FOR festival-goers arriving at this year’s Townlands Carnival at Leades House outside Macroom, the three-day music and arts festival is an opportunity to check reality at the gate and let their hair down in the company of 4,000 like-minded folk.
But behind the scenes, for organisers Sam Beshoff, Greg Woods, and Feidhlim Bryan, those three days are the culmination of six months of building and careful orchestrating; a sand mandala of celebration.
“I tried sitting at a desk before, but it didn’t really work for me,” says Beshoff, the festival’s booker and marketing and production manager. “We’re all extremely tired at the moment but we wouldn’t be in this industry if we didn’t thrive on the pressure of big events.”
Beshoff, who hails from Allihies in West Cork, and his associates, who live near Bantry, have a combined total of over 35 years of experience working for festivals and events; Beshoff cut his teeth working on Cork Capital of Culture 2005 and Live at the Marquee, Electric Picnic, and then a host of English festivals. Bryan has been safety officer for Electric Picnic as well as large events like the rugby world cup, while Woods is a pyrotechnician and is in charge of the Townlands construction.
After years of working for others, they decided to go it alone with their own independent festival last year. “We just said it: We should have our own event instead of having to go away to work and it would be great to bring it to our own locality, because apart from Indiependence there really isn’t a big three-day weekender camping festival in the south of Ireland,” says Beshoff.
Following a fairly successful opening year, Townlands Carnival has grown for 2016. With acts like Blackalicious, Gentlemen’s Dub Club, and Saint Sister on the line-up, and space for 4,000 punters as well as 1,200 crew and artists, excitement is building as the weekend approaches.
“We’re building seven venues with hoarding sets in a New Orleans style, with French shutters and balconies,” says Beshoff. “We really want to bring a more spectacular theatrical arts-inspired event rather than a big white marquee in a field slopping out beer.”
Beshoff and his fellow organisers have invested more of their budget in the production values this year, partly because this time around they’re building sets that will last three years, an indication of their ambitions. “We’re only getting started,” he says. “We’re in for the long haul because we’re doing this for ourselves. I foresee at least ten years, but then it gets back to the stress levels and you start thinking, am I crazy?”
Seven stages is a big leap from last year’s three, but Beshoff says his approach of booking across genres works best when different venues are themed so people have a choice; the idea is to cater to a wide range of tastes to make the festival as inclusive as possible.
A kids area and ticket discounts for OAPs and teenagers are a nod in this direction, but the non-musical elements of the festival also point strongly towards a sense of community and sustainability, such as a mental health awareness area, or Ireland’s only “eco-bond” system: “You get a second wristband on entry and if you bring back two bags of recycled rubbish at the end of the festival you get €10 back off your ticket price.”
Hip-hop duo Blackalicious were a headline coup for the festival, but Beshoff says that the applications from local bands were overwhelming and that there’ll be plenty of homegrown talent on offer.
“It’s great to see bands like the Altered Hours and Talos get recognition, and Plutonic Dust have had a great year since they played Townlands last year,” he says.
“The top tier of acts is a numbers game, on the basis of drawing crowds, but then you want to see great music too. I wish I could build double the amount of stages to fit them all, but you have to draw the line somewhere, don’t you?”