Family time at Body & Soul music festival
Taking children to a music festival used to be frowned upon. We speak to parents looking forward to this month's Body & Soul in Co Westmeath.
In the early days of the Electric Picnic (2004), when taking children to festivals became a thing, it wasn't unusual to see an exasperated father pacing the entrance of the dance tent at night, holding a squirming, wailing toddler, his pint splashing and his phone clenched in a fist.
Parenting at festivals might have been less attentive than on normal picnics, and tut-tutting was regular. Views differed on the usefulness of ear defenders for babies who might not enjoy a band spectacle either way, and on the extent to which looking good with a baby in a matching costume constitutes accessorising.
But festivals in Ireland are improving year on year, with Body & Soul offering a particularly unique experience for children, including a dedicated Soul Kids area, family camping and all manner of workshops especially for the little ones.
Before the boutique festival opens next week in Ballinlough Castle in Co Westmeath, we spoke to six parents who 'family' together at festivals, as part of the crew or as regular visitors.
For the kids, this festival means camping with a bit more pizzazz. Last year saw 11-year old DJ Little Jay bring the house down with 400 people dancing to her two-hour reggae set.
For the parents, it's pizzazz with a bit more work. The year before last saw a heavily pregnant Klare England, art director of Body & Soul, head off to Mullingar Hospital. The next day she was back to work in her high-vis vest, swaddling baby Tom.
Klare England from Bristol runs Event Flag Hire and has been art director for Body & Soul for 10 years. With her husband Stan Stratton, a handyman, she has two boys, Freddie (3) and Tom (2). Tom was born at Body & Soul in 2012.
Do your kids enjoy accompanying their mum and dad to work? They love it. They don't know anything else, really.
Do they muck in? I don't know whether they're more hindrance than help, but our three-year-old already thinks he's daddy. By age three, kids can help with putting up an awning, as long as you engage them.
So you gave birth during Body & Soul 2012? Tom, who's about to turn two, was born at the festival, two weeks early. I thought I had at least a month to go. Luckily there was a hospital a 25-minute drive away. Our camp were so supportive, such good old friends. We just left the one-year-old there, ran off, had the baby and the next day I was back working with a very, very little baby in a papoose sling nestled under my high-vis. Bless, he was so tiny. Six pounds.
Did anyone raise eyebrows at you for having such a small baby at the festival? No. Tom was three-days-old when the festival kicked off. There was a time when people were saying 'how old is your baby?', and I was saying, 'three-days-old'? It did feel a little bit bizarre. You do worry about your kids more than yourself. But it's all good. When they're newborn, they don't do anything but sleep. They're just cute.
Did you camp with the newborn? The owners of the castle, Alice and Nick, were so good. Alice packed a random hospital bag for me and said 'if this is it, guaranteed, you've got a room in the castle when you come back'. I was in this beautiful Georgian room with my en-suite bathroom, feeling very luxurious, and I could see the caravan where my husband was with our one-year-old.
Do families festival differently here than in England, where you're from? I look forward to coming to Ireland all year. The Irish have just got such a better sense of humour than us English folk. There's no contest with Irish people when it comes to setting up festivals. Everything's done in good humour with a light-hearted nature. In Britain people can be a bit serious.
JENNY WREN is a music booker for Body & Soul since 2004. With Raymond McNally, a programme manager for Microsoft, she has two boys, Beau (8) and Levi (5).
How do you festival? For the Picnic we started the family staying in a local B&B, so the kids would go off-site come evening time. We travel now with a camper van. I always have a sheepskin so you can throw it down anywhere.
What do your kids get out of Body & Soul? There's a certain freedom they feel. It's so pretty. There's so much to do. It's an adventure wonderland for them.
Do they get hyper, like after too much Coca-Cola? Aged 2-3 years, sometimes it can be sensorily too much. They go to a Steiner school in Kilcullen where they talk about 'the breaths'. Kids, they go 'out' for a while and then you bring them 'in'. You bring them out for a while and then you just bring them back to their little space. You bring a few books and a couple of snacks and blankets.
