Mark your diaries: The people behind Ireland's top 5 festivals

What’s it like working on Ireland’s top festivals? Ciara McDonnell meets the people behind your summer calendar who share what it’s like backstage at this year’s hottest tickets.

Mark your diaries: The people behind Ireland's top 5 festivals

Lindsey Holmes

With a roster that includes U2, The Cranberries, James Vincent McMorrow and Lisa Hannigan, Lindsey Holmes owns one of Ireland’s most sought after public relations firms. Along with her team, she has been running media for Electric Picnic since it began thirteen years ago.

Lindsey Holmes who has looked after Electric Picnic for the last 13 years.
Lindsey Holmes who has looked after Electric Picnic for the last 13 years.

“We have worked on Electric Picnic since it started as a one-day event 13 years ago for 10,000 people. At the time, it was a real challenge to communicate what it was and how it differed from other festivals, which mostly had just one main stage and terrible food choice.

"We knew that if we managed to persuade media to come, they would see how great it was and its potential for the future.

"We managed to inveigle a number to attend the first and it was magical. The sun split the sky, the atmosphere was amazing, the entertainment was great and so was the food. From then on it went from strength apart from some years during the recession where there was so little spare money in the economy.

"These were challenging times - we were under pressure to get as much publicity as possible in order to sell tickets. On the other hand, this year was a real highlight, when the tickets sold out before the line up was announced.

"We are not involved in the constructions side of the festival - we have our own media area where we look after over 200 journalists both from Ireland and around the world.

"We arrive on Thursday to get everything ready for the press. It’s like going into a busy office except it’s a tent in a field! There are desks, wifi, lockers to store laps tops cameras and everything the media might need in order to file copy and report from the festival.

"TV crews and photographers often have heavy equipment so we do our best to transport on buggies (just like golf buggies). We also man the pit at the main stage where photographers cover the acts - you get a bird’s eye view of the artists performing, so that’s quite a privilege.

"There is huge amount of security on duty in the main pit at the main stag, they all wear ear plugs as we all do when we go into the pit - you are right up against the speakers and the volume is phenomenal.

"They hand out earplugs to the crowd who are right up at the front and give out constant glasses of water so no one gets dehydrated particularly in the sun.

"The security working the pit are particularly considerate and really look after the crowd, which is not something a lot of people would realise.”

Electric Picnic takes place from September 1-3.

Matthew Smyth and Dan Colley

The men behind the theatre company Collapsing Horse have taken the reins at the Kilkenny Cat Laughs 2017. As the youngest people to run the festival since its founders, they are bringing a new vibrancy to this year’s Cat Laughs.

Matthew Smyth and Dan Colley from Kilkenny Cat Laughs.
Matthew Smyth and Dan Colley from Kilkenny Cat Laughs.

“One of the unexpected things about this job is that we’ve gone from being comedy fans who made comedic theatre to people who had to become experts in comedy really quickly.

"There’s a steep and really exciting learning curve in going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Los Angeles and meeting all the comedy agents, but the really wonderful thing is getting to know the really rich and diverse world that is comedy.

"We had our own niches that we like, and that’s definitely represented in this year’s programme but it’s been such a great experience to get to know the whole spread of comedy and the great moment that comedy is going through.

"Yes, there are the likes of Louis CK who is filling stadia around the world but that really does trickle down to a vast number of people who are making a living doing comedy, and they are doing it in a vast number of ways, finding their own place on the circuit.

"We’ve gone to loads of comedy festivals and talked to a huge amount of comedians and agents and comedy is evolving all the time in terms of how people consume it.

"Kilkenny is kind of a melting pot of the current state of comedy, and to have an opportunity where comics and fans travel down to this medieval city in the summer where there aren’t massive swathes of press down there is really special. We have realised that it’s about getting the whole mix right, and thankfully the reputation of the festival precedes it.

"Each of our gigs is a line up of four comedians. You want to make sure that the chemistry is right, that there’s something interesting and surprising along the way but also that people get what they want from the gig. That’s the fun bit of the job.

"There is huge excitement about the homecoming returns of Dara O’Briain and Tommy Tiernan whose careers grew up alongside the Cat Laughs and who are now stratospherically successful. Then there’s people like Kevin Bridges who has sold hundreds of thousands of tickets but just wants to come to the festival.

"It’s a big job, there’s no doubt about it. It helps that there’s two of us of course. We are the youngest people to have run the festival since the first people and we’re also the first people in a long time to come from outside the festival structure entirely. Those two things combined does lead to a certain sense of dauntingness.

"There’s a real sense of affection around this festival. People really love the form that it’s in and we want to honour that but also to try to innovate and invigorate it while making sure the roof stays on!”

Kilkenny Cat Laughs takes place from June 1-5.

Cillian Stewart

In 2006 Cillian Stewart took a leap and set up Cherrycool Productions before going on to found Castlepalooza. The key to success, he says, is to constantly strive to improve the festival experience.

Cillian Stewart of CherryCool Productions. Photo: Moya Nolan
Cillian Stewart of CherryCool Productions. Photo: Moya Nolan

“I set up Cherrycool back in 2006 while I was working in advertising sales in Newstalk FM. I planned, organised and ran the first festival during my down time from my full-time job.

"I wanted to create something unique and the timing back then was right for me so I took a chance. I began with Castlepalooza, and from the very first event, it was clear that we had created something very special - the same friendly atmosphere we saw emerge at the first event is still enjoyed by festival-goers 11 years later.

