With the feast of fun kicking off in Stradbally today, Ed Power goes behind the scenes with three of the organisers
ELECTRIC Picnic’s laid-back ambiance is one of the Stradbally festival’s defining qualities. Behind the playful, faintly hippy exterior, however, the effort to put on a great show is never ending. With 38,000 attendees and 2,000 performers the event does not organise itself and considerable logistical brawn is required to ensure everything comes together.
The raw numbers make for eye-popping reading. Last year, almost 10,000 man hours were required to ready the site for attendees. Some 5,000 are employed at Stradbally over the weekend — not counting those gracing the stages, spoken word tents and for forth. Thirteen mega-watts of power are consumed across all three days — sufficient to power a small Irish town for an entire year.
“We’ve been with Electric Picnic since its inception and have grown organically,” says Avril Stanley, below, who oversees the Picnic’s Burning Man style Body and Soul Arena.
“The festival itself is changing — as are we. We have always pioneered the concept of being an intimate festival within an larger festival — and as the festival grows in size and changes in demographic we lean more towards creating a sanctuary for people to escape to, rather than a full-on festival experience.”
Initially, Stanley and her team spent nine months a year organising Body and Soul. With a stand-alone festival of the same name now taking place in June, curating the brand is now even more of a full-time undertaking.
“We are onsite for three weeks if the weather is kind — a little longer if rain takes a hold,” she says of Electric Picnic. “Most of our prep is done off site these days however and the time onsite is focused on the build and the final touches.
“I like to be hands on — and normally go to bed when we have closed the arena at 5am. I am practicing the art of delegation increasingly these days so that I can give more time to the bigger picture and the overall integrity of the brand.
“I have found that delegation is definitely something you have to learn — especially if you are somewhat of a perfectionist.”
The all-year effort that goes into Electric Picnic is also reflected in the work of Sally McKenna, above right, who programmes The Theatre of Food area.
“It takes months of preparation,” she says. “Firstly in choosing the acts and mixing the programme to include a combination of demos, debates and pure entertainment.
“We try to get a mix of chefs from all over the country — to cover everything from health issues to global cooking, fine dining and casual eating. We look at issues that affect food in Ireland today... but have plenty of fun as well.”
She arrives on site at the start of the week. “I usually go early to watch the kitchens being built. We have a stage kitchen, built especially for us by designer Liam Grant — and then we have a prep kitchen behind the scenes. We’ll be serving lots of food over the weekend — about 1,000 ‘tastes’ to go out to the audience over the two-and-a-half days.”
At first pass, a food arena at a rock festival might seem a curiosity. Nowadays, however, Theatre Of Food is perceived as integral to Electric Picnic, one of those quirky extras that distinguish it from more conventional open-air happenings.
“During the year I am inundated with requests from food people to be part of it,” she says,
“I like to stay with some acts who have appeared before, because they know the setup, know the various hoops we have to go through to present food in a field. But of course we have plenty of new acts too. This year we have the Flynn Brothers from the HappyPear, MasterChef winner Diana Dodog and a number of people for whom this is actually their first time at Electric Picnic — a lot of them get quite a shock when they hear they have to bring a tent.”
“It’s a mental week,” says Jerry Fish, one time leader of An Emotional Fish and presently curator of the Electric Sideshow tent, which in 2015 welcomes Sultans of Ping, The Strypes, Fight Like Apes, O Emperor and others.
“I curate and book the bands. I’m in touch with all of them through the year. We also have a circus and carnival performance. I’m getting a little better at delegating. I like to see everything is done right. The tent went up yesterday — there’s quite a lot that needs looking after.”
Having attended every previous Electric Picnic, Fish makes little secret of applying his personal tastes when programming the sideshow.
“I thought ‘Who have we not had at the Picnic?’ And I thought, the Sultans of Ping. We’ve built eight benches. Going to the Picnic, I’ve always found myself looking for a seat.
“Because I’m a festival goer I know, too, how boring the band changeovers can be. Why do they leave the audience standing there? That is something that has always bothered me. During our changeovers I have carnival acts. In general, I want to convey what’s great about music in Ireland. I saw some lads busking about being on the the dole on YouTube [the band Martin’s Party] — and I’ve invited them to perform, to come busk in a tent. They represent something unique about Ireland.”
Above all, says Body and Soul’s Avril Stanley, the goal is to deliver an experience unlike anything available elsewhere in live entertainment. “We collaborate with people we like — stitch lots of beautiful ideas into one cohesive tapestry and put it out in the world for individuals to experience and appreciate. It is an experiment that may not always translate. However, we are fortunate to have the festival landscape and our own festival to use as a canvas.”
Check out our news coverage, stage times, reviews, etc, through the weekend at www.irishexaminer.com
1. Don’t sweat about a finding your vantage for the main stage acts: Because of the relative scale of the main stage in comparison to the rest of the festival, it’s surprisingly easy to push your way vaguely towards the front.
2. Don’t try to see everyone: With so many artists and a relatively widely flung site, catching all of the performers you wish to see can be a chore. You’ll spend so much time pegging from stage to stage that you’ll forget you’re supposed to be having fun.
3. Allow for delays: Depending on the time of day the queues at the security checks — particularly the one outside the arena proper — can go on for some minutes. The hold-ups aren’t enormous — but it is something to bear in mind if you’re up against it and are dashing to watch a headliner.
4. Be appy: Don’t spend the weekend wondering what, where and when? Download the Electric Picnic app to your phone and have it all at your fingertips. And on the subject of phones, there are some charging facilities, but a spare battery would be so, so handy. Cash is also king at an event with huge ATM queues.
5: Sitting pretty: From a square yard of oil cloth to a newspaper to a picnic rug, at some time over the weekend, you’ll be glad you brought something to sit on.
6. All the usuals: Baby wipes, torch, warm clothes (it could get down to 6C), etc.
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