Keep on tenting: Challenges stay for return of festivals however music followers equipped for season


A decade ago, on the side of the Sperrin Mountains, an amusing festival moment happened. An unshaven guy pitched his tent in the middle of the sheep manure. He opened them and let out a disgusted groan.

The inside of the tent was covered with mold. There were old socks and leftover food from the previous year. We all smelled the fermented stench. It was awful.

The point is that a few hours later the tent was aired and cleaned up. The owner sat outside in a camp chair with a cold drink, a smile and a festival lanyard. He picked out his weekend highlights, ready to rock.

Very soon we will start our new preparations for the Stendhal Festival in the Roe Valley near Limavady. The fun starts on June 30th. The promise is three days of culture around Ballymully Cottage Farm. The music includes Villagers, Bronagh Gallagher, Sister Sledge and local contenders like Cherym and Trú.

Comedy is enjoying a spectacular rise and is usually shown around the Henry McCullough Stage on the site. Children arrive on site expecting to be wild and overexcited. The main fields will again welcome the stilt walkers, samba drummers and random cosplayers.

Before the pandemic, there was a loose assumption that festival production was easy and lucrative.

Dozens of Irish pretenders got started and many realized the logistics were very difficult. In 2022, the post-Covid landscape is even harsher.

Sunflowerfest near Hillsborough has provided some excellent moments in the past. The Rubberbandits were completely weird in 2017 and Fontaines DC sang Hurricane Laughter from the main stage in 2018 just as a terrible storm was about to erupt.

But the Sunflower Festival will not take place this year.

“Unfortunately, too many factors didn’t work in our favour,” the organizers said.

A three-year absence from festival calendars will make it difficult for Sunflowerfest to return. Meanwhile, upcoming events such as the Six Mile Music Festival, Antrim (3rd July) and Forest Fest, Laois (22nd-24th July) are looking for room to grow.

Festival stories in 2022 are already mixed.

Dance festival AVA caught the sun on the Titanic Slipways last weekend and the new location ushered in an expanded commission that added indie acts like Enola Gay and NewDad to the line-up.

Alternatively, some visitors to Barcelona’s Primavera complained of excessive queues, liquor issues and a lack of information about bands who canceled at the last moment.

Even Glastonbury, which has decades of experience, a solid reputation and the deepest pockets, could find itself in trouble with a looming rail strike.

Up in Limavady, the resolve is strong. The Stendhal Festival last June was Ireland’s first post-pandemic festival.

The organizers, showing diligence and proof of concept, returned in July and then threw a closing party with the band Ash has headlining in August. It was wonderful.

Nonetheless, I sent a message to the organizers to gauge their readiness and they came back with a lot of reassurance.

“Challenges are the be-all and end-all when running an independent festival these days. It was an uphill battle from day one, but the last few years have been something completely different.

“Fuel is up (as is the new clear diesel legislation), toilets are up, medical is up, other rental equipment is all up and we are facing this challenge after we decided not to increase our ticket prices because we don’t want to fully understand how the crisis is affecting everyone, this year is about survival.”

The ultimate message from Stendhal is that the show is here to stay.

“It goes without saying that music lovers can support and participate. You can even choose to air out your old tent in advance.

“Stendhal is first and foremost an act of love, a feeling expressed by the crew and the various workers on the site since 2011.

“Fortunately, we are in a position to not run the risk of having to pull the plug this year,” they affirm.

“But you only have to look at the Sunflower Festival in Hillsborough to see the precarious position independent promoters, including ourselves, find themselves in at the moment.

“Our drive to keep going has been the same since day one, like I said, people thought we were crazy to even try to start a festival in Limavady, that just spurred us on.

“Now that we know how much value the festival brings to the region, not just in pounds and pence but through pride in the region, good publicity for the region, the connection the event has with all the volunteers and people, who worked on it It’s hard to make it what it is and showcase the talent that we have on our doorstep. That is why we will always be determined to fight for our event and that is what drives us to overcome any obstacles that come our way.”

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