Considering the live music industry has been devastated by the Covid-19 storm, Shane Dunne presents the most upbeat of appearances.
“Great time to be in the business of mass gatherings,” he announces breezily.
The Mitchelstown native is the managing director and founder of the Indiependence Music and Arts Festival, which has become one of a vast multitude of arts events that have been laid low by the global pandemic. Nevertheless, he is philosophical on the matter.
“It’s hard enough to take it. But it is what it is. We’ll just have to suck it up,” he surmises. Dunne reflects on what he would have been doing over the past few days in the lead-up to the festival.
“I would have been on site last Sunday with my trusty 100-metre tape and a load of surveyors flags to mark up the site,” he says.
“So this week a lot of it would have been a lot of ancillary stuff: fencing, smaller tents, bars, that kind of thing.” The construction of the main stage would have been done a week before the event, followed by the PA, lights, electrics, etc.
Dunne’s thoughts turn to the army of people working behind the scenes to make events like Indiependence happen.
"Trying to even decide do we do something? Do we go to a restaurant? Do we have a barbecue? I don’t know.
"Obviously there’s restrictions around all of that even. It’s a hard one. Some people are finding it very hard to take. So it’s a difficult time.”
Having studied Food Science and achieved a Masters in Microbiology, Dunne left a post at the Department of Agriculture for the life of event promotion.
However, his familiarity with avian flu, h5n1, swine flu and foot and mouth disease coloured his expectations of how events would pan out when lockdown commenced in March.
He laughs at the notion that he sould harbour regrets at swapping his civil service job for literally the gig economy?
“You sound like my mother,” he scoffs. “You know what, it will come back. We will be back to work. It might be in three months; it might be next summer. We don’t know. But you won’t get the buzz of a live gig doing nearly anything else.”
Dunne was bitten by the bug in his early 20s when he volunteered at the Mitchelstown Music Festival.
The free event enjoyed modest success but the decision by the organisers to pin their hopes on audiences paying money for the likes of Danni Minogue in 2003 and Coolio in 2004 proved costly.
“By accident I ended up at a couple of meetings and then ended up taking over the company,” says Dunne.
“In 2006 we re-launched it as Indiependence, which was free in the town square. We did that in 2006, 2007, 2008.”
A combination of 25-degree heat and an attractive free line up of some of Ireland’s top bands, at the time including The Blizzards, Director, Delorentos, and Fight Like Apes brought what Dunne estimates to be 10,000 people swarming to the east Cork town on that bank holiday weekend Sunday of 2008.
Dunne recalls: “I got summoned to the garda station on the Tuesday – ‘you’re not f**king doing that again.’
“So by accident we ended up in a green field in 2009. And by green, I mean brown because it pissed rain for a week coming into it. And it just kinda grew from there.”
And steadily it grew. From 1,800 tickets at O’Connell Park in 2009 to the nearby Deer Park in 2010 where it grew over the past decade from a 2,500 capacity to 15,000 last year.
It hasn't all been plain sailing. In 2009, organisers took a big financial hit.
“It was because we were absolute idiots who didn’t know what we were doing,” says Dunne ruefully, as he lists a catalogue of misfortunate circumstances.
“Our ticket prices were way too cheap. We didn’t sell enough of them. And then we got really, really bad weather for the full week leading into it. We just incurred lots of costs in running to just try to keep the place safe for people to come to the gig.”
But along the way lessons were learned by Dunne and his fellow organisers, Kieran Walsh, Michael Maher, Mark Noonan and John Finn.
A particular lesson revolves around English indie outfit Editors' appearance at the festival in 2011.
“I cringe every time I think about it,” he confesses.
“They had done all the big festivals the previous year, but they decided to do a few small ones, so they confirmed to headline the Sunday night.
“After that we were like we have to look after the talent a bit better.”
Nonetheless, Editors returned in 2016 and Dunne felt emboldened to ask their tour manager if they remembered their previous visit.
“Do I remember it?” he exploded. “We talk about it all the time. We tell people where ever we go about the cowshed and the shit.” Says Dunne, smiling: “It was like, ‘Shit. Good to know the band I’m a big fan of are laughing at me all over Europe.’”
Editors delivered one of the great performances of Indiependence, unmatched in Dunne’s estimation until Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro’s set last year.
“That was a whole new stadium level rock show for us. That would definitely be up there as well,” says Dunne.
Hip-hop kingpins Public Enemy’s 2014 appearance was another highlight.
“And they were so nice and so down to earth. I had a good 10-15-minute chat with Chuck D. That was great.
Last year, the event was overshadowed by the tragic death of 19-year-old Clonmel teenager Jack Downey, who had taken ecstasy and morphine.
“It was very difficult for us. You know, we’d never had anything like that before in 13, or 14 years. But as hard as it was for us it wasn’t a patch on what it was like for Jack’s mother and father,” says Dunne, who feels there should be a wider and more responsible discussion around drug use.
“The safest way is don’t do it but if they’re going to do it then you have to put the supports and the education in play to minimise those outcomes like we had there.”
Looking into the future, Dunne is already thinking about next year and beyond.
“You kinda have to be planning all the time,” he says.
“We have a lot of discussions to work through on the current sites and things to work out with our current landlord. In particular, before we can start to announce stuff for 2021. But we are putting plans in place.
“We’ve had some fantastic moments. Hopefully, we’ll be bringing some of the moments back again.”