Dear Rain: in spite of your exhaustive efforts this past weekend, the 2011 Electric Picnic festival was a smash hit.
Armed with galoshes and thick skin, an estimated thirty thousand people enjoyed three days and nights of outdoor music and arts activities on a 600-acre estate in Stradbally, Co. Laois.
There wasn't a hint of recession blues about the festival – except, perhaps, in the timely name of a band called "Ghost Estates" – which was visually spectacular in presentation. Colors and structures filled every turn: lanterns made of umbrellas dangled from trees in the Body & Soul area, wicker people as tall as houses stood mid-sway to greet everyone at the entrance, and one art installation featured custom made tree stumps and branches carved into the shape of 4-foot tall mushrooms.
There were tents and activities for all types: the 1950's styled Gramophone Disco, the Fossetts Circus, the Oxygen Party Bar where tired lids could rejuvenate with 5 minutes of Oxygen inhalation, a literary tent, ferris wheel, carousel, a discussion about the Irish economy between David McWilliams and Bob Geldof in the Leviathan political tent, and for the particularly courageous, an area with outdoor hut tubs. Yes, hot tubs. In September. In Ireland. In the rain.
Curiously, the tubs seemed to be full all weekend.
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One of the main goals of the annual festival is to introduce new music to a wide audience, while also offering us the chance to see our favorites. This year, heavy hitters like the Chemical Brothers, Beirut, Arcade Fire, Bob Geldof and Pulp performed alongside dozens of emerging and local talents.
The fun is in finding a new set of songs to put on your latest youtube playlist from the lesser known acts, who performed in a variety of quirky settings.
On Friday, the effervescent and adorable country rock band, The Hot Sprockets, shook up a shipwreck-turned-live-music-venue called the Salty Dog stage(Cruisin: song number one on this youtube user's playlist).
Saturday afternoon kicked off with a diamond of the unknown acts in the form of Wyvern Lingo. Three young women offered haunting three part harmonies set to catchy folk/pop songs that they wrote last year, back when they were in high school. Just about everyone I met during the weekend uttered the words "I think I fell in love... with Wyvern Lingo." (Song to fall in love with: Fools).
The night carried on with infectious rock and reggae riffs from the unstoppable 9 Bars(Song choice: Don't Do That), followed by steady beats that inspired almost involuntary hip-shaking into the wee hours of the night from Bray's finest, the WhipRound, in an area decorated to look like a Jamaican village(Song to shake it to: Shanty Town).
On Sunday, solid London-based heavy rockers New Secret Weapon packed the Bog Cottage, a marquee fashioned to look like a thatch cottage from the outside and an old village pub on the inside(Song choice: Gravity). Later, an eclectic hard rock band from Northern Ireland called Axis Of closed the night with an absolutely electrifying set in a tent hosted by Love Music Hate Racism, which is a nonprofit that uses music to promote awareness about racism in Ireland(Song pick: We Dine on Seeds).
But without a shadow of a doubt, the highlight of the festival was the inimitable Sharon Shannon. There isn't anything quite like being in the middle of a few hundred people, young and old, reveling to the sound of traditional Irish music in 2011. Shannon dazzled us with her famous accordion medlies, and for good measure, had one of her band mates sing a rendition of the painfully catchy Mundy song, “Galway Girl.”
Electric Picnic was simply a reminder of the enduring truth that Ireland is a nation of people who wrap their arms round their artists and cherish them tightly. And that spirit is hardly something that could've been dampened by a few little raindrops.
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