This year was my first at the annual festival of Laois’ sleepy town, Stradbally – Electric Picnic. While that may put me in a turbulent position of not really being able to judge the festival through-and-through, I’m going to do it anyway. From the outset, I had thoughts of blood and war given this year’s lineup which I considered to be a true shambles. Nevertheless, I kept an open mind in the weeks leading up to the event.
I arrived early on Friday morning to a field filled with silhouettes who would most certainly not get lost late at night. Amidst a thin fog, even the blindest bodach could make out the incandescent glitter and starlike luminous outfits which, in their thousands, formed a serpent of a line from the bus depot to the festival’s entrance. The thrill of the Friday was no doubt founded upon the palpable collective anticipation of two performances – Billie Eilish and Hozier. While I wouldn’t frequent the former’s Spotify page all too often, I can safely say she surprised me. Everything from her stage presence to her sheer and raw appreciation of the starstruck crowds before her – reveling in their tangible delight – set her aside from the vast swathe of the acts to come. In this youthful prodigy’s wake, we awaited Dermot Kennedy whom admittedly I had not been previously acquainted with. While he certainly didn’t receive the same reception as Eilish, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that his passionate display turned a few heads.
Hozier, on the other hand, is one of my favorite artists. At 10.30 p.m., we sat – not-so-quiet – envisioning the rapture to come. Once met by the Irish musical colossus, both I and the boundless arena of enamored fans burst into a frenzy. The Bray-born blues player held us captivated from the outset and finished his performance with a powerful rendition of Take Me To Church as he clasped a Pride Flag tight with his beloved fans stretching their hands before him in defeaning awe.
Saturday morning left much to be demanded. One didn’t have to look far to see the aftermath of the ‘Rave in the Woods’ which followed the headlines each of the nights of the weekend. All across the jampacked campsites, many a lost soul found their stomachs grumbling… only to be filled by another Heineken. I myself sat just outside my tent, shirtless and in my finest trackie bottoms, brushing my teeth as best I could with the last of what was left in my water bottle (which had been heated to boil in my double-layered tent). There before me as I contemplated my existence was nothing short of a gentleman – a giant of a man clasping an obnoxiously large speaker over his head as he bopped away. He and his entourage didn’t sleep a wink the whole weekend – they just knocked back can after can… and whatever else they could find. ‘True festival-goers’ I thought. But that’s neither here nor there.
At 1.30 p.m. we made for the Three Made by Music Stage to experience a Uly performance. This Dublin 18 resident astrophysics graduate turned multi-instrumentalist deep-soul, jazz, and funk artist had his audience entranced in one groovy fit. With a cover of D’Angelo’s Feel Like Makin’ Love, he seduced an even larger crowd in, all of whom put their hands together for his emotional and personal outro track, Pak It In. Admittedly and purposefully, I did miss the 9.15 p.m. performance of The 1975 and the Saturday headlining act, The Strokes, as neither were really my ‘cup-of-tea’. However, I’m sure given the undeniable success of both, many were left speechless by their respective displays.
Sunday was a bit of a lull for all. I found myself wandering through Body & Soul in a haze only to be swiftly rejuvenated by a burger and battered chips. While the food on-site was far from cheap, I’d struggle to criticize its quality. Everything from the falafel wraps to the bloodiest beef burgers was sublime. Acts on Sunday included J Hus and The Streets in the Electric Arena and Kodaline and Florence & The Machine as the headline on the Main Stage. During the latter’s show, my friends and I sat towards the back already ready for a warm bed. I gripped a piping hot cup of coffee and beheld Florence’s otherworldly stage presence. I didn’t know someone could move that long without breaking a sweat. At one point, her ethereal voice incited one festival-goer to comment, “someone’s had one too many bags of ketamine”. It has to be said though, her spaced-out demeanor made for better energy with her rendition of Cosmic Love moving some to tears.
I left that night at 3 a.m. leaving behind all who would awake to be tortured by the burning. Not because I was THAT fed up… I just had a flight to catch. But on the way back to the Customs House Quay I realized that Electric Picnic really isn’t about the lineup. It’s just about the experience of creating memories you’ll never forget with the best people in your life.
Ciaran Brown – Music Writer