"We’re established now but it’s even more important to keep improving the experience for everyone that attends, whilst also maintaining the magic that was present at the first event. There’s always a gap in the market for something unique, it’s just a matter of maintaining its originality to make it successful.

"It’s a full time job for 11 months of every year. People are sometimes surprised that almost one year’s work goes into an event covering just three days but there is a huge amount of organisation and planning involved in pulling off a seamless event that everyone will enjoy.

"I love festivals, which is why I started one of my own! There’s a really strong and creative buzz around Irish festivals so, they don’t seem like ‘work’ to me. I also try to get away to one festival overseas per year so have a good few under my belt now and have been at several in the states and Europe at this stage.

"We work around the clock behind the scenes over the course of the weekend at the festival. It can be tough, but also so rewarding when you see the punters having such a great time.

"There’s a lot of team work involved, and requires people to jump in and help out wherever needed, but knowing you’ve a great team working with you, you’re reassured that everything is going to be fine.

"There’s always such a good vibe at the festival so it makes working there pretty great! Lots of people will say don’t but my advice is at least try it.

"Also get some advice from someone in the industry like me, bring them in as a consultant and they’ll save you a fortune whilst also ensuring you don’t make the same mistakes they might have made when starting up.”

Castlepalooza takes place from August 4-6.

Mary Hickson

Mary Hickson was meant to be on a career break when she started working on Clonmel Junction Festival in 2015. She had such a great time that she has decided to take on the role of festival director for another year.

Mary Hickson from the Clonmel Junction Festival.
Mary Hickson from the Clonmel Junction Festival.

“I worked on Clonmel Junction Festival for the first time last year and enjoyed the role so much that I decided to take it on for one more year. I am very proud of this year’s programme, which is built on the theme of the Black Sheep.

"We are inviting the audience to delve into the programme and have fun, stand out from the crowd, take a chance on something that they would not ordinarily try, be different!

"Clonmel Junction Festival is one of three festivals I am currently working on for 2017 so, I don’t really have a typical day at the moment. I like to be at home in the mornings with my family and drop the children to school and I try to do this as much as possible.

"I travel a lot for work so this family time is incredibly precious; evenings and weekends are strictly reserved for them as much as possible. I can find myself in Cork some days, Clonmel on others and Copenhagen about once a month at the moment also among other places.

"I was incredibly fortunate to be involved in the Michelberger Music Festival, which took place in Berlin last October. It was like a big bang in the international music world and it was so exciting to be in the middle of it. Eighty bands moved into the Michelberger Hotel for a week and collaborated with each other towards a public event at the weekend at the Funkhaus venue.

"Artists like Bon Iver, Alt J, Lisa Hannigan, Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Woodkid, Staves, Damien Rice and many more shared, created and performed together all week. I distinctly remember several moments where I was laughing and crying at the same time because the experience was so powerful and my emotions couldn’t handle it.

"We want people in Clonmel to see their town differently for these seven days. We want visitors coming to Clonmel to experience the beauty of the area. One of my most treasured finds there is St. Patrick’s Well, which is a stones throw from the town.

"There is something very special about this place! Marlefield Lake is just outside of town and hills and mountains surround you. We want people to be able to engage with the festival on any level they are comfortable. The festival week can really take it out of you.

"I do find that I have a bit of a come down – I get very quiet and go into myself a bit for a few days. I guess that’s how I recuperate…. hanging out with my family and ideally heading to the country for fresh air and walks does the trick. “

Clonmel Junction Festival takes place from July 3-9.

Sinead Maguire

As artist liason with Indiependence, Sinead Maguire gets up close and personal with headline artists.

Sinead Maguire from Indiependence.
Sinead Maguire from Indiependence.

“I first got involved volunteering with Indiependence back in 2010 when I did some bar work. After that I was asked about getting involved with Artist Liaison (I didn’t have a clue what the role involved) and the rest is history!

"My day starts at about 10 am each morning. I have a quick meeting with the Artist Liaison team to make a plan for the day. Once bands start arriving that is when we get busy.

"Most headliner’s production crew arrive early, so I greet them and look after any requirements they have. As the day goes on, others bands arrive and I check them in, bring them to meet their stage manager and look after any other needs like food, dressing room – things like that.

"Headliner bands generally don’t arrive till the afternoon, and once they are on site I make sure they have everything the need. This can vary from looking after transfers, dressing rooms, food and drink and anything else they require.

"I am basically looking after them until they leave the site. The team will then try and catch up with production and plan for the following day.

"I have had so many incredible festival memories; it’s very hard to pick one. I think Walking on Cars had an amazing set last year. I remember them when they played a Red Bull stage a number of years back. They had a really early set and it was one of our smaller stages.

"Fast forward a few years and to having them play again as a headliner was a great feeling. We always try and support Irish acts. The line up for Indiependence this year is so strong but I think it would have to single out The Manic Street Preachers.

"These guys have done it all when it comes to music so it is great having them close the festival on the Sunday night. I would love festivalgoers to simply have the best weekend possible.

"I would say to them to into the arena early, go see the smaller bands, walk around, enjoy the headliners with their friends and dance away in the silent disco or 80’s v 90’s in the beer hall till late in the night.

"If you ask any members of the Indie crew, the comedown is so hard.

"I work full time in Laya Healthcare so I am normally back to work on the Tuesday or Wednesday.

"To me, summer means holidays and music. I love heading away and going to new places.

"I have some amazing memories, last year I saw David Guetta in Pacha nightclub in Ibiza, it was his opening night and it was amazing.”

Indiependence takes place from August 4-6.

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