Review By Frances Winston
Electric Picnic 2019
Stradbally, Co Laois,
Saturday August 31st and Sunday September 1st
I was at the first ever Electric Picnic back in 2004, and it was a supremely chilled and low-key affair. The one day event was sold as a boutique festival, and it certainly lived up to that, and featured not just music but an eclectic mix of arts. By the following year, it had become a weekend camping event, but was still incredibly chilled. Why am I giving you this history lesson? Because having attended many of the intervening years, I was shocked by how it has evolved in 2019.
It has now somehow become an almost 4-day event, with the campsite opening on Thursday night, and a handful of acts appearing (sort of a pre-festival if you will) with some big names appearing on Friday, and the really big draws usually saved for the Saturday and Sunday of the festival.
This meant that by the time I got there on Saturday, many of the campers were already settled in, but it looked far from comfortable. In both the Jimmy Hendrix and Oscar Wilde campsites, tents were literally pitched on top of each other, and sections of the sites actually resembled landfill with the amount of rubbish generated.
The campers all seemed to have taken advantage of the fact you could bring in a certain amount of alcohol – including some underage campers (one group admitted to me that they had just started 6th year as they necked a bottle of booze). While there are age-checks at the bar, they don’t seem to have been as prevalent with the people bringing in drink. This made me question the wisdom of the family ticket, as it was extremely messy, and many other campers said they definitely wouldn’t bring children in – although apparently the family camping site was a more sedate affair.
Price-wise the food and drink was pretty much what you expect at an event like this, and there was plenty of variety on offer. Literally every taste and dietary requirement was catered for, and the queues moved quickly on the whole (although they got denser as the days wore on). However, many of them wouldn’t take cards, and there were issues with machines in other places, ensuring that the ATMs remained busy all weekend.
But what about the acts? – Well, as always happens at a festival like this, there was a certain degree of overlap, so it’s impossible to see everybody, and there are far too many to list here.
One of the biggest surprises of Saturday was the enormous crowd that turned out for 80s icon, Bonnie Tyler, on the Throwback Stage. The space actually couldn’t contain them, and they spilled out well beyond the allotted area. This did lead to people climbing over railings to try and get to the seated area, which I thought would lead to a fight at one stage, but the stewards seemed oblivious. Thankfully, the situation diffused, and her audience, which spanned ages 8 to 80, all gleefully soaked up her brand of nostalgic rock.
Other big draws that day included Guns ‘n’ Roses alum, Duff McKagan, Inhaler who are fronted by Bono’s son, Eli (and yes, the man himself did indeed show up and watch from the wings), Gerry Cinnamon (a big hit with the crowd), Wild Youth, Echo and the Bunnymen, The 1975 (who put on a very visually arresting show) and headliners, The Strokes.
Come Sunday, you could see that many people had festival fatigue. They were just that bit later arriving onto the main site from the campsites. But they still proved an appreciative audience. There was a lot of speculation regarding whether Jess Glynne would show up following her issues at the Isle of Wight festival, but not only did she show – she also ensured that she stood out in a neon green outfit.
Another throwback, Richard Ashcroft, proved very popular. Razorlight and Jinx Lennon also had a lot of fans in the crowd. Although most people seemed to be there for headline act, Florence and the Machine, who gave a storming performance.
All in all, the line up (and honestly there is far too much to mention here, between music and comedy and arts and numerous other eclectic offerings) proved a hit. I would say, though, that they were a little on top of each other. With so many performance tents and spaces, there was often sound spilling from one into another – a further knock-on effect of the festival’s expansion.
This is a far cry from the original boutique festival that began all those years ago, and while it is still wonderful fun and interestingly curated, the news that they plan to expand further next year is worrying. It barely seemed able to contain everyone this year. And the acts suffered somewhat by having so much on offer – people just didn’t know what to go and see.
I would hate to see this go the way of Oxegen, which was a mess by the end, so perhaps take a step back and look at how to maintain the ethos, without ruining the success it has become.