About This Festival
The Republic of Ireland is a supremely pleasant piece of land within the European Union. Ireland is small, with a population smaller than the Houston metro area, yet it has achieved a sterling reputation as a tourism destination and position as a hub for the arts, music and literature. The island lays claim to what some refer to as 'the great outdoors', with green hills, sandy beaches and shaded glens, a wonderful environment in which to spend time, whatever the weather.
Ireland is the warm bowl of porridge between the cold one and the scorching one, the comfy bed between the hard mattress and the spongy cot. It's just right, and this pleasing median sensibility is carried over into one of her most popular festivals: Electric Picnic.
Held in late August, the Electric Picnic manages to eschew the worst extremes of the summer music festival season.
Unbearably hot and humid? Well, we know we're tempting the weather gods by writing this, but Electric Picnic is held during the short window of the year when the Irish climate shifts from "damp and mehhh" to "pleasantly temperate with a hint of sweat." Annoyingly oversized festival, to the point you can't decide what shows to catch? Not this one. With no more than 50,000 people in attendance over the weekend, there are enough people to make the Picnic feel like a bonafide festival, but not so many that you feel overwhelmed.
The lineup Is pleasingly eclectic—not too quirky, but never starchy mainstream. Plenty of big names headlined last year, including Björk, Arctic Monkeys and Fatboy Slim, but look underneath the big type at the top of the bill and there's a pretty stirring array of talent in the smaller font - the sort of bands that, upon getting airtime on your playlist, cause people to ask, "Who was that? They're great" provoking an ever-so-slightly-smug smile on your behalf (or maybe we're projecting that).
Electric Picnic - Burning Man with Rain
OK: Electric Picnic isn't quite as alternative as Burning Man, and also, it hopefully won't rain (but this is Ireland…), but seriously, this is a quirky gathering, and while it's gathered pace and sponsorships, it still feels genuinely, grassroots and slightly odd.
The festival's idiosyncrasies are constantly manifesting over the three-day event. Wander by the Body & Soul stage, built within a natural amphitheatre from fallen trees and named for an Irish creative collective that regularly creates funky art installations and sometime surreal, sometimes mildly distributing, sometimes compelling and always inspiring public creations.
Art Trails created by local and international artists wind under circus top tents, through fairytale forests and past psychedelic installations. The Global Green is also peppered with public art, but has a deeper focus on sustainability, recycling, eco-minded entrepreneurism, startups, activism and community organizing. Kiosks and stands focus on global do-gooding, set to a soundtrack of DJs and local bands.
Perhaps most impressive is the Trailer Park, which mixes up all of the above—the paintings, the graffiti, the installations, electronica, performance art, public theater and general madcapped behaviour into an American trailer park/British caravan holiday camp. Restaurants, mini music venues, carnivals, micro performance spaces and a retro aesthetic colliding with hipster sensibility permeates the area. This year, attendees will be bringing their own uniquely designed art caravans; for more information, check the submission area here.
A Storytelling Tradition
The Irish love storytelling and storytellers, and the latter get a lot of love at Electric Picnic. The Comedy Tent showcases the best in Irish comedy and unlike at other festivals, isn't a footnote or sidebar. The comedic talent is considered an integral part of the Picnic experience.
In a similar narrative vein, with less of a laughter focus, is the Spoken Word Area. Here, live storytelling takes center stage, with themes ranging from love to loss to TED-style lectures on everything from pop culture to academia. If you've got a thing for linguistics, there's an entire area dedicated to storytelling and oral performance in Gaelic.
The storytelling and comedy areas form an interesting, esoteric and occasionally abstract counterpoint to the multi-sensory assault that seems to characterize so much of the rest of Electric Picnic. But this is keeping within the festival's general zeitgeist—Electric Picnic lives up to its title. The Picnic is, in short, a picnic, a feast for the intellect, aesthetic and all the senses via its music, art and narrative.