Should they be allowed in the music tents or not? You just don't bring the kid to the front. You don't go into the dance tent. There's plenty of music during the day that they can sit back from the stage and enjoy.
Do you worry about exposing kids to adults who are drunk and high? If you walk up the main street during the day in any town, there are people half plastered. You can't shut children away from society. To do so you're going back to Victorian times. At a festival, no more than in everyday life, you navigate your child. If there's a younger couple enjoying themselves a little bit more than perhaps most people would at two in the afternoon, you navigate your child away from it.
Do the kids take any notice of unusual things they see? Kids don't judge people in the same way adults do. If they see a guy with a tie on his head laughing, rolling around the place, my kids go 'wow, he's having a great time'. They get a real kick out of seeing people having fun, dressing up with wings on or glitter all over their face. It opens their eyes to all walks of life. Would I have them in the middle of a rock concert with people spilling beer? No.
Has your job as a music booker opened up your children's taste in music? They love music. Beau asked me if I was booking The Doors. He likes Fleetwood Mac. Levi likes dance and traditional music.
Your top three gigs for the family to enjoy at Body & Soul this year? John Hopkins, Nick Waterhouse, TOKiMONSTA.
TOBY HATCHETT, furniture maker and designer, is married to Jessica, a yoga teacher. They build and produce the 'My House' experience in the woods of B&S. Their daughters are Joya (12) (who DJs under the moniker Little Jay) and Evie (10).
As hardened festival goers, have you always brought the kids? We've been to every single Electric Picnic, but I wouldn't be into taking very small kids to a festival. We felt we'd wait until they could get something out of it. When they were seven and nine, we went with them in the camper van.
How was the experience different with kids? We saw the festival in a different light. Usually we would be going to music and having the craic with friends; lots of drinking and a real party. This time we had to measure ourselves. We spent a lot more time doing the activities and going to see plays.
Do your kids get into the festival mood? They got into it more than we did. They were waking up in the morning putting on their face paints and bizarre fancy dress. Evie was dressed like a sort of Dickensian ruffian, with a top hat and a tailcoat. She caused a right old stir.
Would you give your kids ear defenders? We tried to put ear defenders on them and we went to see the big bands but they weren't interested – they wouldn't have it.
Can you shield them from the underworld at a festival? I don't think it's such a bad idea to see adults at play, within reason. The most important thing is that you don't leave them guessing, or questioning, or not understanding what people are doing. Even if it's something that's quite hard to explain, it's probably quite a good idea to have a go.
What about when people are drunk or high? At a certain time of night you can sense where the vibe changes. You just have to say 'right, that's enough, bed'. We would be very strict about that. Our kids are used to parties. When Joya, my eldest, was 10 she was like, 'Dad, I think it's time we went to bed now'. She sensed the shift in the air.
Joya, or 'Little Jay', is a child DJ, correct? Joya's one of our DJs. She uses my laptop and a DJ controller. She does a mean Reggae set. She would play a pretty cool rock 'n' roll set. Elvis is her passion. And lots of stuff I don't even know. She played three sets at Body & Soul last year. She really gets it. She settles right in.
You're from Devon with an Irish mum. What have you noticed about Irish festivals? There's a very relaxed feeling. There's no edginess or nastiness anywhere, which you can get at some of the bigger English festivals. We used to go to Glastonbury all the time. There are such huge quantities of people there, you'd see a lot of overt drug dealing and people really messed up.
Your festival tip? When the kids were younger they would get quite tired. It would get quite full on. You'd have to just take yourself away and go and sit down together somewhere and have a cup of tea and something to eat, and regroup. Put a blanket on the floor, they can just have a little cuddle and reconnect with you and then you can go off again.
CLAIR MCSWEENEY is COO of Blackrock Observatory Cork. With Italian chef Ricco Vallebella she has two children, Bru (11) and Rosa (8).
