Oh, rejoice, ye who love to party for there’s a brand new festival in town. With the launch of their first stand alone festival, the team behind the wonderful Body & Soul area at Electric Picnic have taken a step closer to realising their dream of establishing a permanent festival space in Ireland. The Body and Soul Solstice Gathering is scheduled to take place over the weekend of June 19/ 20 amongst the labyrinthine stone-walled gardens and woodlands that grace the picturesque grounds of Ballinlough Castle in County Meath. Electric Picnic regulars will undoubtedly recognise the enchantment, atmosphere and meticulous attention to detail so characteristic of what has evolved at Stradbally.
For Avril Stanley, the driving force behind the dream, this new festival represents the realisation of a vision that dates back to a time long before her initial involvement with Electric Picnic. Thirteen years ago she organised a Samhain party for 300 people in Yosemite National Park, ‘As a culture we used to come together regularly to celebrate and I’ve always dreamed of connecting back to the Celtic calendar’, she says, ‘I want to achieve a re-enactment of a more poignant time when we were at one in the natural world, culturally and personally’.
The festival theme is Phoenix Rising. This takes into account the sense of collapse in Ireland and the prevailing uncertainty as to what comes next. The intention is to provide an opportunity for us to reflect on where we are and renew our flagging passion for life; to create a sense of community; and to recapturing our cultural identity, shared values and sense of fun. The team is not prescriptive about the content and character of their fledgling festival and the ‘Participate’ section of the festival website (www.bodyandsoul.ie) invites members of the public to submit an idea or volunteer to help out. According to Avril this intentional blurring of the divide between audience and performer is aimed at people who have a lot of creative energy but no outlet to express it. She believes there is a great appetite for this, ‘We sit with that energy within us and never act on it. We are dealing with so much negativity right now and the feeling of helplessness that this engenders leads to revolution or apathy. We appear to have chosen the latter.’ Avril is adamant that even tiny ripples can make a difference if we incorporate some positive energy into our everyday lives.
The practicalities dictate that this will be an intimate event. Just 1500 tickets are on sale to the general public through ticketmaster.ie and usual outlets. Once volunteers are included, the total number on site will be close to 1800. Avril sees her target audience as being discerning mid-twenties-plus, fun-loving people who love music and art but are also up to party and recapture the sense of freedom, playfulness and ‘irresponsibility’ that they remember from their student days. Accompanied children are welcome and under-twelve’s attend free of charge. Revellers can take to their sleeping bags in either the general or quiet campsite; avail of yurt style boutique camping; or pull up in a camper van.
Musically the line-up is strong. In addition to featuring well established artists, a platform is provided for emerging artists. Events centre on a main stage and a party/electronic tent. Acts confirmed to date include US based dance-punk band, !!! (Chik, Chik, Chik); folktronica pioneer Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet; home-grown electronic hero Jape; founder of ambient legends The Orb, Dr. Alex Patterson; Crystal Fighters with their unique blend of traditional Basque folk music with churning basslines and catchy vocals; experimental folk band, Tunng; Rick Tomlinson’s Voice of the Seven Thunders; London based producer and solo artist, Gaudi; and Kormac’s Big Band, a 14-piece orchestra comprising of live turntables, samplers, drums, double bass, barbershop quartet, trumpet, clarinet, banjo and live visuals. More acts will be announced as the festival approaches.
A number of pop-up acts are also planned; a moonlit orchestra; a roaming samba band; impromptu theatre pieces. These will be programmed but won’t feel staged. There will also be a soul kids area organised by the team behind the popular Electric Picnic version; visual arts workshops; a healing area with hot tubs, Sufi dancing and yoga in the woodlands; late night cabarets; and a masquerade ball on Saturday night. In keeping with the traditional Celtic celebration of Solstice the weekend will draw to a close with a fire ceremony marking new beginnings and the continuous cycle of change. As Avril describes it, ‘the festival is about sustainability and environment but it’s also about having a party and blowing out the cobwebs and being who you want to be and rocking out and taking a chance.’
Promoting an embryonic festival in this current economic climate undoubtedly poses a challenge. Though excited to have a blank canvas to work on, Avril is quick to acknowledge that they can’t compete with the big promoters, ‘It’s not about headliners. We want to be unique, not boutique, and attract acts that fit the festival rather than the festival fitting the act.’ The Electric Picnic connection is invaluable and Avril is certain that people who like the Body and Soul element will love the intimacy of this new festival. Inventiveness is born out of limitation and promotion will predominately be viral and word of mouth via facebook, twitter and www.bodyandsoul.ie. A carefully targeted poster campaign and competitively priced tickets – €99 for early bird, €109 for weekend camping and €55 for Sunday only – are also part of the mix.
Avril confirms that her team is still very much involved in Electric Picnic and will be doing something very different there this year, ‘We are constantly stretching the boundaries of what’s possible there’, she says. However, as Avril is keen to point out, ‘it’s one thing to be part of a sold-out festival and quite another going out alone. We feel courageous and audacious. We stand for this. We believe in this. We love this, and we think you will love it too.’