“We wanted to create a festival that would focus on celebrating Irish music without the sole objective of making money”
the VIP area, where the farmer and his family can enjoy proceedings from a comfortable distance] and just clearing the land. There’s no way that the festival could work without someone as helpful as him,” says festival booker Graham Sharpe.
Keeping it local is Knockanstockan’s main ethos, and the communities in Lacken, Ballyknockan and Ballynastockan have been very amenable to the festival. Each year the majority of performers are Irish although Sharpe says bands from Italy, France and the UK have applied to play in 2011. “Last year we got about 300 submissions, this year we got over 600.
“It was really easy to pick the first 60 or 70 bands, but trying to fit the last 30 was torture. I’ve been having nightmares of getting taxis with bands I’ve said no to, it’s horrible,” he laughs. “I wish we could fit a lot more on the bill, but it’s just not logistically possible with our current set-up.”
There’s no budget to pay performers, so a reliance on goodwill is essential. Last year, Belfast band And So I Watch You From Afar travelled to headline Knockanstockan “just for petrol money”, and there’s a dependence on volunteers to lend a hand to the core organisation committee, too. Like Keogh and Sharpe, they all give up their time for free.
“It’s not just to help us out, though – it’s an amazing place to play,” Sharpe says. “You’re playing to receptive ears, genuine music lovers. The people who come to Knockanstockan are there because they love music, as does everyone who works at it. It’s a mutual respect thing. What we’re trying to do is to fill the gap that the lack of airplay for emerging talent has left.”
“We definitely couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” agrees Keogh. “It takes probably a hundred volunteers to do stewarding and production. The reason our production levels are so high is because we get a lot of sound engineering students who help with stage management and changeovers. It’s a learning experience for any volunteer, particularly if they have an interest in the industry.”
The past five years have provided a steep learning curve for the organisers, too. Buoyed by the success of their enterprise in 2007 and 2008, the following year “got away from them”.
“We underestimated what we were taking on in 2009, and it was a big slap on the wrist for us,” says Keogh. “We had too many bands, too many stages, so many people here, and we just didn’t have the production end locked down. Last year we put that right, everything ran so smoothly.”
This year, there’s a dedicated campervan field, as well as a larger family camping site, a flea market, an expanded chillout zone and an art trail in conjunction with NCAD. There’s also a selection of quirky performance artists as well as musicians, which included a Stormtrooper Burlesque show last year.
Keogh and Sharpe, who help to fund the festival by organising gigs throughout the year and selling handmade compilation CDs, aim to keep things as relatively small and as perfectly formed as possible.
“I think the smaller festivals are the answer,” nods Sharpe. “When I was 18 or 19, it was all about going to Witnness. That’s changed a lot. Why would you go to a festival and pay ¤300 or whatever to see the Foo Fighters again when you can go to Knockanstockan, pay ¤75 for the weekend, and see a new generation of Irish music?”