Fes­ti­val fit

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FUN & GAMES -

Three fes­ti­vals ev­ery week for a year. Mark Gra­ham finds it all un­der one roof

Why have a fes­ti­val? It would be nice to think that the main mo­ti­va­tion for most shindigs is a cel­e­bra­tion of some sort; mu­sic, food, moun­tain walking, the art of stone skim­ming.

The ugly re­al­ity is that fes­ti­vals are pre­dom­i­nantly run to pro­mote some­thing, bring some busi­ness to an area, or just to make cash on tick­ets/hot dogs/glo-sticks. Fes­ti­vals that are to­tally non-com­mer­cial are few and far be­tween, and only a hand­ful more strike an easy bal­ance be­tween the cel­e­bra­tory and the cash-drawer.

The trick seems to be suc­cess­fully mask­ing the mer­ce­nary MO by pro­vid­ing the pun­ters with such a good time that they never take stock and ques­tion the rai­son d’etre. Pick­pock­ets love fire­works

Last week­end wasn’t the first time I’d been to a fes­ti­val that was pro­grammed by a busi­ness, with most events sched­uled to take place on one premises, a premises that just so hap­pens to be in the beer-flog­ging trade.

Some se­ri­ous smoke and mir­rors would be re­quired to dis­guise the fact that the Win­ter Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in Ballincol­lig, Co Cork was a pretty suc­cess­ful ve­hi­cle for pro­mot­ing the White Horse pub on the edge of town. There was a sean nós ses­sion in the ho­tel across the road, a day of work­shops and con­cert in the lo­cal gaelscoil, but ev­ery­thing else hap­pened un­der one roof.

I was a bit un­com­fort­able with this set-up – surely a fes­ti­val needs to be a bit more self­less than this? When the trad ses­sion started up and I no­ticed that Sli­abh Notes’ Matt Cran­itch was one of the mu­si­cians in­stalled in the cor­ner, I be­gan to warm to pro­ceed­ings a bit more.

Half way into Gemma Hayes’s set and I didn’t really care if they were hold­ing this fes­ti­val in a doc­tor’s wait­ing room. The sound that her­self and Anne Scott make to­gether soothes and sa­ti­ates the scep­ti­cal soul. Both are tal­ented solo artists, but the part­ner­ship they’ve es­tab­lished over the past cou­ple of years has ma­tured and blended as smoothly as a 25-yearold Glen­livet.

The ban­ter be­tween the songs was pretty good too. Gemma told of be­ing sum­moned for drinks with Louis Walsh. The Mayo munchkin in­formed her that he was in­ter­ested in work­ing with her, but she’d have to make a cou­ple of small changes for it to work out, noth­ing dras­tic mind you.

First off, she’d have to stop writ­ing songs. That clearly wasn’t work­ing out at all, no need for it really. Se­condly, she’d need to start dat­ing a celebrity, gotta feed that tabloid churn. Gemma re­spect­fully de­clined, although she did a pretty de­cent cover of Kate Bush’s Cloud­bust­ing. I hear Jed­ward are sin­gle.

Fionn Re­gan fol­lowed the ladies and he seemed some­what out of sorts. The at­mos­phere felt strained, as if Fionn and the crowd didn’t know what to ex­pect next from each other. I’ve heard him put in a bet­ter night’s work, but it was still top­shelf stuff from the buachaill from Bray.

Sow, Mare, Bitch, Vixen, hah in­deed. Twenty quid for a dou­ble bill of high-qual­ity mu­sic in a de­cent venue is fair enough really.

While ram­bling round on the fes­ti­val trail, a small coun­try pub just out­side Ballincol­lig caught my eye. Straight in at No 8 in my top 10 Ir­ish pubs of all time is the In­nis­carra Bar. No TV, ra­dio or muzak, but they do have good con­ver­sa­tion, vin­tage Cork GAA pic­tures, a deck of cards on the man­tel­piece over the turf fire, and a very friendly sheep­dog called Sheeba.

This week­end it’ll be ac­tiv­ity of a more whole­some na­ture when I tie up the boots and don the raingear for the Aher­low Walking Fes­ti­val in Co Tip­per­ary. Some­one once told me that there is no such thing as bad weather, merely in­ap­pro­pri­ate cloth­ing. That nugget is cold com­fort whilst sit­ting atop a moun­tain hug­ging your flask for warmth as the rain di­lutes your tea.

Safe trav­els, don’t die.

❙❙❙ ayearoffes­ti­valsinire­land.com

MATT CRAN­ITCH – HEART ON HIS SLI­ABH

SMOOTH BLEND: GEMMA HAYES

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