’re going to do a yoga class and then kick on down to the main festival to watch Primal Scream?

“We’re doing kids yoga right through to kundalini yoga and pilates – a good mix of activities.  We’ll be able to see at the end of it what was popular and what wasn’t and whether people are coming in their fitness gear or just want to drop in to have a look and see the rest of the festival.”

She adds, “We’re aware it is a music festival so we’re not going down the hardcore cross fitness, weights route.  It’s accessible wellness.  You don’t have to be an expert yogi or know anything about nutrition or health.

“And you don’t have to bring your yoga mat.  We have them on site. It’s all included in the price of the ticket so you can drop into a yoga class or watch someone doing a cooking demo, get some nice food, maybe then have a few drinks and see some good bands.  It’s adding to your overall experience.”

When it comes to ‘clean’ raving in the strict sense of the word, Morning Gloryville is leading the ‘conscious clubbing movement’ in Ireland.

Running across Dublin for three years it is gaining momentum as more and more people seek an alternative to boozing or hitting the gym before work.  People may have witnessed it at music festivals like Electric Picnic and this year they’re heading to Groove.

It’s an alcohol and intoxicant free experience that takes place from about 6.30am to 10am in Dublin and it targets festival goers early in the morning too.

“People dance and then head off to work,” says organiser Will Meara.  “We have people from all walks of life, people who are retired down for an early bop, mothers bringing their kids before school, people who work in the tech industry heading down with their workmates from Dropbox or Facebook or Linkedin.

“Over the past 3 years we’ve hosted events for over 6000 people and we’re still going strong.  We’re foot to the floor.  The demand is there.  We’re getting bigger and bigger.”

While he says that most younger people “still have that sheep like mentality of student life and hitting the clubs hard and smashing free drinks before heading out” he has seen a bit of a change with the older demographic.

“There’s also a bit of a trendy movement towards pilates, yoga, eating vegetarian food,” he says.  “People are more mindful or how and what they eat and where their food is coming from.  There are wellbeing festivals like Wellfest [in Dublin in May] and more mainstream festivals are embracing wellness as it’s actually fashionable now to be taking care of yourself, to be in control of the way you socialise. 

“When we first started Morning Gloryville it was mostly people from the yoga community, spiritual community, who were already tuned into that, but it’s transgressed into everyone, even students coming down before college.”

Given we’re traditionally a nation of boozers, it must be tough to get people dancing stone cold sober?

“To get the dance floor going is an entirely different job compared to a normal club,” admits Will.

“In a normal club everyone is drinking, having a great time, the movement feels natural, they’ve been doing it for years, they’re hardwired into that social experience. 

“A sober dance floor is an entirely different animal.  The MCs encourage people, the performers almost have to attract people to the dance floor.  You have to make sure the music is the right BMP, that it’s the right kind of music, music they recognise, and also that they can swing along and bop to, so it’s almost automatic to dance.

He laughs, “It is extremely difficult for the first five minutes and then there’s always one or two brave people who give it a go and then everyone else kind of falls in behind them. It’s like a hive mind.  After 15 minutes the dance floor is full and they realise nobody is looking at them dancing sober and they start to enjoy it.”

You might assume things would be easier at festivals where people are already in a lighter frame of mind, but Will says it’s also “a tough nut to crack”.

“What we try to generally do is strive towards an early offering.  People don’t even want to look at drink early in the morning.  Maybe they’ve had a heavy night the night before,” he says.

“We’ve done EP and festivals around the country and if you approach it the right way you can walk around the campsite and tell people they can have a bit of a dance, no alcohol, but a bit of massage and stretch out those bones after sleeping in tents all night. 

“People are up for trying something different and defying social stereotypes, that idea that you have to get smashed to have fun.”

While the events are alcohol-free, it’s not a case of ‘either or’.  You can indulge in Morning Gloryville and then indulge in a few too many at the main festival.  It’s entirely up to you.

“A lot of people, friends of mine, love going out weekends and during the week they’ll have a couple of nights of cocktails and they’ll come along and keep coming back because it’s about balance and they realise they don’t have to be doing one way or the other way,” says Will.

“Even our organisers are very social people.  They’re the people getting people to come down to the raves, waking them up with morning hugs, and they still go to festivals and have a drink and have a good time. But they also appreciate how important it is to have a conscious clubbing experience as well.” 

Laura believes in balance too.  Thrive at Groove runs from 11am to 7pm so it complements the main music experience in the evening without competing with it.

“When Primal Scream are on people might not want to do yoga in the next field!” she laughs.  “But having said that we don’t want to be prescriptive about how people enjoy the festival.  If you want to have a glass of Prosecco and do a yoga class why not!”

For Will, conscious clubbing at music festivals are just one element of a bigger plan.

“We have a very loyal following and a family that keeps it ticking along,” he says.  “We’ve built a real community around it with activations and spontaneous raves on the LUAS, people giving out hugs, and spreading a movement of love and happiness.  It sounds naff but that’s what we’re trying to create - a movement of people who, instead of spreading hate, are spreading happiness.”

And who can argue with that?


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