Eccentric Picnic weather confuses 40,000 reveller

Appropriately for a music festival that veers in tone from eccentric to sublime and all the way back again, on the first day of Electric Picnic the weather couldn’t make up its mind.

Eccentric Picnic weather confuses 40,000 reveller

As the best part of 40,000 attendees descended on Stradbally, Co Laois the conditions see-sawed between deluge and late August heatwave — one moment you cursed yourself for not bringing rain-gear, the next you wished you hadn’t worn quite so heavy a jumper.

It’s the biggest Electric Picnic yet, the capacity raised from 32,000 to 40,000, and the first in several years to sell out (promoters cite improving economic conditions and ‘aggressive pricing structure’).

In keeping with its wider appeal, the line-up for 2014 is firmly mainstream. Last night, Debbie Harry’s Blondie and Pet Shop Boys were the major attractions; today it is the turn of Scottish heartthrob Paolo Nutini and Mercury Prize- winning “trip-hop” band Portishead. Tomorrow, rap duo OutKast and London singer Lily Allen bring the curtain down.

Irish performers across the weekend include Cavan’s The Strypes, Sinead O’Connor and Cork trio the Frank and Walters.

Of course Electric Picnic has always been about more than music. A wilful quirkiness is a distinguishing feature and, with the site expanded to accommodate the larger audience, you sense the organisers are determined to indulge their imaginations.

A new ‘trailer park’ section houses bars, coffee shops and DJ booths in vintage American-style holiday trailers while the walk to the arena proper features a huge sculpture of a 19th century phonogram, apparently covered in moss.

These are the flourishes — just the right side of tree hugger — that set Electric Picnic apart, winning it a growing international profile (bands will tell you it is one of their favourite festivals to play).

The hippy bling is echoed in the fashion sensibility of attendees. For anyone old enough to remember the frill-free Irish festival experience of previous decades, the visible effort Electric Picnic concert-goers put into their appearance comes as profound shock.

In place of the mud-spattered wellies and faded band T-shirts of ancient days, Picnic ‘chic’ has a distinct Californian vibe, especially among female gig-goers, many favouring a long hair and floppy hat look of the late-’70s.

This is Electric Picnic’s 10th anniversary. In 2004, fewer than 10,000 attended a one-day affair headlined by David Kitt and Groove Armada.

As a heaving crowd gathered for the Pet Shop Boys last night, you couldn’t help reflect on just how far the little festival with the big heart has come.

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