The spectacular rise of the family festival

Playstival is the latest family festival to be launched this summer. Ciara McDonnell rounds up the child-focused events worth travelling for.

The spectacular rise of the family festival

Playstival is the latest family festival to be launched this summer. Ciara McDonnell rounds up the child-focused events worth travelling for.

From family meditation sessions to discos especially for small people, festivals designed for families have become supercharged.

It’s no surprise really; the first generation of Irish people to experience boutique festivals and the mind-bending experiences offered at them have grown up.

They still want the festival experience — they just want to cart their bicycle trailers carrying their toddlers along with them.

The road map of Irish festivals has been evolving before our eyes for years now, says Shell Holden, the woman behind Laya City Spectacular and Playstival, a family festival in Dublin’s Airfield House, which takes place this weekend.

Before City Spectacular, there was Street Performance Championship.

In the 14 years since it started, it was only natural that the festival would evolve with its attendees, says Holden.

“The first year of Street Performance, we had 26,000 people take to the streets of Dublin, most of whom were in their mid twenties,” she explains.

“As the event developed, our crowd grew older and started to have kids and that was one of the reasons why we changed it to City Spectacular.

"Whereas street performers are still very much at the heart of the event, we provide more varied, family-orientated programming.”

Like the plethora of family-orientated weekends we have seen this summer, from Kaleidoscope to All Together Now, the need for good, clean, family fun has never been more prevalent.

The screen-free policy at Playstival was a huge draw for its attendees last year, says Holden, and it speaks to the demands that daily life is taking on families today.

“If you looked around last year and saw nobody on their phones — it was magic, and people really got on board with it.

“In an environment like this, everyone is engaging and participating in the activities.

"There is definitely a craving for family togetherness and an opportunity to make memories that are not on a screen.”

Playstival is based on the idea of hands-on play and discovery.

The festival campus will include three themed Play Universes, stocked with tactile wooden games, encouraging children to immerse themselves in play using their imagination.

The kids and their parents are the lifeblood of the festival, and that’s exactly how a family festival should be, according to Holden.

At Playstival the festival doesn’t come alive until the kids are playing and interacting and engaging and using their imaginations.

The key to successful family events is to change and respond to feedback, year on year, she says.

“We are not stupid, we appreciate the feedback and advice of our patrons, so after last year’s inaugural festival, we asked people what they would like to see changed, and we have actioned those changes in this year’s festivals.”

Quality programming is at the top of every family’s list, when it comes to festivals, the more the better.

This year, Playstival has added a Science and Discovery Hub to its roster and a life-size interactive retro game zone, where kids can play huge versions of the games their parents used to play.

There’ll be a huge Family Zone, with arts and crafts, animals to pet, and wellies to toss before taking part in the Family Sports day with games of football, volleyball, and table-tennis.

Programming must include fun for the whole family in order to be successful, says Holden.

Much like the festivals we enjoyed pre-children, family festivals offer us a weekend of escapism, and a chance to connect with our family without the pressures of our day-to-day grind.

Of course, that’s not to say that we are willing to slum it.

Families attending festivals this summer have high hopes for the facilities on site, and organisers have come up trumps.

Clean baby changing and toilet facilities are a given, but it’s the smaller details, like the bottle warmers and sterilisers at Kaleidoscope and the children’s registration point at All Together Now, where all kids are given a wristband with contact details and their details are kept by accreditation staff should someone get lost.

These facilities are essential, says Holden.

Inclusivity is an incredibly important facet of festival organising too, and one that the team behind Playstival were eager to improve on year on year.

They have teamed up with AsIAm, Ireland’s National Autism Charity, to create autism awareness throughout and to promote accessibility within the festival.

AsIAm will provide a dedicated sensory friendly chill out zone in Airfield House and this low-lit calm space will be open to anyone who would like to take time out from the busy festival atmosphere.

More than anything else, events like Playstival offer us a chance to remember our roots, and to spend time as a family without distraction. It’s in our blood, says Holden.

“Irish people love festivals and they love the atmosphere that is created at them.

"People of the generation that are having kids now are festivalgoers and have been going to these events since they were teenagers.

"It is such a thrill for us to curate and activate spaces that families want to enjoy together.

"As long as we continue to provide varied, family-orientated programming, I think that the appetite for festivals like Playstival will remain.”

Playstival takes place today, 9am-6pm at Airfield Estate, Dundrum, Dublin 14

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