Alongside ‘big footprint’ events such as Oxegen and Electric Picnic — and their international line-ups — the summer features an array of smaller festivals, in such unlikely venues as a whimsical country garden, a scenic surfing locale and a Wicklow lake-side.
What progress since the days when ‘festival season’ meant being bored witless by whiffy bodhrán bashers and leathery heavy rock bands two decades past retirement in a rickety sports stadium. Nowadays, there’s a festival to suit everyone’s tastes. Here are our favourites:
Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin
Day ticket: €49.50 per day. Weekend ticket: €90
In a sentence: where you’ll find the cool people.
Some of alternative music’s most iconic talent assembles in west Dublin for this two-day mini-festival. Topping the bill are Oklahoma psychedelic group Flaming Lips (Saturday) and legendary electronica figure Aphex Twin (Sunday), a Limerick-born composer whose unsettling, minimalist sounds have been enormously influential. Also on the Saturday bill are the British indie act Wild Beats, Hoboken New Jersey group Yo La Tengo and global DJ Erol Alkan. On Sunday, it’s the turn of instrumentalists Battles, ‘poet rappers’ Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip, and the Trinity College Orchestra playing Discovery by Daft Punk.
Liss Ard, West Cork
Day ticket: €55, Weekend ticket: €95
In a sentence: Top-drawer nostalgia in the depths of west Cork.
Seventies punk-poetess Patti Smith returns to Liss Ard house, a venue she last graced in the late ’90s, when it hosted its own eclectic festival. More than a decade on, Cork X Southwest has made the historic venue its home. Also performing are ’80s new-wave group Echo and the Bunnymen — who could have been as big as U2 — and the bedraggled London outfit Yuck, who seem to have spend their teenage years listening to Nirvana’s Nevermind on repeat play. A late addition is Joy Division/New Order bassist Peter Hook, performing JD’s landmark first album, Unknown Pleasures, in its entirety.
Hilton Park, Scotshouse, Co Monaghan
Day ticket: €35 per day, Weekend ticket: €75
In a sentence: More eccentric than a Monty Python double-bill translated into Swedish
Organised by writer Patrick McCabe and English actor Kevin Allen, Flat Lake is less a traditional music festival than an off-beam shindig in the furthest reaches of rural Monaghan.
Literature receives prize billing here and star attractions include John Banville, Robert Fisk, Claire Kilroy, Kevin Barry and, surprisingly, actor Robert Sheehan. On the music front there is Mundy, Cork’s Fred and Dublin-Mexican marching band Ha’Penny Bridge. Last year, Kevin’s niece Lily sang with Crystal Swing. This time, festival goers are kindly asked to bring unwanted typewriters. It’s that kind of weekend.
Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath
Day ticket: €59, weekend €99
In a sentence: one giant chill-out room
There’s something deliciously surreal about the sprawling Victorian gardens surrounding Ballinlough Castle. From the strange little groves to the stuffed birds and bright garden furniture, the ambiance is Alice In Wonderland by way of Jeeves and Wooster. You can imagine aristocrats playing croquet with inverted flamingos. What better location for two days of cutting-edge dance music, with such performers as reggae legend Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Swedish trance idol The Field, ‘chill-wave’ figure Toro Y Moi, ’90s ‘trip hop’ duo Lamb and experimentalist Plaid. Striking a more mainstream note will be Lisa Hannigan, on a break from the recording of her second LP.
June 22–July 11
Tickets: depends on performance
In a sentence: the big top comes to Cork for a fortnight of A-list performances.
The Live at the Marquee act you are most looking forward to will depend on your age and musical disposition. Sixties nostalgists will be all-a-tingle at the arrival of Bob Dylan on June 16, fresh from his 70th birthday celebrations, and the June 21 performance by Paul Simon, whose latest record is regarded as his best since Gracelands.
Those who wish the ’80s revival would goes on forever, on the other hand, will be agog at the impending visit of pervy synth duo Erasure (June 15). Plus there’s Bryan Adams (June 22), Christy Moore (June 25) and ‘nu-folkies’ Fleet Foxes (June 26).
Bundoran, Co Donegal
Day ticket: €39.50 Weekend ticket: €79.95
In a sentence: a surfin’ safari on the Costal del Donegal.
Surf and rock collide at this three-day beach-side festival. Headlining Friday are Dublin’s Villagers, recent recipients of a prestigious Ivor Novello song-writer award in Britain, Derry electro act Japanese Popstars and sun-splashed British indie outfit The Delays. On Saturday, meanwhile, it is the turn of Bell X1, whose fifth album, Bloodless Coup, may be their best yet, iconic DJ Grandmaster Flash, singer-songwriter Gemma Hayes and funk crew The Go! Team. There’s are decidedly more laid-back vibe on Sunday, as Ziggy Marley and Norman Jay bring some reggified funk. Plus there will be an international surfing competition with a €5,000 prize pot.
Punchestown, Co Kildare
Day tickets: €99.50, Three-day ticket: €199.50 (€224.50 with camping).
In a sentence: the fire-breathing Godzilla of Irish music fests.
