A festival with your children may not replicate the hedonistic experience of your youth, but there are a lot of compensating factors, says Emma Connolly
MUSIC festival devotees Caroline and Simon took their daughter to Electric Picnic when she was 10 months old — and with baby ear protectors she slept through one of the loudest bands ever, My Bloody Valentine.
The couple who live on the north coast with daughters Emily, 9, and Alice, 7, were Glastonbury devotees before their kids were born and now they festival together.
With a little planning and common sense, music festivals are an adventure the family can enjoy in a safe environment without too much compromise from either young or old.
The country’s most high-profile family friendly music festivals are weekend-long events Electric Picnic in Stradbally, Laois (September 1-3) and Body&Soul in Westmeath this weekend (June 23-25), both offer family dedicated family camp sites for kids 12 and under.
“We have taken the children to Electric Picnic three times,” says Caroline. “The first time was when our eldest was 10 months old — I carried her in a sling, she co-slept with us, and I brought jars of baby food for her. Admittedly, I did not stay out late and my memories are of a fun time, perhaps not seeing as many bands as I would have previously. I also did not have any alcohol.
“We then went back to Electric Picnic, with two children, in 2013 and 2015. Our girls had a ball and really got into the spirit of things both times. They both have waterproof dungarees and wellies, and I would say that these are essential.”
Electric Picnic has a huge kid’s field with loads of activities including circus skills, wing-making, wand-making, felting, face-painting, drama, and dance workshops.
“We interspersed these with the music — Ellie Goulding was, and still remains, a firm favourite — and, of course, all the fantastic food from all over the world.
“The family camping area at Electric Picnic is like a VIP area. There were real, flushing toilets — importantly, it was quiet and felt safe.”
Eibhilin O’Gorman, former keyboard player with the band Fred, lives near Dunmanway, Cork, and is mum to Naoise, 5, Eoghan, 3, and Sadbh, 1.
“We went to Lissard festival when Naoise was five months.
“We brought her to Longitude when she was just over one — also great fun. Last summer, we brought the three to Townlands in Macroom. When they were smaller it was easier to go to see the music you wanted to see but as they get bigger they are less willing to listen to anything for too long. I’m not ready to share Electric Picnic with the kids just yet. It’s a weekend where I get back a little bit of the freedom I had before kids.”
Director and founder of Body & Soul Avril Stanley says: “It’s about creating incredible memories and opening kids minds to learning in a new way.
“We want them to experience it, feel safe and enjoy the magical experience and world that it is. We want our festival to be inspiring for all families that come.”
Constantly looking at how they can enhance the parent/ child experience, for 2017, the organisers have rented extra land to facilitate a dedicated family campsite with its own entrance close to the car park, its own toilets, hot showers, family-friendly traders, early morning workshops, and storytelling sessions.
Then, on the main site, there’s Soul Kids (also at Electric Picnic), where kids rule. This zone can only be accessed by children (accompanied by a parent/guardian who must stay with them) and has a range of innovative entertainment such as mask-making, yoga, hulahoop workshops, forest- foraging, and the like.
However, Avril doesn’t want parents to feel like they’re missing out either; with a bit of organisation, everyone can get something from the weekend.
“There are so many ways to do it,” she says. “Play tag team with a friend/ partner in crime; one of you go out Friday night, one Saturday night, and everyone hangs out on the Sunday.”
Above all, she wants people to have choices and options in an environment where they feel safe.
Advice is sent to anyone who purchases a family ticket for the festival in advance. However, Avril stresses the festival can’t ‘parent’ for them.
“By 9.30pm, families should be making their way to the campsite and by 10pm parents should be filling up hot water bottles and making cosy nests for their kids,” she says.
Deirdre Crookes of Electric Picnic agrees: “Just how you wouldn’t bring young babies and young children into a pub, after 9pm it’s important for parents to be aware it’s a live music event where alcohol is sold.”
Groove (Bray, August 19 and 20, day events) takes a similar approach, says spokeswoman Kathryn Mason.
“Our festival wristband allows you access then reaccess if you’d like to leave and come back,” she says.
“Families have come for the day to the festival and then we found that some parents decided to drop the children home with a babysitter and return for an evening out. Our wristband allows this flexibility.”
Research shows that attendance at live concerts of any kind by kids is the most stimulating form of listening, according to Mairead Gallagher, teacher of the internationally recognised Music Together programme, taught in more than 40 countries worldwide and in Cork for over 10 years.
Being able to see what is going on also helps the child’s attention span, she says.
However, opinions on what is the best age to bring kids along varies.
Avril thinks five, “when they start turning from a baby into a little person”, and Deirdre agrees it’s a good age to introduce smallies to the Electric Picnic experience.
Today FM broadcaster Alison Curtis brought her daughter Joan to Electric Picnic when she was three.
“She had an absolute ball in the areas designated for kids,” says Alison. “My husband went to see some bands he wanted to see and I stayed with Joan and then we all went to see two or three bands together so her first gig ever was Eels.
“Overall, though, it is a compromise as loud dance tents with strobe lights really aren’t for kids but I do think when they are nine or 10 and above it’s a good experience for them to have.”
Final words from Avril to those considering taking the plunge this summer: “It’s an experience you won’t get in a playground; come along, get inspired, and enjoy the adventure. Lots of families come back just for the reaction of their children.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved