“We wanted to cre­ate a fes­ti­val that would fo­cus on cel­e­brat­ing Ir­ish mu­sic with­out the sole ob­jec­tive of mak­ing money”

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

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?”

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