The biggest festival on the block, with 40,000 attending each day. In 2011, Oxegen has assembled an impressive collection of heavy-hitters, among them Black Eyed Peas, The Script and The Strokes (Friday), Foo Fighters, Arctic Monkeys, Paolo Nutini and Brandon Flowers (Saturday) and Coldplay, Beyoncé, The National and Slash (Sunday). Further down the bill, there’s more to delight. Primal Scream perform their hugely-influential Screamadelica LP all the way through, Lady Gaga rival Ke$sha puts in a rare Irish performance and indie sensations The Vaccines return to Europe after a triumphant tour of the United States.
With so much going on, Oxegen can get to be overwhelming and there’s no point trying to see all of your favourite acts over the weekend. You’ll simply end up out of breath and disappointed. Instead, take it easy and let events carry you where they will. After all, the most rewarding festival experience is randomly discovering a fantastic new band you’d never previously heard of.
Big Top, Galway
Ticket prices vary
In a sentence: the classy side of Irish festival experience.
One of the country’s most carefully-curated festivals, Galway Arts has long brought together disparate performers with strikingly engaging results. This year, it welcomes storied hip hop crew De La Soul, whose last Irish date was supporting Gorillaz at the O2 in Dublin.
Plus there will be visits from Buena Vista social club member Eliades Ochoa, performing with AfroCubism, and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, an outfit which very nearly became Barack Obama’s house players back in Chicago. However, the undoubted big draws are Bell X1, playing only one of a handful of Irish summer dates, and Blondie, led by the always glamorous Deborah Harry.
Blessington Lakes, Wicklow
Weekend ticket: €75
In a sentence: the little festival with a big heart
International acts cast a heavy footprint over festival season. The exception to this is KnockanStockan, a three-day celebration of up-and-coming local talent. Leading the charge in 2011 are such underground names as the Lotus Eaters, The Gorgeous Colours, Wyvern Lingo, Mescalito and The Hot Sprockets. Even if the line-up doesn’t have your eyeballs popping with excitement, there is no lack of non-musical distractions, most notably the ‘Faerie Field’, a dedicated chill-out era. The organisers strive for a family-friendly atmosphere and children are welcome (there is even a dedicated family camping zone).
Two-day ticket, €79
In a sentence: Your favourite indie disco, only with real-life performers.
Playing their only Irish show of 2011, British glumsters Editors are taking time out from the recording of their fourth LP. They are joined by Ash, Therapy? and student favourites The Coronas. Further down the bill, meanwhile, you can catch Gemma Hayes, The Frank and Walters and Northern ‘noiseniks’ And So I Watch You From Afar (bring earplugs).
Charleville Castle, Tullamore
Three-day ticket, €89
In a sentence: Electric Picnic in a Castle.
Last year was the most successful Castlepalooza to date with international headliners Mercury Rev complementing the supporting cast of mostly Irish performers. In 2011, local heroes are again to the fore. Already confirmed are Wexford noise group Adebisi Shank, a trio much adored by the blogging classes, wide-screen rockers Codes, keyboard noodlers Electric Penguins and roots rockers El Hombre Jokes. But those who have been will tell you the best thing about Castlepalooza isn’t the music but the ambiance — which may owe something to the fact a day spa operates from the castle for the duration of the event.
St Canice’s cathedral, Set Theatre, other venues, Kilkenny City
Tickets: yet to be announced
In a sentence: Gorgeous music meets medieval splendour.
Though the 2011 line-up has yet to be announced, Kilkenny Arts Fest has a track record in programming astute, engaging bills. Over recent years, the event has welcomed performers such as log-cabin psychedelists Mercury Rev, drone-pop act Spiritualized and ‘dream core’ trio Low. Concerts are often held in the atmospheric environs of St Canice’s cathedral, a functioning place of worship that doubles as one of the country’s most stunning venues. Keep checking the website for announcements regarding who will be performing in 2011.
Ward Park, Bangor
In a sentence: A mini-Oxegen for northerners.
Festival goers rarely venture north of the border but the return of the Tennent’s Vital festival might persuade them to change their minds. The organisers have secured a true heavyweight headliner in the form of rapper Eminem.
If that wasn’t enough, support is from returning britrockers Kaiser Chiefs and critically-adored hip-hop collective Odd Future, whose best-known member, Tyler The Creator, has just put out his latest album.
The last time Eminem was in Ireland he was headlining Oxegen.
Ward Park is hardly an intimate environment but does offer an opportunity to see him at closer quarters.
Stradbally Hall, Co Laois
Sunday ticket: €99.50, weekend: €240
In a sentence: Wave the summer farewell with a feast of whimsy.
The last few Electric Picnics arguably lacked a truly stunning headliner act. Well, the promoter has taken the grumblings on board as, this September, the festival welcomes windswept arena pin-ups of the moment Arcade Fire, a collective capable of packing the 14,000-capacity O2 two nights running.
Other draws in 2011 are reformed britpop group Pulp, ’90s electro duo The Chemical Brothers, doomy rockers Interpol and PJ Harvey, whose new album Let England Shake is a favourite for the Mercury Music Prize. There will be the usual non-musical attractions, such as a spoken-word area, the ‘body and soul’ field, political debate and a cinema running through the weekend.