Indiependence: From the town square to the big top in the big field

Indiependence begins on Friday; inset promoter Shane Dunne.

Indiependence organiser Shane Dunne tells Joe Leogue how the Mitchelstown festival has grown from humble beginnings

AS Indiependence approaches its eleventh annual outing this weekend, promoter Shane Dunne put its success down to ‘accidents’, ‘luck’ and above all, hard work.

“It was a complete accident really, to be honest about it,” he says as a matter of fact about the circumstances that saw him take over the flagging fortunes of Mitchelstown’s former festival. Held in the town’s square for years, a misguided billing of one-hit-wonder Eamon and fellow rapper Coolio in 2004 sank the festival’s fortunes.

“I went to a meeting of four or five people in the Firgrove hotel to discuss somebody else becoming the chairperson of the old Mitchelstown Music Festival, to work on clearing the debt that had been clocked up in 2004, and I came out as the chairperson of the Mitchelstown Music Festival,” he recalls.

A year was spent navigating the festival’s perilous finances before a relaunch as Indiependence in 2006 — still a free festival in the town’s square, but this time Dunne, fellow locals Mark Noonan and John Finn, and other friends involved in the running of the festival directed the event’s ethos towards celebrating Irish talent.

“It was good it 2006. It lost money, but only a small bit. 2007 was ok, but lost money because of a really wet Saturday night, the Sultans of Ping played and about 50 people were at it,” says Dunne.

“But then The Blizzards played in 2008, and there was ten or eleven thousand people in the Square. On the Tuesday I got a phone call from the garda barracks — ‘Get in here, you can’t do that again.’ So we either had to pack it in or take it into a field and ticket it.”

Indiependence: From the town square to the big top in the big field

That field, on the outskirts of the town opposite the Firgrove Hotel, will long be remembered by Indie veterans as the sinking mudpit where the likes of Villagers, Super Furry Animals and Ocean Colour Scene played to Indiependence’s first ever ticketed crowds. Campers stayed around the periphery of the local GAA pitch, warned off venturing out onto the playing area itself. A midnight 50-a-side game inevitably broke out.

Describing the 2009 venue as “for all intents and purposes a bowl of soup”, Dunne describes another accident that led Indiependence to relocate to its current home on Deer Farm, north of Mitchelstown. A fortuitous meeting during Shane’s then-day job in the local tourism development body let to Indie securing its current home.

“You have to work hard. This year we aim to have 9,500 people who will pay to be there on Saturday and Sunday. People forget, yeah it’s a great occasion and everyone has a great time, but for that weekend Indie is probably the fourth or fifth biggest town in Cork,” he says. “You have to deal with the logistics of building a town of that size in ten days, taking it down in ten days, and then managing it for the three days of the festival. Getting all those people in and out safely.”

The hard work doesn’t just take place in July and August — the competitive nature of festivals means that relationships are nurtured all year round, and in many cases over the course of years. Dunne points out that many of this weekend’s headliners are returning for a second or third appearance at Indiependence.

“Editors played in 2011, it was a much smaller festival the last time they were there, much different layout, shittier layout, shit dressing rooms and we’ve improved all that substantially.

“It’s better for acts coming back. But it’s easier because we put the work in. We go to the UK a couple of times a year, we go to festivals like Eurosonic and the Great Escape and meet agents.

Indiependence: From the town square to the big top in the big field

“The agents have a few key points: the band has to get paid, needs to be looked after and it has to be a good gig. If you tick all those boxes with an act that’s in the middle of the agent’s roster one year, then you have a much better chance of getting an act higher up their roster the next year,” he explains.

Dunne says it’s not just a case of bands returning to Indie, but that this year’s festival sees its ethos go back towards its roots. “At the start we wanted to be like a baby Electric Picnic, to be really cool, have cool bands, be really niche. We still do that. We still have new bands that play that go from singer-songwriter all the way through to heavy whatever.

“But what we have found is that our demographic is a bit more mainstream, but a bit left towards indie. The line-up this year is not hugely commercial, but The Kooks have had seven or eight radio singles.

“Bell X1 are one of the top Irish acts. Editors, from a radio play point of view, are probably the lowest of the headliners but they are a band that were headlining Rock Werchter in Belgium, which is a 140,000 capacity festival.”

Dunne realises the event is a small festival in the grand scheme of things. “We’re not competing with just the Irish festivals, really, we’re competing with the UK and Europe.

“So you’re competing with all that, we have a smaller pool of acts that we can pick from. But we’re lucky in that if you look at our top end this year, you have Bell X1 and Editors who really wanted to come back, Ash, after last year, really wanted to come back.”

Eleven years of continuous success, with no sign of the appetite for Indiependence waning, it’s fair to say at this point that this is not a festival borne out of just good luck.

  • Indiependence runs from Friday to Sunday in Mitchelstown


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