Meet the woman behind the music at Body & Soul - booker Jenny Wren
Behind the Scenes: meet key talent in TV, film, and music
Behind the Scenes: We meet key Irish and Ireland-based talent working behind the scenes in the TV, film, and music industries. This week we're chatting to Body & Soul Festival music booker Jenny Wren.
Thousands of music lovers across the country and beyond are feeling those familiar pangs of excitement ahead of next weekend's Body & Soul Festival but none more so than Jenny Wren.
As the music booker she's been grafting for the past year (often more) to assemble a diverse, inclusive, and all out banging line-up for one of the country's favourite festivals.
It sounds like one of the coolest jobs on the planet, although Jenny laughs, "I haven't tried to be cool since my tenth birthday! Being cool doesn’t really come into it. I really think you just have to have a total passion for it and a love for it.
"I’m grateful to be doing something I love doing but of course it’s not all swanning around with stupid laminates on looking for a bloody VIP area. It has nothing to do with that, absolutely nothing to do with that. If you go into it looking for that you’re looking for the wrong thing!"
Jenny's career in music began as a sideline to her day job as an art director in marketing and advertising in London.
She worked in hospital radio and on her return to Dublin she joined Jazz Fm while her day job was, again, in art directing. She also worked at Carbon Records "because I was buying so many records there it was sort of easier to just work there!"
"I didn’t know I was going to end up working in this area," she says. "I’m one of those people who is always passionate about something when I’m doing it and the day job was what I thought I would keep doing because I’m an ideas person, a creative person, but I began to lose the love for advertising.
"I just began to realise, without sounding too hippy, that I needed to feed my soul. The music industry seemed so vast and I didn’t know what I might do. I didn’t really sit down and plan it. Ultimately I just wanted a radio job!"
Jenny's childhood friend Averill Stanley was working at the Body and Soul area in Electric Picnic and wanted a stage so she asked Jenny if she would like to put forward some music.
More than a decade later, most of Jenny's days from September to February are spent with her "head stuck at the computer in excel files" and listening to music on her headphones. She also travels to European music shows, researching acts, and assessing previous shows and how acts performed.
"You ask yourself if acts we didn't get this year will work next year, and you return to conversations you had a year or two previously," she says.
"You’re never far from your computer. Most of the travel is done by [February] and then you’re consolidating information, can acts come in on that date, budgets, and then maybe April you’re tying up loose ends."
Often people are oblivious to the work that goes into securing a line-up.
"I get amused when I read people’s comments, ‘Did they not think of this act?’ and I’m in the background going, ‘Oh my God, do you not think we’ve tried?’ " she reveals.
"It is hard and I think as the years have gone on for me I’ve gotten better with letting go and moving on with what isn’t going to work. It’s like when you’re really young and you go to the sweet shop and you have all this money and you want those things and you can’t get those things. It’s about balance. You want balance on the bill. You want an inclusive bill."
Despite the plethora of festivals running over the summer - Indiependence, Castlepalooza, Electric Picnic to name but a few - Jenny says the priority is not outdoing the competition.
"To be honest I think we have always just stuck by our absolute belief in what we were doing. It’s not trying to better than another festival. Nobody sat down at the beginning with chalk and said we’d be different to X, Y or Z," she says.
"We always just believed in what we were doing, trusted the core ethos, and always have this openness to continually evolving and enhancing things.
"Musically I’ve always just said from day one we want a diverse bill and [the acts] are potentially less well known but it’s not about the headliners for us. We choose not to spend the budget on huge acts and have the site not as nice. Everything gets some money from the camping experience to the food experience, theatre.
"My job in terms of music is to have an inclusive, diverse bill, an interesting bill, an intelligent bill, people who are fun, a quality stage presence, a message. A lot of acts have powerful messages - Mykki Blanco, Sleaford Mods."
While many people admit they go to festivals for the experience rather than the music necessarily, Jenny says the bill is even more important now than ever.
"In fact it’s more researched, more considered," she says. "While we are the sum of all our parts, that is no one thing is more important than the other – music is the pulsating heartbeat behind it all. The music is diverse, intelligent, fun, completely immersive. Music for us is integral to what we do."
Body and Soul might be almost a decade old, but Jenny says she's "always open to learning", adding, "There’s no point thinking we’ve nailed it now and sit back on our laurels. I’m very passionate about learning and attention to detail, enhancing situations, tweaking things. We’re ever evolving."
Finally getting on site for the festival itself is "like Christmas" and she sees it as the biggest perk of the job.
"It’s almost a little selfish journey once I get down there and I do feel that’s my main perk – seeing the ideas you’ve been talking about all year, finding those bands, being super excited about the music, and seeing it all come alive. That for me offers vast satisfaction. It's all the music shopping coming to life. It's hugely satisfying."
Jenny spends a lot of her time welcoming people to site over the weekend.
"I work a lot with the artist liaison and production to make sure the show is going ahead," she says. "When I’m on site for me it’s really about welcoming people to site. That’s hugely important. They’re travelling around Europe and coming to your party essentially so it feels like hosting. I like to be there as much as I physically can to welcome people on site."
She adds, "If I’m busy on site then something is wrong, something has gone really wrong, or I haven’t done my job properly."
However, what she might have considered a disaster earlier in her career is usually something she can deal with now.
"I keep my cool and say, ‘Listen, are the crowds safe and having a good time? Yes. Then this is not a disaster.’ As long as the crowds are safe. You have road bumps, of course. Stuff happens all the time. You can plan from one end of the year to the other and things will present themselves. You just stay cool, work with artist liaison, production, have a five minute meeting, an intelligent discussion on the hop, and it’s fine. After years of nerves I’ve become a little bit more able to make a decision and think clearly, ‘This is okay, we’ll get through it.’"
With the festival taking place just weeks after the terror attack on Ariana Grande's Manchester concert, is there any anxiety about running such a large scale event?
"I personally can’t allow something like Manchester in my brain," admits Jenny. "It’s too horrific, too awful, and paranoia would take over. You’d probably feel like never putting ona show again. But I know all of us, across everything, really feel festival goers are paramount. Everybody comes on site, comes to your party and their safety is paramount.
"It is overwhelming. But I think it’s all the more reason to come together. It’s a beautiful thing to come together and have a festival that is all inclusive, from young people to people with children, to come together in a very old, traditional style for summer solstice to celebrate our humanity and our connectedness, and to show we’ve more in common than less in common."
Given her role you might expect she's inundated with requests for tickets ahead of the festival, but says this is not the case.
I’m a bit elusive and not hanging around the Dublin scene. I do my thing and leave and a lot of people I know would probably have some way of getting in," she says.
"I do get that odd knock on the door but we don’t have this amazing VIP area where everybody just hangs out and drinks champagne all weekend. We do have champagne on site this year but it’s for everybody. Backstage is production. There’s no VIP area. Really it is about the whole site and not sitting in some throned area surrounded by gilded lillies! We’re out plodding around with everybody else. The site is so beautiful there’s no need to be hidden away in a VIP area."
Body & Soul takes place over Summer Solstice Weekend June 23-25. For more info check out bodyandsoul.ie