Were you brought up to enjoy adventures? I did a lot of camping with my family when I was young. We'd do bonfires on the beach with mum and dad. With my kids I'm instilling that same love and celebration of life, with a bit of magic and freedom. I love that mish-mash of outdoors and culture and camping and friends and music and art. Bru was at the very first Body & Soul at the Electric Picnic ten years ago.
What will the kids get up to at Body & Soul? All kinds of tricks. Rosa and Bru are going to be going on a foraging trail and learning about permaculture. At Body & Soul, there's lots of zones you can go into that messy adults aren't allowed into.
How is the festival different with kids there? Having kids at festivals instils a greater sense of respect and peace and attention. The kids help us see it's not all chaos. At Liss Ard two years ago, Bru loved going to see Nile Rodgers and Chic. What was really gorgeous was that all of the adults up at the front of the stage made a safety wall of their arms joined, and all the kids were up at the very front by the bars, so they were rightly engaged with what was going on, but safely. It's very community based and special.
In family camping, gangs of us go together and we create wagon circles, safe circles – like nomads or pioneers in the States did.
On different nights, different mums and dads can go out for a jaunt because you always know there's a good team of friends and sitters there. We cook together as well. Ricco is a chef so he'll be doing some big pastas.
Do the kids ever want to go home? In Liss Ard, when it was wet, they woke up in the middle of the night screaming and they just wanted to go, but you can't get out when you're mud-bound.
Can you please everyone? Rosa will be trying to drag us to Soul Kids the whole time. Bru will want to be going to all the cool gigs, so I'll find out about what music is going on for him. He likes electronic music, summer beats, the Daft Punk anthems. He won't do the face paint – he's too cool for that now. He'll want to watch things like the graffiti spray painting.
What's your festival tip? I like to go a day in advance of the crowds and walk through the space so the children feel as if they know it. I pick out some beautiful places that are going to be magnets for the kids.
GERRY FITZPATRICK is Jamie Oliver's business partner at Jamie's Italian in Dublin. With holistic therapist Carole McDonnell he has three children: Eva (8), Hugo (5) and baby John Henry.
Tenting or glamping? We're renting an old Volkswagen camper van called Peter. (From Retrocamping.ie. It was €500 for three days). And we have a bell tent.
Are you veteran festival goers? I went to the ones in Liss Ard in Skibbereen in 1997/8/9. It was a fairly trendy festival but there wasn't a kids' designated area. We've been taking the kids to Electric Picnic for seven years. Even when Carole was pregnant with Eva we were going. It's absolutely fabulous for the kids to see it. Live music; outdoors. I know One Direction are a big brand, but this to me is a lot better value.
Can you still enjoy the event as a dad? Absolutely, even more so. They really make children welcome. There's a very serious gulf between Oxygen and Body & Soul. But someone's going to have to babysit. You do split shifts. It is a tag team thing. You can see one band, your wife can see the other, vice versa.
Does it work bringing a baby? John Henry is seven months old. We have a back pack and you can carry a fair bit in it. A pram is cumbersome. I wouldn't go up to the front. I wouldn't be taking him out at night.
Have you wanted to shield your children's eyes at any moment? The adults are very receptive to children. In any instance where there's a bad example being set I just get them away from it. If someone's having a very good time, the kids might think that they're 'away with the birds', if you know what I mean. It's not Feile. It's not Oxygen. It's a lovely vibe for families.
Has anyone ever tut-tutted you for having kids with you? On the contrary. There are lots of kids there. It's a really good vibe. It seems cosmopolitan and progressive. There's good food, everybody looks healthy and vibrant.
You're a franchisee in Jamie's Italian. Will you be cooking? We'll probably eat from the stalls. The kids love the food at Body & Soul, there's something for everybody. I'll bring down olive oil, good bread, lemons, salt, pepper, something to keep the kids going, wine, a bottle of prosecco, apple spritz, cured meats, cheeses ...