It’s received wisdom that, when it comes to a decent festival, it’s about more than just the music that makes it. There needs to be a certain feeling in the air, a sense of belonging and being at one with your fellow revellers. Of course, those feelings are entirely subjective. Take the Electric Picnic, for example. For some, it’s all about the big acts on the main stages. For others, three days of repetitive beats in the Bacardi Lounge is what fits the bill. And then there are many who find the perfect balance in Body & Soul – where all the elements align.
Now seven years into its life as a stand alone event, it’s no surprise to find the festival expanding its capacity to 15,000 while others have tried and failed to gain a foothold. Body & Soul is now a permanent mainstay and, as such, can’t avoid moving more into the centre ground. Its early positioning in the season is a factor too – offering the first real chance of the summer to cut loose. How the festival feels depends largely where and when you find yourself. In fact the site has almost become a microcosm of its bigger Stradbally cousin, with the lovely Second Nature area acting as an atmospheric alternative to the rather characterless main arena and a cavernous Midnight Circus tent that proves simply too big for the normally intense Bitch Falcon, Tanya Tagaq and Ho99o9 – all of whom fail to make their usual impression and would have probably been better off playing somewhere more intimate.
There’s no sign of the festival altering its approach to suit the more mainstream audience that it attracts just yet though. Where else would you find the alternative jazz of BadBadNotGood getting a main stage bouncing, or the Rusangano Family delivering a career defining set that energises tired and soaking bones on the Sunday afternoon. The meeting of minds doesn’t always work though, with The Gloaming’s Friday night slot proving an early disappointment as the band’s exquisite subtleties fail to transfer to the open air and a general, undeserved, sense of disinterest spreading through the crowd. Sometimes you need to just tackle these things head on, as Girl Band prove as they shatter the peace of the solstice celebration with their visceral punk rock.
For those looking for something less organic, the Absolut bar is a large focal point and a welcoming meeting point for people who want to dance to some solid Irish DJs playing back-to-back all weekend. With darkness finally down on the first night, the Lumo crew manage to get the crowd to fever pitch with the simple dropping of ‘Put ‘Em Under Pressure’, a clap-along re-enactment of the Radio GaGa video and a barrage of confetti. Indeed sometimes it feels as though there a few different festivals happening at once. Drawing an insanely large crowd of thousands at the newly positioned Reckless in Love stage is Aoife McElwain’s Sing Along Social ‘Guilty Pleasures’ event. Talk about catching the imagination, it seems that most of the waking festival are gathered in the expanded arena in front of the tiny wooden stage.
Lyric sheets are handed out and we sing ourselves hoarse to Celine, Maria, Whitney and more shower-time classics that we let loose on in the comfort of kindred spirits. An uplifting revelation and tapping straight into what Body & Soul seems more about now – collective, loved-up vibes away from the main acts. Neon Indian does manage to achieve much the same on the Body & Soul stage, soaking a greying Saturday evening in balmy sounds. An immaculately white-clad band, soft beachy sounds momentarily turned wellies into roman sandals as we run up the front to have a Mediterranean moment in front of ’Slumlord’ and ‘Polish Girl’. Perfectly played.
Mother taps into the collective spirit too, though it’s a well worn path for them. With night falling on Reckless In Love, the crew lay down their party favourites – turning the field into a mellow club, hands bobbing like emojis in the air, stuffed dinosaurs lighting up the middle of the crowd and Cormac from Mother crowd surfing on a li-lo. Delivering on the party promise yet again.
If it’s old school festival magic you’re after though, then it’s down to the woods you need to go and a largely home grown line-up that is able to compete with anything our international friends can offer. The Woodlands Stage is the perfect late night location for a dance – be it thanks to Daithi’s increasingly impressive live show, a rare live appearance from Forrests or the funkier than funky Saturday night double header of Too Fools and Plutonic Dust.
Indeed wherever you turn, there’s a little gem to be found – the welcoming couches and video screenings of the Arbutus Yarns Theatre or some random art installation. Best of all is the debut of the Pagoda Stage, which has them dancing amongst the trees right from Katie Laffan’s excellent early Friday evening set and continues to impress across the three days. Highlights include Joni’s stylish, bass heavy sounds, two opportunities for Farah Elle to reinforce her status as one of 2017’s most likely ones to watch, the fiery soul of Barq and Polyglove’s late night AV sessions.
Back in the main arena and back from the almost dead, we only realise how much we missed Wolf Parade life as we stand just feet away from ‘Shine A Light’. Not just the dual vocals of Boeckner and Krug, but DeCaro and Thompson slamming it too. Raw, sweaty and urgent – they draw a tight crowd, fans pointing at each other as they sing along. At the peak, ‘I’ll Believe In Anything’ seems to last forever. Like they never went away, screaming back into our hearts through the rain and mud, it’s proof that Body & Soul still has a certain something that few else can match.
While idling in the day waiting for the special guest that turns out to be Portugese / Angolan fusionists Batida (forced to play without the video projections that make up half their act), we notice that the main stage is no longer the unique wooden structure of yore but a traditional set up with a fake façade. Facing change by expanding on an original vision, Body & Soul has managed to be more things to more people – for another year at any rate.