Entertainment Music

Saturday 20 January 2018

Seeking magic in Stradbally from the Irish acts on show

James Vincent McMorrow
James Vincent McMorrow
Ham Sandwich
Cathy Davey

Niall Byrne

Like all of the best festival experiences, straying from the main stage can make for the best Electric Picnic weekend and very often it's the Irish acts who have played that integral part in the festival's 11 years in Stradbally. On social media last week, there was much reminiscing about highlights from Irish bands.

They included a packed and sweaty tent for The Redneck Manifesto, Trinity Orchestra doing Daft Punk, Warlords of Pez giving an alternative Sunday mass, Jape covering Put 'Em Under Pressure, a coterie of musicians including Damien Rice, Glen Hansard, Lisa Hannigan with members of Kila doing a cover of Mic Christopher's Heyday and Conor O'Brien's solo show at the Body and Soul main stage in 2012 where he played songs from his second album Awayland for the first time in public.

"It was magical," remembers Cathy Davey, who has big plans for this weekend's Picnic, of O'Brien's set. "He was really excited about the songs which was infectious."

For Cork DJ Stevie G, he was in the right place at the right time at the very first Picnic in 2004. "DJ Nu-mark of Jurassic 5 was stuck in traffic and John Reynolds saw me and my record boxes at the gate waiting to get access to my own small bar gig. Within minutes, I was playing to thousands on a huge stage instead of Nu-mark!"

"I think the stars are sort of underground at the Picnic like everywhere else," says DJ Donal Dineen who has played nearly every year. "It's often the smallest gigs that are the most surprising and inspiring."

The careful curation of the Body & Soul area, which has often put trad music and contemporary Irish musicians on late at night among international travelling acts, speaks volumes about the trust in quality of Irish musicians.

For recent examples from last year, see Máirtín O'Connor Band's 1am Body & Soul main stage slot or Le Galaxie's 2am outdoor headline set, which is definitely one of my own personal Picnic highlights.

The early tent slots, from noon to early afternoon on Saturday and Sunday have been the scene of some of the most memorable shows. James Vincent McMorrow and Cathy Davey say that their first tent shows were among their personal favourites.

"That was the first festival I really enjoyed," Davey said of her 2010 Picnic appearance, while McMorrow claims his early slot the same year was "the first really good show I ever played.

"The Picnic has never disappointed me because I think people are there for the right reasons," McMorrow says. This year he plays a much later show in a much larger tent.

This weekend, Cathy Davey isn't just bringing along some musical instruments. Her plan is to bring a ranch with some ponies and three-legged dogs along with a vintage charity shop, a silent disco, photo booths under the name My Lovely Ranch as part of her campaign to raise awareness for her My Lovely Horse Rescue horse sanctuary, which she started last year with some friends. It has already rescued 80 horses, rehoming half of them. You wouldn't get that at many other festivals.

Davey herself says the festival has a special atmosphere. "It's not all about getting people to give money for beer, it's more about keeping things boutique and that permeates into how the audience behave."

Perhaps Stradbally has a special energy that keeps pulling people back every year?

"The spirit of a festival is a very elusive thing but the Picnic has retained the magic largely due its commitment to making the whole experience as colourful as possible," says Donal Dineen.

"It's managed to stay true to its audience and the atmosphere is always fantastic," says Ham Sandwich's Niamh Farrell.

"The success of the festival relies on the level of respectful behaviour by festival goers," agrees Sorcha Brennan, who is playing the festival with her band Sleep Thieves for the first time this year. "They enjoy the music, are considerate to others and they appreciate the nice things that have been created for them."

"There was this kind of utopian atmosphere about the place," says Come On Live Long's Ken McCabe of the band's first Electric Picnic experience last year. "Everyone was on the same wavelength, temporarily free from worry and stress. I had to lie down after."

"Electric Picnic is the perfect place to play," says an unequivocal Stevie G.

"Some years past, I would say I thought about next year's Electric Picnic session every day of the year," says Dineen. "Playing to so many people dancing in the moonlight under a canopy of majestic trees. It doesn't get any better."

So just remember, if you go down to the Picnic, you'll only be having as much fun as the artists on stage.

Irish Independent

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