Sounds Of Summer: Meet The Women Who Make Ireland’s Festival Season Happen
Festival season's kicking off, so Vicki Notaro meets some kick-ass gals who help to make it happen.
From the heady beginnings of Feile in 1990 to today’s music festival-packed summer schedule, we’re a country in love with standing in fields, whatever the weather. Electric Picnic began in 2004 as a one dayer, now it attracts 47,000 over its weekend – and good luck getting a ticket. Since then, Body & Soul, Castlepalooza, Longitude, Indiependence and more have all found a home in our hearts too. but who actually does all the hard work behind the scenes to make them happen? We meet four women who help to make your summer festival the stuff of some of your best ever memories.
Jenny Wren is the music booker for Body & Soul, taking palce this year from 17th-19th June at Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath
“Music’s always played a big part in my life. Although my career of choice was in graphic design, I was always dabbling in music either as an avid consumer, club goer or pirate radio DJ. I got involved with Body & Soul when Avril Stanley, the festival director, suggested I bring some bands in to the small stage at Electric Picnic. I stepped away from design and started a whole new career while raising my two sons. That was eleven years ago!
“Planning for next year’s festival often starts even before this year’s has begun. I attend a lot of the European and International Music conferences, effectively artist shopping, but also networking with other festivals and agents. In the lead up to the festival itself I’m planning, booking, attending events, listening, studying, and getting the events programmed. My work’s done weeks in advance, so once the event is actually happening and I get to see it all come alive, it’s joyous, like a storybook coming to life.
“Picking an act that I’m most looking forward to seeing is like choosing between my children. Apart from the obvious bigger names I’m excited about Mbongwana Star, Tanya Tagaq, Ninos Du Brasil, Rusangano Family and Girl Band, but the list could continue. We love every act on the bill. I like to welcome the artists to site, it can be hard to get to everyone but I do try. I also like to catch as many of the shows as physically possible.
“Every year brings special moments, which aren’t necessarily rock ‘n’ roll moments but snippets of shared joy with strangers. I love seeing my kids engage with the site as they get older; the fun they have is gorgeous. Festival work is hard graft, it’s not glamorous so don’t step in ’cause you think it’s cool! It’s a team sport, and it takes a strong team to who have each other’s back.”
Sisters Lisa and Kate O’Riordan (pictured) have both worked on Longitude since its inception in 2013. This year it’s in Marlay Park from 15th – 17th July
LISA: “I’ve been working with MCD since 2002. My main role now is backstage manager for all its outdoor shows. I start planning from about three months out, planning the backstage layout, furniture requirements and dressing the artist compound. Then closer to the time we receive bands’ rider requests so we compile these and make sure they’re all looked after. During the event it’s hectic, but all under control! Bands arrive either the day before or on show day; we make sure they’ve a place to chill out, their food and drinks requirements are there and they have a designated artist liaison there to answer all their questions and make sure they get on stage on time!
KATE: I work in artist and guest liaison, so I start working on the show in February. Before the event I organise the wristbands and deal with our technical production manager and Lisa in regards to advancing the show. I also look after all the guest list for the bands and the organisers.
LISA: There’s a great energy when working among all the bands and artists. A lot of these bands are out on tour for long periods so you want to create a space that is relaxed and welcoming and also for them to feel they are being taken care of by experienced people. Generally there isn’t a down-side because Marlay Park is a beautiful setting and the bands love being in the house, as opposed to a cabin, which they would be at most festivals. The hours can be long because bands tend to want to hang out afterwards mingling rather than sitting in their tour buses.
KATE: I think l’m very lucky that l get to deal with both the artist and the public. Being part of the festival from the start and seeing how each year it grows has been amazing.
LISA: It’s great to work with Kate. We get on very well and it’s good to have someone to bounce something off that understands what’s going on and always has your back. Generally everyone that works on the event site all work well together. It can be pretty intense and there can be some pressurised situations so everyone looks out for each other as best they can. To work in this industry, you must have a passion for music, a commitment to hard work, and be approachable and friendly.
Sinead Maguire works as Artist Liaison on Indiependence. The festival takes place in Mitchelstown, Co Cork from 29th – 31st July
“I first got involved with the festival through volunteering back in 2010, when I did some bar work. After that I was asked about getting involved with artist liaison. I’m very lucky that another member of the Artist Liaison team looks after the advances for all the bands. During the lead up to the main event, I just follow up on e-mails and prepare all the band’s packs which would include wrists bands, drink vouchers and the likes.
Once the festival starts, the madness begins! I carry out a number of roles from checking in bands, arranging accommodation, looking after rider lists with hospitality, confirming transfers, bringing bands to stage to meet stage manager, organising food and any other random jobs that can appear. I’m so lucky that I work with a great crew and everyone helps each other out.
My favorite part of the job is the buzz of seeing a headliner like Basement Jaxx playing to a full tent and knowing that I played a small part to get them there. I’m with the act from when they arrive on site until they leave, and you get a great sense of satisfaction when they’re happy leaving.
The hours are long and you need to be really out-going and have the ability multi-task in this game, but if you want to get involved, offer to volunteer at any type of festival or gig. This gives you great experience and you get to know people. It is always about getting your name out there.”
Mary McGuire works for Lindsey Holmes Publicity, the company that promotes Electric Picnic. Ireland’s biggest festival takes place this year from September 2nd – 4th
“LHP have worked with the festival since its very humble beginnings back in 2004 when 10,000 people took to the fields of Stradbally Hall. Before I started working there, I went to EP many, many times and I guess Electric Picnic is where I found my love for festivals. When I landed this job to say I was over the moon is an understatement!
Electric Picnic generally launches in early March so we start working on it around February all the way through until after the event. There are lots of different elements but generally it starts off with publicising the initial line-up, announcing different stages and areas within the festival, launching new elements, organising an exclusive press recce before the weekend itself, and managing press over the course of the weekend.
One thing that makes festivals so special is that once everyone gets in the gate and has their bed for the weekend sorted, they just forget about their worries and runs around wild and free! Festivals are like a playground for adults, and I love that.
My favourite thing about working on EP is the fantastic people, from the artists to those behind the scenes who make everything happen. My least favourite part is that I don’t get to catch all the acts and events that are on over the weekend as I have to do some work, but I make up for it by going to plenty of other gigs and festivals over the year. Anyone looking to get in to a career in events should know that perseverance is key. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”
This article originally appeared in STELLAR’s July issue. The September issue is on shelves now!
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