THE FACT OF THE MATTER
If proof were needed that the pandemic is behind us, or that at least we are learning to live with the rogue microbe, it’s that that institution among institutions, the revered Music Festival, is back with a bang and a guitar riff or two. Thirteen of them on this island alone over this summer, encompassing many music genres, from country to rock and all else down to the famed and enduring Electric Picnic and more.
Not that I’ll be there. I long ago hung up my rain Mac and Wellington boots. That said, back in the day (don’t ask) I did my fair share of weekending at some of Ireland’s earlier festivals. Wexford, where compare the late John Peel criticised a booing audience and declared that the band of traditional musicians on stage in grey suits would become a global phenomenon.
Take a bow, The Chieftains.
There was Sligo too and Lisdoonvarna and West Cork. All of which were annual treks for me and the lads, and any Hippie worth his headband, in the back of a Hi-Ace van with the bold Micky D at the wheel, rattling and chugging through the rocky rural roads, criss-crossing from festival to festival. Only America had motorways back then.
In Wexford once, when we returned from the gig to our tent across the River Slaney in the dark of a stormy night, the tent was gone, gone with the wind. We were robust, though, fortified by beer and other, questionable substances and, anyways, our fellow tenters offered us refuge and we crammed up like sardines and slept the great sleep, bodily exhalations notwithstanding.
In my more grown-up years, I only ever did Slane and only if Henry Lord Mount Charles invited me into his inner sanctum, his castle, and we were fed on strawberries and cream and fine wine, the privileged and pampered far from the madding crowd. The Stones, Queen, Dylan, U2. Rock on, indeed.
Now, I’m just too ensconced in my creature comforts to be counting down the days to drinking beers so warm they evaporate on your tongue and queuing 20 minutes for a portable loo with no toilet paper but, wouldn’t you know, the world works in mysterious ways. After two long years, festival season is officially back with a bang in all its wild, messy, questionably odorous glory.
Twenty years ago, I watched my own teenage kids trek off to the annual Electric Picnic and such, all part of the wonder years of being young and care-free. Of discovery, and formative friendships and good vibes. And those portable toilets and pop-up tents, and the heady mix of mud and glitter. For our young people, there is no form of entertainment they have missed more during the pandemic. This summer will be a blast.
Music festivals are unique events that attract audiences for a variety of reasons. Why the young, and indeed some golden oldies, traipse off to such weekend events — and they can prove relatively costly — shows three reasoned arguments, namely the heady social mix of being next to other groups of strangers; the music is what matters; and simply because they love it all, the whole cultural get-down-and-boogie vibe. The craic.
Even, in my day, I remember all too well the feeling of excitement I got as I arrived on the first day, rucksack, tent and enough mind-altering substances to suffice. There is something about music festivals that captures that giddy, carefree happiness, those halcyon days of youth.
The Woodstock Festival in upstate New York in 1969 was nothing short of a cultural phenomenon, that today is still talked about among those of us of a certain vintage. Besides preserving the classic Summer Of Love aura of the 1960s, it helped create the music festival culture. Since then, music festivals have become an increasingly popular event for our young people to attend.
Interestingly, in the lead up to that Summer Of Love 100,000 people in America died from a rare variant of Asian flu. The deaths got little media coverage, Vietnam and anti-war protests being front page.
The return of the music festival suggests there’ll be scant notice of the coronavirus continuing to live among us. We’re just too busy getting on with our life.
Dancing to its rhythms. Singing its praises.