On the dark country road that leads the way to the Electric Picnic festival, the lights of a giant Ferris wheel peek out over trees and draw us towards them, like moths to flame.
I and the three other people driving in the car take turns squealing with delight as we round corners and play peek–a–boo with the bright bulbs, until we finally arrive. We have sweaters, sleeping bags and tents– everything we need to begin our 3-day camping-and-music adventure in the woods of Stradbally, Co. Laois.
First things first, we set up our campsite, amidst the estimated 30,000 other campers. Within minutes, seconds even, we meet a good Samaritan. A man wearing a light on his head comes out of nowhere, helps us with our luggage, and secures our tent to the ground. He is so helpful that I assume he is a friend of one of my cousin’s.
“Oh that guy? I don’t know him. He’s just being nice,” he explains, nonchalantly. “It’s a festival after all.”
As it turns out, over the course of the weekend, we continue to experience the pleasant surprise of meeting many, many people just like him, who share their food, supplies, and even tents with us, perfect strangers.
One of my friends, Aaron Dwane, 23, is generous enough to offer space in his tent to anyone who can fit in it.
Aaron doesn’t end up using his tent on the first night though, because he attends a techno dance party that literally lasts all night long. The so-called “Rave in the Woods” features visuals and music so spectacular that he describes it as “like having your mind shot through the barrel of a rifle lined with baroque paintings, into a field of electricity.”
Since he never makes it back to the tent that first night, a different friend of ours winds up taking his place. So at the end of day 1, there are two people sleeping in my tent. It rains through the night, and although the tent is dry inside, when the shivers take hold of my limbs, I find myself beginning to question my decision-making skills.
But we make it through the night, and we are never more grateful for a warm morning sun than for that which greets us on day two.
Deirdre Crookes, one of the press officers for Electric Picnic describes the event as “the thinking man’s festival.” She explains that there are 30 to 40 stages featuring roughly 200acts from every entertainment genre imaginable – music, dance, drama, political speeches, discussion forums, literary readings, etc., on down to kiddie yoga. The names on the lineup display the diversity of music available: Paul Brady, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Imelda May, Hot Chip, Mumford & Sons, Leftfield, The Waterboys, LCD Soundsystem, Seasick Steve, Dublin Gospel Choir, etc. And those only performers from the 7 main stages.
“Music is only half the festival,” Crookes says, later adding, “there’s something for everybody.”
My sister and I spend the majority of day 2 wandering around visiting vendors, talking to concert-goers in different campsites, and taking pictures(which you can view by clicking here).
It is a long day, and this time, by the end of it, there are three people in the tent. I wake up with someone’s legs resting on my stomach, and bruises all over from where my bags – laptop case included – dug into different corners of my back throughout the night.
But the highlight of the festival arrives a few short hours later. On Day 3, after nightfall.
About ten minutes before the final act, Massive Attack, are set to perform, what has been a friendly drizzle suddenly turns into a severe downpour. I figure we’ll see hundreds of feet scurrying towards the camping areas, to the relative warmth of their tents. But instead, we witness – and join – thousands of wellies charging towards the main stage.
You would have to see it to believe it. Upwards of ten thousand people gathering willingly in the midst of hurricane-force winds to simply dance in the rain. It is a magical moment. And it continues through the night, at several other performance venues, where we see groups like Intinn, one of the most popular, and certainly one of the most creative, reggae groups in Ireland.
Greetings like, “Yo, yo, yo Electric Picnic y’all,” boom through their speakers and they receive heavy praise in response, despite the rain, which pelts all of our faces like hail stones. Intinn has become renowned as much for its unusual musical identity (the group adorns traditional reggae rhythms and vocals with traditional Irish harp strums) as for its “music with a message.” Lead singer Cian Finn says his music is “all about positive vibes” and says he is committed to promoting awareness about the dangers of drug use, especially when it comes to impressionable youngsters.
It’s a particularly courageous stance to take, given that drugs flow like water at festivals like these.
After the reggae, there is the silent disco(i.e. you’re given headphones with two channels, so, ultimately, two people dancing next to each other can actually be listening to two completely different songs ). And after a few more acts, it quickly gets well into the wee hours. Before we know it, it’s time to slosh through the ankle-deep muck back to the tent.
By the end of day 3, there are four soaking wet, squashed sardines in my tent, all of whom shift endlessly and mutter under their breaths about how uncomfortable they are. We are like frustrated children after a long day at a theme park; we’ve had too much fun, have eaten too much junk food, and – cranky, tired, and wet – we just want to go home.
On day 4, I’m home, safe and sound. But as the day begins to wind down, I wonder if I’ll feel a little lonesome tonight in my warm, comfy bed all by myself.